Long considered the biggest event in women’s golf, the U.S. Women’s Open now has prize money and future sites to match.
The U.S. Golf Association announced Friday that the purse will nearly double this year to $10 million, by far the richest in women’s golf and challenging top prizes in women’s sports.
The purse was $5.5 million when Yuka Saso won at Olympic Club last year.
Helping to make it possible was the USGA bringing on a presenting sponsor — Ohio-based ProMedica, a not-for-profit integrated health organization serving 28 states.
With ProMedica’s backing, the U.S. Women’s Open purse is set to increase to $11 million and eventually $12 million over the next five years.
“This is a huge step for women’s sports all over the world. Our players work really hard to be competitive, to travel the tour,” Juli Inkster, five-time USGA champion, said. “Sometimes you feel like you do it and you aren’t getting rewarded for how hard you work. ProMedica is giving these ladies an opportunity to play for a lot of money. … This will make or break their year. Their life.”
Along with the massive jump in money, the USGA is sending the women to some of the classic U.S. Open designs that for decades have hosted the men’s event. That list includes a return to Oakmont and Pinehurst No. 2, along with Riviera, Oakland Hills, Merion, Inverness and Interlachen.
The USGA said Pinehurst in North Carolina would host the men’s and women’s Open in successive weeks in 2029, just as it did in a successful debut in 2014. Martin Kaymer won that U.S. Open, and Michelle Wie captured her first major at the U.S. Women’s Open the following week.
This is the first major initiative by the USGA since Mike Whan, the former LPGA Tour commissioner, took over as CEO last summer.
“The USGA prides itself on conducting championships that not only provide an incredible stage for the athletes but also give younger players something to dream about,” Whan said. “For more than 75 years, the U.S. Women’s Open has been the one that every little girl, in every country around the world, has dreamed of winning.”
He said the partnership with ProMedica helps make that happen. The health group also will be a marketing partner of the USGA, and its ProMedica Impact Fund will be the official charity of the Women’s Open. The fund is committed to raising more than $1 billion over eight years for programs geared toward improving individual and community health.
“We’ll push to change the game and what it means to young women worldwide in order to reach new heights every year,” Whan said.
The Women’s Open is slated for June 2-5 at Pine Needles Lodge in North Carolina, and then it moves to Pebble Beach in California for the first time the following year. Pebble Beach was already on the schedule.
Pine Needles has a short but strong history of the Women’s Open, with a list of champions that includes Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Cristie Kerr.
The future lineup is littered with historic courses, such as Riviera and Merion, which have hosted the U.S. Open over the years.
“Imagine having a young girl who dreams of pursuing a career in the game of golf, and you’re able to say to that young girl that your dream should now include names like Erin Hills, Inverness, Oakmont, Merion, Interlachen,” Whan said. “That’s game-changing, the places we play.”
Most notable on the list was Oakland Hills. The Detroit-area course recently went through a major renovation under Gil Hanse, whose architecture firm was chosen to design the Olympic Golf Course in Rio for the 2016 Olympics.
Oakland Hills had long been trying to land a U.S. Open for the seventh time. It is where Ben Hogan famously “brought this course, this monster” to its knees when he won the Open in 1951, but it hasn’t held the men’s Open since 1996.
Hogan also won in 1948 at Riviera in Los Angeles, now site of the Genesis Invitational on the PGA Tour. It remains one of the more fabled stops on the West Coast, but was seen as not having enough room for all the infrastructure required for a men’s major.
Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, most recently hosted the Solheim Cup. The Women’s Open also is returning to Interlachen outside Minneapolis for the first time since Inbee Park won her first Women’s Open in 2008. That will be played in 2030, the 100th anniversary of Bobby Jones winning the U.S. Open during his “impregnable quadrilateral” sweep of the four biggest golf tournaments of his day.
It was not immediately clear how much the winner would receive at the U.S. Women’s Open. Saso earned slightly more than the typical 18% of the purse, with the USGA wanting to provide the biggest payoff at $1 million.
Information from ESPN’s Charlotte Gibson and The Associated Press was used in this report.