What next for the Ladies European Tour?

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We’ve watched the decline of the Ladies European Tour over the past few years and wished someone would come to its rescue. Over the decades the LET have had so many inside squabbles and fights and the wrong people in charge, such a turnover of the wrong people, that it’s not surprising that it’s now reached a crisis situation but thats not a bad thing if a huge sea change can come about not just in women European golf, but in the sport as a whole.

Its just tough on the players at the moment. The leaked email from LET board member Helen Alfredson said it all. “Even though you will all feel sad, disappointed, upset, furious, angry and rightfully so, I ask you to PLEASE KEEP IT INSIDE THE ROPES and try to be a team and look professional. You won’t gain anything using social media to vent the frustration”. But speak out they did. The most positive of whom was Carly Booth who said she was loving being at home in Manchester while there were no tournaments to play in and spending time with her partner.

The current status is that ongoing talks are taking place between Commissioner Mike Whan of the LPGA in America and intriguingly, Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the mens European Tour. They have promised to work together to provide one vision, and let’s hope they come up with something soon before the start of the new season in Europe, which in the mens case will be in December.

Commissioner Mike Whan has done a good job improving the profitability and profile of the LPGA and is widely respected by his players. However, the Ladies European Tour is mainly a potential business opportunity for their tour. He’s said that he wouldn’t be targeting sponsors who could provide purses of over a million Euros. 250,000 to 300,000 Euros per event would be the target, clearly showing that he thinks a Ladies European Tour absorbed into the LPGA would just be a small developmental circuit underneath their tour’s umbrella. The top 10 players would play their way onto the LPGA tour.

Do the players of the LET really want that option? It effectively brings about a world tour run from America by the LPGA. Rory McIlroy talked two weeks ago about the merger of the mens PGA and European tours being inevitable. I beg to disagree. A world tour has been discussed since the 1980s and effectively there is a geographical world tour here in Europe and with the World Golf Championship events. But merging the two mens professional bodies, that will be a long time coming. The massive payouts on the PGA Tour will always lure European players of the highest talent ready to compete out there, but it isn’t counter productive for the European Tour to compete. It is its own animal, a very different breed, with different cultures and courses unlike America and it can’t become a homogenised brand. And neither can the Ladies European Tour be sucked into the LPGA without completely losing its identity.

The involvement of the mens European Tour, who are always looking at ways to grow and expand their business, in discussions about LET’s future opens up a whole new set of opportunities.  If only people can open their minds to the possibilities.

Learning from tennis where mens and women events take place concurrently at the same venue, this would be hugely appealing to spectators and TV audiences to have the option to watch the events at the same time. The nearest we’ve ever got to this were when the women played the same course at the Rio Olympic Games and when Pinehurst No 2 was used for the Women’s US Open the week after the men had played their US Open.

It’s a cultural change, but would the men be willing to consider the idea? At amateur level we’ve had the mens and womens unions merge, something which will filter down to county level sooner rather than later. At professional level, the LET players want opportunities to play a full schedule. Running their tour alongside the mens, by officials from the European Tour would seem to be the most attractive and viable option.  Even if it takes time to roll out male-female events at the same venues at the same time, it would be an interesting option for Keith Pelley’s team to have on their horizon. And more interesting than the forced excitement of their new Super Sixes events.

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