HOUSTON — The 75th U.S. Women’s Open is officially underway. While players are used to not having fans by now, it’s still a bit jarring to watch groups tee off at a major championship to the sounds of scattered claps from whatever volunteers, staff, media and other personnel have been allowed on site.
The USGA and the players are just happy to be able to play this championship at all, given the uncertainty the pandemic dropped at their doorstep in March which sent every major sports organization scrambling to figure how to move forward.
For the USGA, the first step was figuring out a schedule. Connecting fans to the U.S. Women’s Open in a way that still felt special and gave them the full experience virtually came next.
“Early on, when Covid first hit, everyone had to scramble to figure out their virtual solutions,” said Bryan Miranda, USGA’s Director of Partnerships. “The benefit of having the Women’s Open moved into December is that we figured some things out with the Men’s Open and we’re able to do more and better things during the Women’s Open.”
Those “better” things include virtual autograph sessions, a virtual golf clinic and first tee introductions by players’ loved ones throughout the practice rounds — all powered by Cisco’s Webex — bringing a different type of special major feeling to Champions Golf Club.
The secondary, but arguably more important piece of these innovations is inspiring the next generation of women golfers.
“When these girls tune in and see these athletes, it can inspire the rest of their lives,” said Julia Pines, USGA’s Assistant Director of Championship Communications.
Inspired by the NBA’s support for the WNBA earlier this year, it wasn’t enough for the USGA to simply connect fans virtually. They wanted to work together with Cisco and use the opportunity to further their mission of growing the women’s game.
“We’re trying to shine a brighter light on women’s sports, and through our partnership with Cisco, they were able to get some really big names to join on the first tee like Michael Phelps and Aly Raisman,” Pines said. “Having athletes from other sports show public support of women’s golf is not something we’ve seen a lot before.”
From the USGA’s perspective, that support is important because they can deliver a major experience to a wider audience both on site and to fans who may not be able to attend in person.
Either way you look at it, this week is shining a brighter light on the U.S. Women’s Open, putting the game’s very best on full display.