Ladies European Tour + European Tour + LPGA: Taking the road less traveled?

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan speaks during the HSBC Golf Business Forum on November 30, 2016 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan speaks during the HSBC Golf Business Forum on November 30, 2016 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /

The Ladies European Tour is at an exciting crossroads. Collaborations with the European Tour & LPGA could take the LET into an innovative future.

LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan and European Tour CEO Keith Pelly have been talking about joining forces to help the Ladies European Tour.

This is very good news for women’s pro golf.

I reported last week about the current LET management woes and how those problems have led to a reduction in tournaments and sponsors. If you’ve been tuned in to the Solheim Cup competition you’ve been able to see the results of the situation.  The strongest players on Team Europe – Anna Nordqvist, Carlota Ciganda, Charley Hull, Mel Reid, Karine Icher, Catriona Matthew – routinely sharpen their weapons at LPGA events.

Global Golf Post’s Lewing Mair updates the situation. According to Whan, conversation among the various pro tours management that has been ongoing for several weeks is growing more urgent.

"Our stated mission at the LPGA is to help women to pursue their golfing dreams and that doesn’t just mean American women. Any arrangement has obviously got to satisfy all parties but we’ve been having meaningful dialogue with the LET since the Scottish Open and we realize that there is a sense of urgency."

Mike Whan is a good guy to have in the LET’s corner at this point. He’s engineered a dramatic turnaround at the LPGA and demonstrated that women’s pro golf can be and is a winning proposition for sponsors and tournament organizers as well as for the players. He’s already crafted a proactive collaboration between the LPGA and the PGA.

Whan doesn’t see the LPGA as poised to gobble up the Ladies European Tour. He explained to Global Golf Post,

"Our tour only works if we have super-strong regional tours. Some girls like to stay at home and hone their skills before coming to the LPGA – and others just want to stay at home because that is where they want to be."

So where does that leave the Ladies European Tour? Mike Whan isn’t speculating but the signals seem to point to viable and frankly exciting possibilities. An affiliation with the European Tour and closer LPGA articulation seem to be the points of departure.

Innovations that work

Consider some recent changes and expansions that could point toward a successful future for the LET:

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  • The 2017 Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open was, for the first time, co-sanctioned by the LPGA with very positive results in terms of strength of field and size of purse. These elements are not unrelated.
  • National Open Championships – in India, in Denmark, in France – could and should be elevated to global events and working partnerships among the European Tour, the LPGA, and the LET could achieve that end.
  • In a move designed to popularize the game and increase both fan base and sponsorship the European Tour has been experimenting with format innovations. Why not add gender to the mix? Dame Laura Davies seems to have anticipated this possibility. She’s heading for the 2018 Shipco Masters and she’ll be playing from the “men’s” tees. (Let’s be honest – the men down down that back tees!)
  • What would happen, for example, if the men’s and women’s Scottish Open events were played simultaneously? The USGA briefly and successfully dipped its toes in these waters in 2014 by scheduling the men’s and women’s U.S. Open concurrently at Pinehurst #2. (To be fair, USGA was more or less forced into this by a scheduling snarl.)

These can be exciting times for our game if those who manage the professional architecture can look beyond past models. The Ladies European Tour stands at a crucial crossroads.

I hope the LET seizes the opportunity to lead the women’s game into new and uncharted territory rather than make one more attempt to preserve what is clearly a failing management model.

Next: LET management troubles & an uncertain future

We wait and watch these developments with an optimistic view. What’s good for the Ladies European Tour will inevitably be good for the women’s game.