The Rise of Women's Golf in Asia

Opportunities for Sponsorship

In the last decade, women's golf has been growing in popularity in Asia, and this trend is expected to continue in the future. With more women taking up the sport, a surge of talent in women’s golf, and a greater audience interest in the women’s game, the women's golf market presents a valuable opportunity for brands looking to engage with this growing demographic.

In this article, we will explore the rise of women's golf and the opportunities it presents for sponsorship.

(Photo: LPGA)

The start of the Asian revolution in women’s golf

In 1998, Se Ri Pak arguably changed the face of women’s golf and ushered in a new era in the sport. The unheralded 20-year-old rookie from South Korea burst onto the scene and won the U.S. Women’s Open and the LPGA Championship that year, becoming the first South Korean player, male or female, to win a major championship.

It was a remarkable achievement and significant milestone that raised the profile of women’s golf in South Korea and paved the way for a new generation of Korean golfers to follow in her footsteps. Over the course of her career, Pak went on to win five major championships and 25 LPGA Tour events, and her success elevated women’s golf to new heights and led to a huge influx of Asian players onto the LPGA Tour.

(Photo: Hana Financial Group Singapore Women’s Open 2022)

Since then, there has been an increasing number of high-profile, talented female players from Asia, especially from China, Japan, South Korea and Thailand, who are achieving great success on the international stage. Standout performances from the likes of Ai Miyazato, Atthaya Thitikul, Inbee Park, Jin Young Ko, Na Yeon Choi, and Yani Tseng have continued to put women’s golf on the map in Asia.

In fact, today, Asian players have dominated women’s golf; Asian women have captured 11 of the last 15 editions of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, the oldest major in women’s golf. In the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings as of February 2023, 56 of the top 100 players are from Asia. By contrast, the latest men’s Official World Golf Ranking sees seven Asian players in the top 100 list.

According to Statista, a look at the LPGA career earnings shows South Korea as second best in the all-time highest-earning nations on the LPGA tour, with female Korean players racking up combined career earnings of USD 224 million. Although Korean golfers are still behind their American counterparts who have collectively earned over USD 550 million, they are ahead of countries such as Sweden, Australia, the UK and Canada in terms of earnings. Two other Asian nations – Japan and Thailand, also made the top 8 list of most successful countries for women’s golf.

Their success has generated much success stories and media coverage, which have contributed to the increased visibility of women’s golf in Asia over the years.

A more diverse and inclusive golfing community

Besides the playing field, we are also seeing other trends in the Asian landscape that have contributed to the rise of women’s golf in the region. At a social level, there is a growing number of recreational golfers across all genders and ages, coupled with the development of new golf courses and facilities across Asia to make the sport more accessible for all. A survey done by Gallup Korea showed that as of April 2022, around 34% of respondents in South Korea said they played golf, an increase from just 2% in 1992, indicating a growing community of golfers in the country. Reflecting a similar trend in Japan, based on a survey by METI (Japan), the number of golf course users in Japan reached a total of 10.3 million in 2021, an all-time high between 2011 and 2021.

According to a research by Sports Marketing Surveys, more than 23.3 million people across Asia played golf in 2020, a 11.5% increase from 20.9 million in 2016. The sport has also become more unisex; golf participation is becoming less male oriented as the significant increase in participation among women at all levels of the sport, from recreational to avid professionals, is a clear reflection of the sport’s broadening appeal.

Gallup Korea’s survey also explored how South Koreans’ perception of golf has changed. As of April 2022, around 36% of respondents in South Korea felt golf was a luxury sport, compared to 72% of respondents polled in 1992, marking a steady decline over the past decade. Quite simply, golf is no longer seen as just a rich man’s sport today.

(Photo: IMAGO / Xinhua)

More tournaments, bigger prize funds

Concurrently, with audience interest in women’s golf on the rise, a growing number of international tournaments and events are being organised in Asia, giving fans the opportunity to watch some of the best female golfers compete in their own backyard and raising the profile of women’s golf in the region. What’s more, the increase of prize money in the women’s game has been incremental and hitting record highs.

One of the leading women’s professional golf properties, The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour's 2023 schedule will comprise 33 official events, including tournaments in Asia such as the Honda LPGA Thailand, HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore, Buick LPGA Shanghai, BMW Ladies Championship in Korea, Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA, and TOTO Japan Classic. Collectively, the total official prize fund of the 2023 global schedule amounts to more than USD 101 million, which is the highest total in the Tour’s history.

(Photo: Hana Financial Group Championship)

Today, playing opportunities are aplenty for the wealth of untapped female talents in the Asia-Pacific region, with the fledgling Ladies Asian Tour (LAT) Series being another breakthrough development in the women’s golf scene. Launched in 2021, the LAT Series is organised by the Asia Golf Leaders Forum (AGLF), a non-profit organisation, in collaboration with golf associations in Asia such as Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Philippines.

Its mission is to unite all the Asian golf associations and grow Asia’s own series of women’s golf by co-developing with existing tournaments or establish new tournaments across Asia. Events organised as part of the series in 2022 include the DB Group Korea Women’s Open, the inaugural Simone Asia-Pacific Cup in Jakarta and the Hana Financial Group Singapore Women’s Open. AGLF intend to expand the LAT Series to seven events in 2023, including tournaments in Thailand and the Philippines, and 10 in 2024.

We’ve seen a revolution in women’s golf over the past 10 years and there’s no sign of it stopping.

Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam, winner of 89 tournament victories worldwide & 10 major championships

(Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire)

Opportunities for sponsorship

At a global level, many brands have already recognised golf’s huge potential amongst all the women’s sports. According to the 2022 Womens in Sports Report by SponsorUnited, the LPGA Tour secured 940 brand and sponsorship deals in 2022, which represents a 30% increase in overall brand deals compared to 2021, with notable sponsors including CME Group, Coco-Cola and Rolex. The LPGA leads all women’s sports in brand deals, more than the likes of Women’s Tennis Association, National Women’s Soccer League, and Women’s National Basketball Association.

As compared to the West, the number of brand deals in women’s golf in Asia may be relatively lower, but some brands have recognised its potential for growth. Hana Financial Group (HFG) is one organisation that has been actively sponsoring golf in Asia, particularly the women’s game. The South Korean financial services company has been a key sponsor of several high-profile women’s tournaments, including the Singapore Women’s Open and KLPGA Hana Financial Group Championship.

Besides the events, the company also supports individual golfers, including top players like Lydia Ko, Lee Min-jee, Patty Tavatanakit and Atthaya Thitikul, who have achieved success. It was a strategic decision by HFG to invest in women’s golf as a way to build brand awareness, raise its profile and engage with consumers in Asia and beyond.

(Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire)

With the popularity of women’s golf in Asia on an upswing, now would be an excellent time for brands here to capitalise on huge potential in the sport. It presents a unique opportunity for brands to connect with a increasingly diverse yet engaged audience, including avid golfers, sports enthusiasts, affluent consumers and female audience in general, and may even potentially result in a higher return on investment for brands compared to the men’s game, making it a better value proposition.

It is a different ball game to the men’s game – sponsoring women’s golf may have wider appeal to certain target markets, such as women’s fashion, fitness and wellness industries. Also, women’s golf offers a level of accessibility and inclusivity that can be appealing to brands who value social responsibility in today’s social and political climate. By aligning themselves with women’s sports, brands can demonstrate their commitment, position themselves as strong advocates of diversity and gender equality, and help to build a positive brand image.

Asia as the focal point for women’s golf

The rise of women’s golf in Asia is undoubtedly a positive trend for the sport and the region, and one that is set to continue in the years ahead. With a growing number of talented players, more tournaments and events being held, increased visibility of the success of top female golfers in the region, the women’s golf market in Asia is becoming an increasingly attractive option for brands.

Patrick Feizal Joyce, Senior Vice President, Golf – APAC, SPORTFIVE, said, “Asian women’s golf continues to rapidly grow in popularity and we are seeing more and more talented golfers emerging from this region. It offers a favourable prospect for brands seeking to invest in sports sponsorships. With the right marketing strategy, brands can tap into this market and engage with a broadening and highly engaged audience.”

Beyond the Match
The SPORTFIVE Magazine

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