Golf: Ko hopes Kasumigaseki female bias will end

Golfer Lydia Ko speaking at a press conference ahead of the HSBC Women's Champions tournament in Singapore on March 1, 2017.
Golfer Lydia Ko speaking at a press conference ahead of the HSBC Women's Champions tournament in Singapore on March 1, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Singapore (AFP) - 2016 Olympic silver medallist Lydia Ko said Thursday she hoped the popularity of women's golf in Japan could help solve a row over female members at 2020 Tokyo Games host course.

Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama does not allow women as full members and in January postponed a review of the policy, despite coming under severe pressure from Tokyo's female governor Yuriko Koike who said she felt "uncomfortable" that women could not become full members.

The issue also prompted concern from the International Olympics Committee ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Games.

"I think especially in the past generations, golf was known to be a men's game," Ko, the world No. 1, told reporters on the eve of the prestigious HSBC Women's Champions tournament in Singapore.

"But when I go to Japan, I realise how popular golf, especially women's golf, is. I think slowly those things hopefully will change in the future," said the 19-year-old New Zealander.

"The amount of talent in the women's game is immense... Of course in the past there have been men-only member courses, but that has slowly changed... not only in golf but in everything around us."

Golf at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is to be held at the 18-hole East Course of the country club.

The course came to prominence 60 years ago when it hosted the fifth Canada Cup, the equivalent of the today's World Cup.

Ko, who has topped the women's golf rankings for 71 weeks, will tee off at the US$1.5 million (S$2.1 million) HSBC Women's Champions, sanctioned by the LPGA, on Thursday.

The star-studded field includes world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand and defending champion Jang Ha Na from South Korea as well as 19 of the world's top 20 ranked players.