Unanimous praise for tournament’s unique format
Beth Allen shot a sparkling six-under-par 67 in the Oates Vic Open first round to take a one stroke lead ahead of fellow American Cheyenne Woods at 13th Beach Golf Links near Melbourne.
Due to their late arrival from the LPGA’s season-opening tournament in the Bahamas, neither player had played a practice round and they both credited their experienced caddies for steering them around the Creek Course on Thursday morning.
Sophie Gustafson, a 28-time tournament champion and four-time order of merit winner, who helped Allen to win her first three titles and the order of merit in 2016, was back on her bag after a one-year hiatus. The result was six birdies on a bogey-free score card.
A delighted Allen said: “It’s been kind of crazy because I only arrived yesterday morning and I didn’t have tons of expectations, which is usually good, when you’re playing golf. I just woke up and said let’s see what happens. It’s great to have Sophie on the bag again and I had visions of 2016, which was awesome. We had a lot of fun out there, so I’m looking forward to the next few days.”
Woods, who arrived in Barwon Heads several hours before her golf clubs on Wednesday, felt that a day of rest, relaxation and a long nap was the perfect preparation.
After carding six birdies against one bogey, the 2014 Ladies Australian Masters champion reflected: “I’m really happy with how I played today. It was my first time seeing the golf course, so it was nice to be able to make a few putts and give myself opportunities. I hit the ball well, which helped a lot with the first time out here. My caddie was great. He came out yesterday and walked both courses and did all of his homework. We felt good going into today.”
Sweden’s Camilla Lennarth, who also played on the Creek Course, is a stroke further back in third place on four-under-par and five further players are tied on three-under. They are Australians Minjee Lee and Tahnia Ravnjak, Britons Georgia Hall and Kylie Henry and Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden.
Lee, who claimed the 2014 Oates Vic Open as an amateur aged 17, was happy with her afternoon round, containing three birdies on the Creek Course.
The world number 20 said: “A couple of putts didn’t drop as I was coming down the stretch, but I hit it pretty solid and made a couple of birdies. I think I played the wind pretty well and so hopefully I can make some more putts tomorrow morning.”
While Lee is Australia’s number one female golfer, her brother Min Woo sits 15th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and is playing in the men’s Oates Vic Open, running simultaneously.
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 are each battling it out for a share of AUD $650,000.
Lee said: “I think it’s great. I mean, I love this tournament and the concept is very different from what I normally play in. I love coming back here and its always a great atmosphere.”
Allen was another fan of the format. “I love it. I think that it’s great for spectators because, no matter who you’re coming to support, if you’re coming to support the ladies, then you get a chance to see some of the men and if you’ve come to support the men, you might be surprised that you enjoy watching the ladies. I hope that this event inspires other events, because it’s awesome,” she said.