Meghan MacLaren puts the finishing touches on her opening round of 65 as proud dad David watches on.
Multiple Ladies European Tour winner Meghan MacLaren, who created headlines last month when she highlighted golf’s gender pay disparity, let her golf do the talking on Thursday morning when she fired an opening seven-under-par 65 at Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba, to hold the clubhouse lead in the innovative Jordan Mixed Open presented by Ayla, a mixed gender event where men and women golfers are playing in the same field, for the same prize.
MacLaren held a two-stroke clubhouse lead over former Ryder Cup player Barry Lane, Miguel Angel Martin and Rafael Gomez from the Staysure Tour, as well as Pep Angles from the European Challenge Tour, after the first morning at the spectacular Red Sea venue, but European Challenge Tour player Matt Ford was closing in on six-under after 12 holes.
Five further players were in the clubhouse on four-under-par, including Stacy Lee Bregman and Camilla Lennarth from the Ladies European Tour, Peter Fowler from the Staysure Tour and Challenge Tour duo Cormac Sharvin and Oliver Farr.
There are 40 players from each of the Ladies European Tour, over 50s Staysure Tour and European Challenge Tour, plus three high-level amateurs, chasing the trophy.
MacLaren’s father, David, who was involved in setting up the event in his role as European Tour Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Head of the Staysure Tour, was able to walk the course and watch the group featuring Meghan, European Challenge Tour player Calum Hill and Peter Fowler on Thursday.
“He pretended he was out there watching the Staysure Tour player Peter Fowler, but I don’t think anybody believes that. He enjoys watching my golf and he has been instrumental in putting this event together, so I think it was great for him to be out there and see how we compare playing alongside each other,” Meghan said.
It was certainly a great display of golf to watch. The 24-year-old from Northamptonshire, who successfully defended her Women’s New South Wales Open title last month, reeled off eight birdies and a bogey. She started with a pair of birdies, followed by two more on the par-4 sixth and 10th holes respectively. Her only blemish came on the 11th, but she made three consecutive birdies from the 13th and added another at the long 17th hole.
“I drove the ball really well and that took most of the danger out of play. I putted well, even though I missed a couple of chances early on. After that, I was reading the greens well and I think I could have had a couple more at the end there, but you can’t argue with that,” she said.
“Given everything I’ve talked about over the last few months, it is nice to back it up, but I didn’t want to put any extra pressure on myself. I’ve been saying to everybody that the girls’ standard of play will show if the course is set up properly. I’m just happy with how I’ve played and if that puts me near the top against the guys, then that’s just a bonus, really.”
David MacLaren said that he was pleased to see such a wide spread of competitors from each circuit in contention, as the layout was specifically set-up to ensure that the players could compete over an equal playing field.
“Quite apart from personal interest – and looking at this objectively in terms of our aims – I think the leader board is shaping up absolutely beautifully and, dare I say it, for those of us who know a little bit about golf, not just on one of the tours, but on all three tours, I don’t think this is unexpected. I think you’ve got great players across all three tours and you’ve got a spread of players within each tour and the overlap of that will produce a cross section of very, very good golf. I think if you look at the way the world has suddenly noticed this tournament this week, I think that shows us what the future of golf can and should be like,” he said.
Staysure Tour player Barry Lane, who is two strokes from the lead, enjoyed the format. He said: “It didn’t feel any different but it was a really nice atmosphere, to have the Challenge Tour and the girls here as well. It’s nice for us old round bellies to see how the game is played by the youngsters. We were on different tees and in our group, on the fairways, sometimes Camille (Chevalier) was ahead, sometimes we were. It flowed nicely. All in all, it was an enjoyable, stress-free round.”