Golf: Classic case at Woburn of women out-driving the men: House full signs demonstrate there is a huge audience waiting to be entertained. Tim Glover reports on the female phenomenon

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The Independent Online
LAURA DAVIES left London for Japan yesterday in search of further competition while the majority of players on the Women's European Tour kick their heels for three weeks before the next engagement.

Referring to the thin calendar and the phenomenon at Woburn on Sunday, where the 'House Full' signs went up for the Ford Classic, Davies said: 'Somebody's missing out on a great opportunity. It's scary that we won't be playing in Britain again until August.'

The men's Tour, which has prize- money in the region of pounds 30m, is about 30 times richer than the women's, but what the Ford Classic demonstrated is that there is an audience waiting to be entertained. Yet 12 months ago, the Tour had to rely on a pounds 50,000 hand-out from the Royal and Ancient to stay alive. Woburn Golf and Country Club is also the venue of the Dunhill British Masters in which Faldo, Woosnam, etc. will be playing, but that tournament has never attracted the crowds that flocked to the Ford Classic.

On Saturday, it drew more than 15,000 and for the final round they had to send out urgent radio messages warning drivers to abort their journey. After opening up the practice ground to cars, which was the last available parking space, Alex Hay, the manager at Woburn, had to close the course. It is a pity Hay was not working in his other capacity as a BBC television commentator. Sky recorded the event for a later showing.

The official attendance was given as 20,143. 'Goodness only knows what it would have been had we allowed everybody in,' Hay said. It brought the week's total to just under 50,000. The corresponding event on the men's Tour, the Heineken Catalonia Open at Pals, near Girona, attracted a total of 4,000 spectators and for the final round drew between 600 and 700. The prize-money at Woburn was pounds 100,000, which is high for the women's Tour, and at Pals pounds 300,000, which is low for the men.

The comparison, though, is not entirely fair. Ford give away thousands of tickets for their event and the vast majority did not pay a penny. The money from those who did pay is split between Woburn and the Golf Foundation. For their part, Ford are more than content to add names to their mailing list.

Catrin Nilsmark, who won by four strokes from Joanne Morley and Trish Johnson and by five from Davies, won pounds 15,000 and a Ford Probe and asked the company for the cash equivalent. Nilsmark is a product of the high-powered Swedish federation and the women's coach, Pia Nilsson, pointed out that there are plenty more where Nilsmark came from. When Europe defend the Solheim Cup against the United States in West Virginia in October there could be as many as four Swedes in the team of 10.

Morley, who won pounds 8,575 in her first tournament as a professional, has a long wait before the next event, in Portugal on 19 May. This week she will watch her former team-mates in a County Championship match at Hoylake, the scene two years ago of GB and Ireland's triumph over the Americans in the Curtis Cup, a victory in which Morley played a part. She will drive there in a Skoda and this is one area where Ford missed out. They belatedly decided to recognise her hole in one at Woburn in the second round with a bonus of pounds 1,000. They should have given her a car.

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