After a season of well-documented troubles for the Ladies European Tour, there is cautious optimism among players that better times are on the horizon.
The Omega Dubai Ladies Classic, which got underway today, brings the curtain down on a campaign that has provided the best female golfers in Europe with just 13 regular season events worth €6,297,811 – less than ONE European Tour Rolex Series event.
Prior to the Ladies’ Scottish Open in late July, there had been just five LET events on the schedule due to five tournament cancellations, which led to talk of pros even taking up part-time jobs in order to keep their finances ticking over.
“It really hasn’t been easy,” Kylie Henry told bunkered.co.uk. “What can I say? The tour has been going through a transitional period.
“After this week, I will have only played 13 tournaments this season and that’s including a major. It’s really not ideal for furthering your game or being match sharp going into big events.
“Ahead of the Ladies Scottish Open in July, I had only played one tournament since April and we’re competing against US-based players that are coming off playing six in a row.”
Sophie Walker (above), who has been able to use her profile in the UK to tee it up in corporate golf days – as well as do some work in the Sky Sports studio in the barren spells – echoed Henry’s sentiments about how the season has panned out.
“Momentum has been pretty much impossible other than the five weeks out of six including the Queen's Cup that we’ve just had,” she told bunkered.co.uk. “But the rest, it’s been really difficult. When we haven’t played for weeks and the LPGA girls come back, it’s hard both mentally and with your golf game in general.”
The LET’s troubles came to a head at the RICOH Women’s British Open with criticism directed at chief executive Ivan Khodabakhsh from US-based Europeans Catriona Matthew and Mel Reid. Four days after the tournament’s conclusion, it was announced that Khodabakhsh (below) had left his position, with Mark Lichtenhein taking over duties.
Welsh LET pro Lydia Hall believes the tour lost its way in recent years due to it not maintaining and building relationships with golf federations in each European country. Of the 13 regular season events in 2017, only four were in Europe, and Hall says the tour will continue to find it tough if it doesn’t arrest that problem.
“We need to build relationships from grassroots – with the federations at amateur level and get events on the schedule,” she said. “Obviously we don’t want to sell ourselves short because we’re all out here to make a living and if we’re playing for €200,000-€250,000, we can’t do that. It’s having those discussions and making promoters and sponsors understand that.
“They need to get all the federations back on board and an aim should be to get an event in each country that has a federation. Since I turned pro in 2008, off the top of my head I’d say there are about 14 or 15 events in Europe that we’ve lost.”
At one point, there were real concerns about the LET’s long-term future. However, players have received a lot of encouragement from the fact that, while the LET has vowed to rebuild itself for the time being, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan and European Tour chief Keith Pelley (below) have both reached out to say they’d be willing to step in and help the LET should it need it.
The comments from Pelley, in particular, have been met with very positive feedback.
“As players, we were all excited about this, more so the possible European Tour link than the LPGA link,” added Walker. “The LPGA Tour, I think in the nicest possible way, were looking into making us a feeder tour but the European Tour joining forces I think would be amazing.
“I’d like it to be like the men’s and women’s tennis tour – I think that would be ideal. Keith seems to be a great guy for golf – he’s done so much for the European Tour – and I would be happy if they came on board and helped improve our brand.”
The key to the LET’s rebuild is simple: get some more events on the 2018 schedule. It is expected to be revealed later this week in the Middle East, and players have received encouragement as it what might be in store.
“It’s already looking more positive and we’ve had confirmation of that for early next year, which is good,” added Henry. “I can’t imagine it’s going to be an amazing 2018 schedule wise but it’s going to be better, which is a start.
“With what the tour has been going through, it would be unreasonable to expect greatness right away. But hopefully things are turning around.”