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The resurrection this year of the women’s Spanish Open has much to do with the sex appeal of young players such as Barcelona’s Paula Marti. Spain was one of the victims of European women professional golf’s floundering fortunes in the mid-1990s – with La Manga hosting the last Spanish Open in 1996. In the years following, the women’s tour was on the point of disintegrating, before a new corporate administration began restoring its health from 1999.
Last year, the Ladies European Tour (LET) comprised 16 tournaments offering a total of more than eight million euros (including the 2.1 million euro Evian Masters). Now Spain, somewhat belatedly, has re-enters the scene with the Tenerife Ladies Open at Golf del Sur from May 2-5 and the Caja Duero Open de España in Salamanca from May 30 to June 2.
Not everyone in the game is happy to admit it but one of the key reasons why the women’s game is once again attracting sponsors, and substantial prize funds, is the young, sexy image of many of its younger players – and their burgeoning talent, of course.
In an interview last year in Corporate Golf Magazine, 21-year-old Marti, who won twice in 2001 in her rookie season (and was described by the magazine as a “stunner”) was asked if she thought the new image would help women’s golf.
“Hell yeah, sex sells, it’s no big deal,” she said. “If we have the looks and the talent, then why not use it. We need more sponsors and, if we can use this to further the tour, then let’s do it. The younger girls from Europe have brought their own style and sense of dress to the game and it just happens to be a little tighter fit and a more athletic, modern look, but that is what we feel comfortable in when we play, and it just happens to look much sexier.”
According to Dutch player Mette Hageman, Marti “is our new Seve – she’s talented, ambitious, a born winner and, to top it all off, she is great looking too”, but she stresses that there are others from Scandinavia, France, Holland, Germany and Spain – “all good looking and all very promising players”.
For Hageman, “The future is looking good, but what we need to do is offer these girls more tournaments in Europe with better prize-money and that would stop them going over to the LPGA (in the US), and if we are getting more attention for being sexy as well as talented, hey, that works for me.”
All top-10 players on last year’s LET order of merit were 30 years or younger, with Zaragoza’s Raquel Carriedo winning three times and becoming the first Spaniard to top the order; Marti finished sixth and the Basque Country’s Marina Arruti, ninth.
Several other Spanish players competed with varying degrees of success on the tour, including Ana Belén Sánchez (Málaga), who, at the US Qualifying School, also earned conditional exempt status for the 2002 LPGA Tour.
Coinciding with Salamanca’s year as a “European Cultural Capital”, the Caja Duero Open de España is being backed with 360,000 euros (60 million pesetas) from the Real Federación Española de Golf’s own funds – in line with an election pledge last year by re-elected president Emma Villacieros.