For the second consecutive year, the Ladies European Tour kicks off a new season with the Oates Vic Open, starting on Thursday at 13th Beach Golf Links in Barwon Heads, Australia.
The Oates Vic Open is the only tournament of its kind in the world where the men’s and women’s fields compete on the same courses, at the same time, for an equal share of the prize money.
In 2018, a combined purse of AUD$1.3 million means the men and women will each battle it out for a share of AUD $650,000.
The Women’s Oates Vic Open will again be played over 72 holes, in conjunction with the men’s championship, sanctioned by the PGA of Australia. The opening two rounds will be played over both the Beach and the Creek courses, with alternating groups between the men’s and women’s fields. After the 36-hole cut to the leading 60 professional scores plus amateurs in both fields, the final two rounds will be played on the Beach Course.
Mel Reid, who claimed her sixth LET win at last year’s Oates Vic Open, in a three-hole play-off over Sandra Gal, is back to defend her title this week in Victoria.
Fellow Briton Georgia Hall, the 2017 Order of Merit winner, is also returning, for the first time since claiming her second professional victory in 2016, the year before the event became sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour.
A repeat of 2015 could also be on the cards, with Norwegian Marianne Skapnord and her Australian fiancé Richard Green also teeing up, at their home layout. Then engaged and barely a week after moving into their new home at 13th Beach, the pair won the men’s and women’s titles barely an hour apart.
Australians Minjee Lee, who won as an amateur in 2014 and Stacey Keating, who won in her home state in 2013, complete the list of winners of the women’s title.
Former world number one and four-time major champion Dame Laura Davies is back for another crack and looking to add to her Australian collection: namely the 1993 and 1994 Australian Masters, the 2003 ANZ Masters, the 2008 NSW Open and the 2004 and 2009 Women’s Australian Opens.
Speaking ahead of the Oates Vic Open, Davies said: “I can’t wait to get started in Australia as it’s my favourite trip of the year and we have an unprecedented four events on the LET down under. It’s a great way for the LET to start what I think is going to be a great year for the tour.
“I love the courses and relaxed atmosphere at the Aussie events and the food is great, so there is nothing to dislike. I love the format of us playing alongside the men, which I think works really well. There are always good galleries which adds to the atmosphere.
“We play two really good golf courses which are both very different and there’s always a bit of wind to keep us on our toes. I would love to see this format replicated around the world as I think it would go down well with the public.”
While Davies is beginning her 34th year on tour, American Casey Danielson, who won the LET’s Lalla Aicha Tour School in December and Manon Molle, of France, will be making their professional debuts.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Camille Chevalier, from France, will be teeing it up after a break-out season in 2017 and the 2016 Rookie of the Year, India’s Aditi Ashok, is also looking forward to a fresh season.
The three-time LET champion, from Bangalore, said: “I’m very excited to head to Australia. I have had a good off season and put in some good practise with my new clubs so I’m excited to start playing tournaments. I have always started my season in Australia and it has been a lot of fun the past two years. We get to play in some great golf courses and the fans are always amazing.
“The Oates Vic Open was my first event as a professional and it’s great to see how the event has grown. I enjoy playing at 13th Beach Golf Links. I enjoy playing two very different courses at the same venue during the Oates Vic Open week as there aren’t many tournaments that happen on two different courses. I also love my hosts Melinda and David Peebles at 13th Beach Golf Club and I enjoy coming back to meet them every year.”
A fan of the unique format, she said: “I think it’s great for the spectators and also helps to make the sport popular in general. I think having more events like this would be fun to watch and maybe get more viewership for women’s golf.”
Those unable to make the trip to Barwon Heads will be able to watch the weekend’s the action thanks to the return of the Oates Vic Open live stream, which will be hosted on the tour and tournament websites, YouTube and Facebook LIVE.
The Oates Vic Open is a Golf Victoria event, co-sanctioned by the LET and ALPG Tours. It will kickstart a huge five weeks for women’s golf in Australia, preceding the newly introduced ActewAGL Canberra Classic at Royal Canberra Golf Club, the ISPS HANDA Women’s Australian Open at Kooyonga in Adelaide, the Australian Ladies Classic – Bonville, at Bonville Golf Resort and the Women’s New South Wales Open at Coffs Harbour Golf Club.