A historic moment in Australian sport was confirmed on Friday for the iconic Australian Open and one legend will tee off.
Australian golfing legend Karrie Webb will “dust off the clubs” and tee it up in December when history is made and the men’s and women’s Australian Opens will be played on the same course at the same time in a world first.
This will be the first recognised national Open to integrate men’s and women’s events, with the tournament to be played across two courses in Melbourne’s famed sandbelt.
Victoria Golf Club and Kingston Heath will play host to the historic first staging of the Opens together from December 1-4, with alternating male and female groups to play one of their two rounds on either course before the tournament concludes at Victoria.
The two events will equally share prizemoney of $3.4m, a pool that could increase according to Victorian Sports Minister Martin Pakula, and both will be co-sanctioned with the DP World Tour, formerly known as the European Tour, which should boost the calibre of players.
Golf Australia chief executive James Sutherland expected Australia’s best players, including world No.6 Cameron Smith, to come home not just for the Open but the Australian PGA, which will be played the week before in Queensland.
But he said with “a lot of money” being thrown around by Greg Norman’s Saudi-backed tour there was a lot to play out.
“Our starting point is to focus on Australian players. Australians have just gone up and up in the rankings,” he said.
“We hope that with the co-sanctioning it will open a two-week window for players to come downs. We’ll see how that unfolds.”
Webb, a six-time Australian Open champion who has won the title at both courses set to be used in December, said it was a landmark moment for an iconic tournament and she was ready to play.
“I hope both fields are really strong – the Australian guys haven’t been home for a couple of years so it’d be really exciting to have them all home,” she said.
“When you announce the Australian Open at two great venues like this I think players show up for sure.
“Exposure-wise. when it‘s a men’s group and a women’s group back to back, playing on the same golf course, I think it’s probably more beneficial for the women’s game because people will see just how good we really are.”
The top three ranked players in the women’s game – Jin Young Ko, Nelly Korda and Lydia Ko – are all past Australian Open winners, and Aussie Minjee Lee, who is world No.4, is certain to head home to have her shot at a first Open win.
Sutherland said the idea had been on the radar for some time to follow the success of the Vic Open, which pioneered the idea of men and women playing on the same course at the same time and has been held successfully since 2012.
“This truly is a coup for Australian golf and will take the tournaments to another level,” said Sutherland.
“We‘ve seen the success of the Vic Open as a mixed-gender event and more recently the Webex Players Series where the format is slightly different but the principles are the same.
“We strongly believe in this concept. We’ve seen it at the Australian Open tennis for years, and it just makes sense that fans can see their idols, whether they be men or women, all in the one place.”
“This is a huge moment for an event that we have high aspirations for. Australians love golf and we think that with this new format, the Opens will only grow in stature.”
The men’s Australian Open hasn’t been played since 2019, when it was won by Matt Jones, stopped for the first time since the Second World War due to travel restrictions and other associated issues around Covid-19.
It also hasn’t been played in Victoria since 2005, having been played on rotation around NSW after that staging at Moonah Links.
The women’s tournament was last staged in 2021 when it was co-sanctioned with the LPGA tour and won by South Korea’s Inbee Park. It was last held in Victoria at Royal Melbourne in 2015.
Australian golf has led the way in bringing men’s and women’s events together, with the Vic Open, staged at 13th Beach, the first tournament to play both on the same course at the same time.
This year the inaugural Karrie Webb Cup women’s event was also played alongside the Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland.
And in February, major champion Hannah Green became the first female to win a mixed 72-hole event when she defeated a field including PGA champion Jediah Morgan to win the TPS Murray River by four shots.