She would rather be playing on the American Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour, or Ladies European Tour, or even a South African women’s golf tour—instead she’s selling houses.
Twenty-six-year-old Nicola Eaton is one of many professional golfers lamenting the fact that there is no women’s tour in South Africa.
“For so long women’s golf has taken a back seat and had very little support or sponsorship,” says Eaton.
By contrast, the South African men’s game is thriving; South Africans won two of the last six major titles; the Sunshine Tour was chosen for the World Golf Championship in 2012.
South Africa’s men’s Sunshine Tour is a vital stepping stone to the bigger tours and it includes three co-sanctioned events annually, with the European Tour providing non-European exemptions, giving local players the chance to play abroad.
On the other side of the coin, aspiring female professionals have to pay their way to America or Europe in an attempt to earn playing cards on those tours. The competition abroad is fierce and women who do not make the grade are forced to return home with little or nothing.
For Eaton and her twin sister, Melissa, this is the dead end to a rocky road that promised so much. They were members of the Ernie Els Foundation. After completing high school, they were awarded golfing scholarships in 2003 at the Louisiana State University in the United States and graduated four years later.
After playing on the American Futures Tour—the secondary tour to the US LPGA tour— for two seasons, Eaton, lacking sponsorship, was forced to return to South Africa. Melissa was more fortunate; she found a sponsor and remained on the tour.
“After two years of struggling financially on the LPGA Futures Tour supporting myself, I decided I had no choice but to move back to SA and try to find sponsors,” Eaton explains.
Since returning, Eaton has had to supplement her income by giving golf lessons and selling houses as an estate agent.
Unfortunately, money in South African women’s golf is short, according to Rae Hast, the Women’s Professional Golf Association (WPGA) president.
“We used to have four tournaments in 2009, but we’ve struggled with the economy and to find sponsors for future events.”
The Women’s World Cup of golf had previously been hosted in South Africa from 2005 to 2008, with the winners taking home $1.4 million in 2008. The hosting of the tournament did nothing to help grow the game in South Africa and the women’s tour was still forced to find its own financial backing, which never came.
“We are looking to secure one co-sanctioned event, and once we have that it becomes much easier to approach people for support,” adds Hast.
But for now, players like Eaton have very few options. She plans to enter the Ladies European Tour Qualifying School for 2012 and will need to raise R70,000 ($9400). With the November deadline looming, she has raised only R2,000 ($270).
“I know I speak predominantly for myself, but I also speak for my fellow girls on tour.
“I have so much talent and I know that if we got a little more support, we could change women’s golf in SA and represent our country on the LPGA Tour.”