Women’s golf has come a long way since Catriona Matthew first swung a club, thanks in no small part to the trailblazing Scot.
When she joined her local club in North Berwick in the early 1980s, prize money was a fraction of that in the men’s game, with just £5,600 on offer to the winner of the Women’s British Open.
By the time Matthew won that same major in 2009 – just weeks after giving birth to her second daughter – it had snowballed to £300,000.
Now it is around £1m and a professional circuit once almost solely the domain of Americans has become far more cosmopolitan.
“It’s changed hugely. Probably the biggest difference over the whole 20-odd years I’ve been on tour is the different nationalities and depth all around the world,” she tells City A.M.
“When I first started the tour was probably 90 per cent American and now there are I think around 30 different nationalities. That’s been one of the biggest differences: the global emergence of golf in different countries.
“And probably more so in the last five to 10 years is the bigger profile and the prize money going up. In the last five years it really has started to rocket up for the ladies.”
One of the forces behind swelling purses in women’s golf has been the Aramco Team Series, at which Matthew, 53, will take part in Jeddah this week.
The string of five $1m events, which became part of the Ladies European Tour last year, reaches its conclusion for 2022 at Royal Greens in Saudi Arabia.
Matthew, whose career has also been defined by the Solheim Cup, plays only a handful of tournaments a year now but relishes the opportunity of team competition.
“I’ve enjoyed the Aramco Team Series because of the team element,” she says. “I know there is an individual element but I do enjoy the team element where my individual score is not quite as important as it is in a normal event.
“Obviously they’re not quite the same as the Solheim but you are playing with other pros and an amateur. I’ve played for so long and I’ve played in enough 72-hole strokeplay events that it is nice to do something different.”
Matthew, who played in nine Solheim Cups and captained Europe to back-to-back victories in 2019 and 2021, believes the Aramco Team Series has also helped the LET to retain talent.
“I think first and foremost for the players it has brought bigger purses,” she says. “They are good for the LET. The format has been tweaked slightly this year and the players will like that the prize money is now split 50-50 between the team and individual element. Hopefully it encourages other tournaments to raise their purses a little bit.
“I think if there was someone just turning pro now and deciding whether to start on the LET or the Epson Tour [feeder tour to the LPGA in the US), certainly a lot of the Europeans will come to the European Tour now rather than go straight out to the States. The more money you get, the better players and it just improves everyone.”
Matthew could expect to bank many times more than her $9.7m in career prize money if she were starting out now, but she insists she doesn’t envy the rewards on offer today.
“I don’t think so, no,” she says. “I think you can look back at the generation before me and they probably thought we were playing for much bigger purses than they did. It’s just one of these things. It’s just great to see the higher profile of women’s golf.
“I think we’re definitely heading in the right direction. Everyone would like more TV coverage – the more TV coverage, the more the players are known and then you get more people interested and bigger crowds. That in itself then leads to bigger purses.”
Although her schedule may have slimmed, Matthew offered a reminder that her playing days are far from done when finishing in a share of third at the US Senior Women’s Open in August.
“I think that’s a big goal of mine. I had some good finishes in the US Women’s Open but I never managed to win it,” she says.
“It’s just a different stage of my career. Obviously you’re still playing against good players who are at the same kind of stages in their careers. A win is a win, it doesn’t really matter who you are playing against. Any time you win a major would be great.”
She intends to continue cherry-picking events with a view to winning one of the two senior majors – and remains puzzled by the absence of a senior version of the Women’s British Open.
“The US Senior Women’s Open is my main focus to really compete and try and win the event,” she says.
“The one thing it would be great to see is a Women’s British Senior Open start up. That would be nice to see and perhaps have the opportunity to play in it. I don’t know why that hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully [chief executive] Martin Slumbers and the R&A are thinking about it.”
Matthew’s other ambitions include helping to foster new generations of Scottish women challenging for the biggest prizes in golf.
“I’d love to see more girls playing golf in Scotland and a better flow of players coming through, competing on the world stage and vying for No1 spot,” she adds.
“You’ve got [Scottish No1] Gemma Dryburgh who’s been playing really well out in the States this year. Hannah Darling is just going into her second year of college in the US, she’s one of the big hopefuls.
“Grace Crawford is a wee bit younger again and another with potential. It would be great to see more of those; the more you can get the more they can push each other on.”
One thing Matthew is adamant that she won’t be doing, however, is captaining Europe at a future Solheim Cup in an attempt for an unprecedented hat-trick.
“No, not at all – that’s an easy question. I was really lucky to do it twice but there’s always someone else whose career is at that stage and it’s their turn.
“For Suzann [Pettersen] it was the perfect time for her to do it next year. It’s not something you can hog. I think I’d be chancing my luck to go for three.”