Following a lengthy absence, womens professional golf returns to Rome. Even golfing enthusiasts will find it hard to remember that it was way back in 1991 that Britains Laura Davies won the third edition of the Rome Classic held at Olgiata Golf Club. After that the ladies European professional tour shunned the eternal city, mainly because of a lack of strong sponsorship. Now, all of 13 years later, its the prestigious German car company BMW that will pick up most of the tab to guarantee the 275,000 prize money for the 2004 edition of the Italian Ladies Open, out of which the tournaments winner will be awarded 41,000.
Professional golf is structured on a similar basis to professional tennis, in that there are various circuits or tours. In golf, however, ranking is based solely on the aggregate of prize money won. In the 1980s, the proettes, as professional women golfers are rather awkwardly called, broke away from the professional mens European tour in an attempt to emulate the highly successful and independent American Ladies Professional Golfers Association (LPGA). It was doubtless a wise move, as in those years the mens European circuit was on a fast track to enlargement and may have appeared less than supportive of the women. Since then, life hasnt been easy for the womens European circuit, as its more successful players are inevitably drawn across the Atlantic where the competition and prize money are more rewarding. Even so, several top European players are more than supportive of their home tour.
A good sign for women golfers came from the success of the Evian Masters, which rose in just a few years to eminent heights as one of the worlds top golf tournaments. Its success is due mainly to the enthusiasm and dynamic personality of Franck Riboud, patron of the mega-group Danone, which includes Evian mineral water. Riboud is also owner and developer of Frances superb Evian Masters Golf Club and resort overlooking Lake Geneva. The total prize money offered this year by the Evian Masters from 21 to 24 July is $2.5 million.
As the womens Rome Classic and the mens Rome Masters faded into oblivion, hopes to create and build up an important annual professional golfing event in the eternal city came to nothing. Now that the Italian Ladies Open will be played in the capital for the first time, the possibility of developing a Roman-style Evian Masters is high. The company promoting the competition, Playteam, has signed a contract with the Italian golf federation to manage the event for three years, plus an option on two more. Assuming the event will remain in Rome until 2008, it is hoped that by then it will be firmly on its way to becoming a must on the citys springtime sporting and social calendar, drawing top players and creating the right kind of buzz.
The venue for the 2004 BMW Ladies Italian Open will be the new Parco di Roma Golf Club at Grottarossa, just a stones throw from Corso Francia. Founded in 2000, and with a hilly and technically-valid course designed by American architect Pete Dye, Parco di Roma is the citys golf success story, with an almost full membership list. Breaking away from the rather staid tradition of long-established clubs, Parco di Roma threw its doors wide to junior players, an important part of the clubs philosophy and success. On 2 June the traditional pro-am (professional-amateur) competition, a customary preliminary to the Open proper, will be held. The main event will take place from 3 June to 6 June, the equivalent of four days of 18 holes each, the winner being the player with the lowest aggregate score. Many eyes will be on leggy local Diana Luna, a first-time winner at the recent Tenerife Ladies Open.
BMW Ladies Italian Open, 3-6 June.
Parco di Roma Golf Club, Via dei due Ponti, tel. 0633653396.
Tickets cost 10 per day or 30 for all four days.