Ladies European Tour management troubles are putting the future of women’s pro golf at risk for European women and in European venues.
The Ladies European Tour (LET) has struggled for several years to secure sponsors and sustain a competitive tournament schedule. Now, on the eve of the Solheim Cup, the CEO Ivan Khodabakhsh has stepped back from his position and, at the request of the LET Board of Directors, Chairman, Mark Lichtenhein has assumed day-to-day management responsibility for the Tour.
The public announcement posted on the Ladies European Tour is tantalizingly brief and absent details. However, the Tour’s troubles have been public knowledge, at least in a general way, for some months.
Helen Alfredsson warned, even as tournaments were dropped from the 2017 Ladies European Tour schedule, that the LET was facing serious “financial concerns.”
European players who predominately play on the LPGA have had difficulty fulfilling the required number of LET starts (six events over a two-year period) to ensure Solheim Cup eligibility. Sponsorship has waned and, as Catriona Matthew observed, emerging Ladies European Tour players are hard pressed to make enough money to continue playing pro golf.
"If you were an emerging player playing in Europe you just about need to have a part-time job, I’d say, to keep you going. The (Ladies European Tour] does get better towards the second half of the year. The economy in Europe at the moment isn’t great with all that’s going on. It’s just a tough sell to get tournaments. A lot of the top players go to America. It’s a shame but it’s quite difficult."
Players like Charley Hull and Mel Reid, both standouts on Europe’s 2017 Solheim Cup team, have shifted to the LPGA in large part because of the differential in financial rewards. Reid, who at 29 is playing her rookie year on the LPGA, explained how that differential has impacted on her attitude toward playing golf.
"I feel like I’ve got my hunger back for the game. I’ve said it before but [LPGA] qualifying school was kind of a make or break for me."
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The Ladies European Tour has had upwards of 20 CEOs since 1979. That kind of management turnover doesn’t foster organizational stability, let alone organizational growth and prosperity.
The LET is at a critical crossroads. Will it turn to the LPGA’s Mike Whan and transition to a feeder tour for the LPGA, or consider a merger with the men’s European Tour, or attempt to identify a new CEO and battle its way back to financial and organizational health?
Both an affiliation with the LPGA and a merger with the European Tour appear to be viable options at this point, and both would ensure that emerging European players could forge viable career paths. At this point, the future of women’s pro golf in European venues is at risk.
For the good of the game and the good of the individual golfers, the Ladies European Tour Board of Directors must dig deep for a solution.