There are numerous South African golfers competing and excelling overseas, especially in Europe, these days.
And while the winning performances of the likes of Garrick Higgo and Dean Burmester on the European Tour, and Branden Grace, Higgo and Erik van Rooyen on the US PGA Tour understandably hog the limelight, there are many other golfers just trying to make a living on those big tours.
South Africa have seven full-time golfers on the main tour in the United States, four of which also regularly play in Europe, alongside 16 other South Africans.
Less well-known is the fact that there are six South African women’s golfers in the top 100 on the Ladies European Tour. And when one compares the prizemoney they win to their compatriots on the men’s tours, the massive pay disparities when it comes to gender become apparent.
Darren Fichardt is 99th on the European Tour order of merit and has won more than €170,000 in seven tournaments this year; Stacy Bregman is 100th on the Ladies European Tor standings and has won just over €52,500 in 11 events.
Even at the top end of the rankings, the story is the same. Justin Harding is 20th in the Race to Dubai and has earned more than €610,000 in 19 starts; Ashleigh Buhai is 21st on the LET and has won just €93,254.
The majority of South African golfers overseas are not winning titles, they are just trying to accumulate enough money week-by-week to keep playing over there and hopefully get the breakthrough win that secures their card.
That challenge is especially hard for the women: On the men’s European Tour this year there is not a single tournament that has a prize pool of less than a million Euro; only nine out of 26 LET events reach that benchmark.
The two women’s majors played in Europe – the second of which, the AIG Women’s Open, is being held this weekend at Carnoustie – have a prize fund of €3.8 million, which would rank 12th highest on the men’s tour.
“Playing golf overseas is an expensive sport, especially doing it week-to-week, there are huge overheads if you don’t have help,” Bregman told The Citizen.
“If it weren’t for my sponsor Investec, I would definitely not be able to represent the country in Europe and maybe inspire the younger generation that it is possible. And you have to go overseas to play better golf, playing against the best in the world can only improve your game.
“In the future, hopefully more youngsters from South Africa can make a good living from golf. It’s a tough sport and a lot of girls are intimidated to play it. We want to make it a sport for everyone and to show that we definitely need to get more women watching us play.
“But to do that we need more media exposure, it has to be in your face for people to notice.”
Of course, the argument that the men enjoy such large paydays because they attract greater viewership and more sponsorship will be made. But part of the reason for their bigger viewership figures is that the men’s game enjoys greater promotion, while not as much effort is made to explain just how skilful women’s golfers are, not relying so much on power games.
For instance, research has shown that women golfers are more accurate from 120 yards in, but those are the sort of in-depth stats that coverage of their sport does not employ to the same extent as the men.
“Our only hope of seeing the gap in prizemoney close is for people to see how good our product is. We should actually be paid the same because we are playing the same courses. We might not have the same power, and somehow that does not seem to have the same pull when it comes to viewership, but we just don’t play golf the same way the top men do,” Bregman says.
“It’s about creating awareness for potential sponsors and I definitely think the skill factor should be highlighted. The average golfer plays a totally different game to the men’s pros, but I think the better men’s amateur golfers can relate more to the women’s game.
“I think our game does have more skill and the more men that watch us play will hopefully lead to things changing.”
US women’s soccer team
But analyses suggest that even if women are at the forefront of public attention and viewership figures, they still end up earning less.
According to the Wall Street Journal, in the three years after winning the 2015 World Cup, the US women’s soccer team generated more revenue than the men’s team. But their earnings did not rise, leading to a landmark lawsuit that tackled the gender pay gap.
A judge ruled, however, that because the women’s team had previously negotiated a pay deal that was weighted more towards fixed income than performance bonuses, they could only sue for equal working conditions and they came to a settlement with the US Soccer Federation.
Locally, Investec have been at the forefront of efforts to create more transparency around prizemoney in golf and have been pushing for sponsors to support women’s golf so that the sport can follow tennis and athletics in ensuring that there is no major gap in earnings between the top male and female stars.