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Why a U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Is a Major Turning Point

  • The U.S. Women's Open is being played at Pebble Beach for the first time ever.
  • Primetime network coverage and a record $11M purse are giving the event a major spotlight.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

With a record purse of $11 million, the 78th U.S. Women’s Open starts an impressive run of championships set to be played at venues that until now had been reserved for men.

Pebble Beach has hosted six men’s U.S. Opens, but this is its first time hosting the women’s national championship, and it returns to the Monterey Peninsula in 2035, 2040, and 2048.

“Where you win definitely matters,” NBC lead golf analyst Morgan Pressel told Front Office Sports at a media conference call ahead of the first round. Claiming victory at a course with a history of “epic championships” gives players more credibility, Pressel said, equating this weekend’s eventual winner to the likes of Lorena Ochoa and Stacy Lewis, who won Women’s British Opens at the Old Course at St Andrews.

Revenue from this week’s ticket sales are more than double last year’s event at North Carolina’s Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club. Coming into the event, one of the biggest storylines was 20-year-old phenom Rose Zhang, playing in just her third event as a pro after winning her debut last month and finishing T-8 at the Women’s PGA Championship.

Having a rising star like Zhang or another top American claim victory at Pebble in primetime could be the best boost women’s golf could hope for this weekend.

Celine Boutier, the 14th-ranked women’s player in the world and three-time winner on the LPGA Tour, told FOS she’s been looking forward to competing at Pebble Beach for several years: “Winning a major is already very rewarding and incredible. But to be able to win it in a historical venue like Pebble Beach [would] definitely be a dream come true.”

Boutier believes the USGA’s efforts for the U.S. Women’s Open have inspired other tournaments to step things up. “We’ve definitely seen bigger purses, but also bigger venues and better venues,” she explained.

LPGA Tour rookie Rose Zhang / Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Finally In The Spotlight

Saturday and Sunday night will be the first broadcasts of a women’s golf major on primetime network television. NBC has coverage of the third and final rounds from 3-9 p.m. ET.

“Our audience will be broader than normal,” NBC Sports executive vice president of golf Tom Knapp told FOS. “It’s a primetime audience at that iconic location. It just brings people to the television.”

The widely celebrated move was likely not as cut-and-dried for NBC as it may appear, USGA chief commercial officer Jon Podany speculated: “I wouldn’t say it was easy for them to get their affiliates to agree to going into primetime on Saturday and Sunday evening.”

Knapp credits the advanced notice for making things as seamless as possible. Pebble Beach had been on the docket for years when NBC reacquired USGA rights in 2020 for a reported annual figure around $40 million. “To the degree that you can schedule your events out six and seven years — if not more — it does put us in the position to showcase more and more hours,” he said. “The closer something is scheduled, the fewer opportunities there are — that’s just because inventory is finite.”

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Coverage Caveat

While 12 total hours of network coverage is a record for women’s golf on NBC, it’s less than half the 25 hours NBC allotted to last month’s men’s U.S. Open, which carried all-day coverage from the first tee times on Peacock.

In the wake of last month’s Women’s PGA Championship — where the majority of final-round coverage was scheduled to air on Peacock before concluding on NBC — the disparity is being noticed by critics, particularly popular golf podcast “No Laying Up.”  

With Zhang making a Sunday charge at Baltusrol Golf Club, NLU co-host Phil Landes — better known as “Big Randy” — called it a “missed opportunity” to not feature the final round more prominently.

“If the presentation was on par with what we see for the men’s majors — it’s good golf, it’s exciting golf — people will tune in,” Landes said on the podcast’s recap of the tournament. “I believe you can make money off broadcasting women’s golf.”

Fellow co-host Chris Solomon feels like NBC does the “bare minimum” when it comes to women’s golf: “They just mail it in on the women’s side, and I just don’t see it getting any better as long as NBC has the rights.”

NBC’s Pressel says the women’s golf unit would obviously love as much exposure as possible. “Anytime we feel like that doesn’t happen, it can be frustrating for us as well,” she said. NBC play-by-play announcer Grant Boone said he would prefer criticism to crickets because at least fans are paying attention. “I can promise you it does get heard, the concerns and the questions,” he added.

But in a typically slow sports month, NBC didn’t have any other live sports scheduled Thursday-Saturday. IMSA racing coverage will lead into the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday.  

Knapp echoed Boone’s sentiment but isn’t too worried — and says the governing bodies know what goes into coverage decisions. “We are motivated to do as much as we can as often as we can,” Knapp said.

Boutier said having “the right media partners” is key to making the women’s game “more accessible” for fans.

“To the degree that we can get out and ahead of it and plan for it, we will add hours,” Knapp explained. “Our goal every year is to get out of it, look at the schedule, incrementally add on an annual basis, and keep our foot on the gas.”

Reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Minjee Lee / Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Investment Strategy

On Sunday evening, the winner will take home $2 million from the record $11 million purse — last month, Wyndham Clark won $3.6 million at a men’s U.S. Open that doled out a record $20 million altogether.

This year’s U.S. Women’s Open purse increase comes despite the lack of a presenting sponsor after the USGA released the financially struggling ProMedica from its contract in March — just a year after the nonprofit helped boost the event’s prize money from $5.5 million in 2021 to $10 million in 2022. 

The USGA opted not to rush to find a new sponsor for this year but is confident a new contract will be in place by 2024. “Discussions are going very well,” Podany said. “There’s been several companies interested.”

One of the biggest brands in women’s golf is American Express — a longtime USGA sponsor that is activating with golfers for a second straight year around a small business initiative that lets pros sport logos of local companies. 

This week, Boutier and six other golfers — major champions Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Georgia Hall, along with Gaby Lopez, Mina Harigae, and Gabi Ruffels — spotlighted Pebble Beach-area businesses via logos on their shirts and bags. “They have been amazing for women’s golf,” Boutier said, stressing the brand’s work that has provided a “platform to promote not only women’s golf but also women in sports in general.”

For the U.S. Women’s Open, Podany is bullish on new investment at future venues as the USGA looks to bring equity to the women’s game. “Our goal is to continue to elevate the championship, increase the purse, [and] close the gap with the U.S. Open men’s purse,” he said.

In 2025, the U.S. Women’s Open will head to Wisconsin’s Erin Hills — the site of Brooks Koepka’s first U.S. Open title in 2017. The following year, the women’s championship hits Riviera Country Club, which annually welcomes the Tiger Woods-hosted Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles and will host the 2031 men’s U.S. Open.

The USGA is also taking the Women’s Open to Oakmont (2028, 2038), Pinehurst (2029), Oakland Hills (2031, 2042), Los Angeles Country Club (2032), and Merion (2034, 2046) — all of which have hosted or will host multiple men’s U.S. Opens. Out of these future sites, only Oakmont has hosted the U.S. Women’s Open previously.

“It just shows the importance of the Women’s Open that these venues would be interested,” Podany said.

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