Golf will break new ground next week as players from the Ladies European Tour, Staysure Tour and Challenge Tour come together in the Jordan Mixed Open at Ayla Golf Club from April 4-6 and compete for a £300,000 prize fund.
Forty players from each tour, and three amateurs, will tackle the Greg Norman design from different tees with the Challenge Tour boys facing a 7,100-yard course in the 54-hole strokeplay event, while the over-50s will play a course measuring 6,601 yards, with the ladies taking on 6,139 yards.
We spoke to Olivia Cowan from the LET, Barry Lane from the Staysure and the Challenge Tour’s Borja Virto to hear their thoughts on the innovative format and tournament…
Do you recall anything like the Jordan Mixed Open at pro or amateur level?
Cowan: Well I’ve never played for the same prize with the men before but I’ve played in team formats where I’ve played together with a guy. I’m really excited to play a group with the guys just to see how it all plays out. It will be weird playing with them but I’m sure it will be a lot of fun!
Lane: Nothing, nothing. Probably the closest thing we have is the girls playing next door to us in Morocco. So never, no. I mean I’ve played with Laura Davies… if that counts. But other than that, no.
Virto: I actually played something similar when I was younger. I played this event in Scotland and we played with girls, however I don’t think we played for the same trophy. On the first round of the tournament, we had mixed groups so one girl, two boys or something like that.
What’s the fairest way to set the course up?
Virto: We played nine holes as a practice and they were very successful. Obviously I was playing from the back tee and on the 1st hole we hit the three tee shots pretty much in the same spot, we all had the same sort of clubs so I think they have a really good understanding or what needs to be done.
Maybe some guys will have a bad tournament and then say that the Challenge Tour players played too far back. Or the ladies could say that the tournament was too hard for them but with anything that is new you will get some problems. The idea is really good and I think they’re putting in the right sort of study that’s needed to make it fair. They have all the data with the average distances that we hit so I think that they’ve got everything worked out pretty well.
Cowan: Well the tees have to be set up so we pretty much have the same club into the green. I think this will be pretty tough to do and I’m sure there will be some people complaining that some holes were set up unfair but I know the tournament organisers are trying the best to make it a fair chance for everyone.
Lane: The fairest way would be to have the Challenge Tour tee off far back and have us seniors play we with the ladies! (laughs)
There are a few bombers on the Challenge Tour and that’s where it could fall down. If there are 15 guys, they’ve hit 330 off the tee, and I know there are, then it could be a little bit difficult because you know they’re even hitting it a lot further than a lot of the average guys on the Challenge Tour.
We get it every week. It’s going to be a challenge for everybody; in terms of organisation, the players, the greenkeepers, but it’s the first time and it’s the same with every event. It all looks great on paper but you’ve got to just see how it goes and that’s it. And live with it. If you see the first day something is wrong, it can be rectified for the second day and the third day.
There will be one prize fund – why has it taken so long, do you think, to get to this point in the game?
Cowan: I’m not sure really, it’s just hard to push women’s golf. I know we play and train just as good and hard as the men but for some reason not a lot of people see that. I’m hoping a woman wins this event and shows everyone just how good we are, and hopefully after this event we will help push the ladies’ tour in the right direction.
Lane: I think there’s been a lot of publicity recently about equality and equal prize money. I know that they have it in tennis and golf is a little bit behind in that respect. But it’s down to the sponsors and what they want. If they don’t want to put money into ladies’ golf, they don’t. They don’t want to put it in the Challenge Tour, they don’t. They don’t want to put it in the seniors. I think a lot of it is exposure to be honest.
Virto: I think that it’s quite tough to put different tours together and that’s maybe why they haven’t done it before. Because I think it’s tough to get to the point where it’s fair for both sides.
Do you think your tour is underrated and, if so, why?
Virto: A little bit. I think the level has increased a lot on every tour and you can really see that on Challenge Tour and the level of competition is really, really high.
The issue with the Challenge Tour is that there is not much around the courses that we play and they are sometimes far from the airport. It’s usually a two-hour drive from airports which is a lot tougher than the European Tour. In the European Tour the travelling sounds a lot easier, they pick you up and the hotel is usually just 20 or 30 minutes away. On the Challenge Tour you’re on your own and still people, especially from the outside, don’t give it enough credit. It’s actually really tough and the golf is at a really good level.
Cowan: Yes, I do. On our tour we have a lot of great players who as amateurs were some of the best in the world and represented Europe and their countries in many occasions, not a lot of people know that.
Lane: You know I am a senior so I will be a bit biased; I think it is a little bit. A few of the guys can hit the ball a really long way, 300 yards with a driver or whatever. Is it not more impressive for a 60-year-old guy to hit it 300 yards or a guy of 20 to hit it 300 yards? There’s not enough TV exposure to show how good the Challenge Tour is or the ladies and seniors are.
Should there be a cut which comes after the first two days?
Cowan: As it’s a smaller field and only the best 40 from each tour and it’s only a three-day event I don’t think there should be a cut. Everyone should be able to play the three days and give it their best shot.
Lane: This is the way they want it. The ladies have a cut and the Challenge Tour normally has a cut. We don’t, we usually play 54 holes strokeplay. It could work against them but with a cut at 60 or 65, you’re going to have a mix anyway because not every Challenge Tour player is going to make it.
This first year is a test year, really. Hopefully it will work out. If it doesn’t, then they can do something different for next year.
Virto: I always play events with cuts so I don’t mind the idea of cut. I know it’s risky because if for some reason one tour plays really badly, then it may go against what the event is trying to achieve.
It makes it more like a proper test, you want to make it serious. You would want to have that feeling that you are actually competing for something so I like having the cut.
If you had to guess, what do you think the make-up of the top 10 will be?
Cowan: I couldn’t say really as this is the first of this kind of event. I’m hoping of a mix of all three tours and hopefully a woman at the top!
Virto: I’m going to say four Challenge Tour guys, so we’re winning! And then three ladies and three seniors so it is all mixed together. That would be the best for the event.
Lane: Three Challenge Tour players, three ladies… and four seniors!
About the Jordan Mixed Open
Jordan Mixed Open field: 123 (40 LET, 40 Staysure Tour, 40 Challenge Tour, 3 amateur)
Jordan Mixed Open venue: Ayla Golf Club, Aqaba, Jordan
Jordan Mixed Open course length: 7,100 yards (Challenge Tour players); 6,601 yards (Staysure Tour players); 6,139 yards (LET players)
Jordan Mixed Open dates: April 4-6, 2019
Jordan Mixed Open purse: £300,000
All images courtesy of Paul Severn.