The Ladies’ European Tour is not currently in good health. The 2017 schedule looks set to be completed with a mere 15 tournaments on the roster, not nearly enough to provide the members with enough playing opportunities from which to make a living, never mind elevate their game to greater heights.
Sadly, this is not a new scenario. The pinnacle of the tour’s existence was arguably around 1987 when I remember we had 27 guaranteed tournaments and as players we could plan our schedules to suit ourselves – four weeks on and then a week off was a popular format.
However, by the early 1990s we were in trouble as a tour with purses stalling and tournaments being cancelled as an economic downturn hit us badly. As players we were told we had to step up to the plate. We had to work harder in pro-ams to ensure the enjoyment of our amateurs, some of whom were potential sponsors; we were told to dress more smartly; and quite bluntly told we had to improve the level of our golf. Collectively we rolled up our sleeves and did all that was asked of us, understanding that the product had to be right for the opportunity of attracting bigger and better sponsors for tournaments. And then, in 1992, against all the odds, we won the Solheim Cup. Surely that would set us off on a long, elevated, upward curve? Sadly not, and even more sadly, that pattern of building up, then losing tournaments, then exhorting the players to give more, more and more, all the while keeping the problems “in house”, seems to have continued to this day. I experienced this first hand, both as a player and as a member of the Board for five years.
And here we are, some 25 years on, yet seemingly, no further on. A few weeks ago the players were criticised when their frustrations bubbled over and the financial ill health of the Tour was openly talked about. There have been so few tournaments this year there is no planning required nowadays – the players must play everything they can afford. In the first six and a half months of this year there were ultimately only five tournaments on offer, but the funds needed to compete in all five were significant as the venues were scattered from Australia to China to Morocco to Spain to Thailand. That is, quite frankly, not good enough.
So, now comes news that the men’s European Tour chief Keith Pelley and LPGA commissioner Mike Whan have jointly proffered a helping hand to the beleaguered LET.
No help should be spurned – but a note of caution here. The Seniors Tour and the Challenge Tour come under the auspices of the men’s European Tour and are surely direct competitors with the LET for a share in a finite pool of sponsorship on offer. And it certainly wouldn’t be ideal to become a satellite tour exclusively feeding the LPGA, would it?
It would be very naive to think that any offer of help is purely altruistic. Suggestions have been made of much smaller fields in the schedule and those players playing for more money. Not a bad idea, but is that not a short-term fix? Let’s look 10, 20 years down the road. We want full field events (144 players) and a schedule of 30 tournaments or so that means a player can make a living in Europe. To accomplish that we mustn’t create a future for only the top part of the pyramid. The entire LET pyramid of players has the depth and talent to merit playing opportunities. As many tournaments as you can muster are needed, even if it’s at lower prize funds. Opportunities to tee it up are key for any player’s development. As a good friend once pointed out to me – if you want to win the top medal in the Chelsea Flower Show, you plant thousands and thousands of seeds. You don’t limit your chances of success by only working with a small number.
Twenty-five years ago we were at the forefront of women’s sports in the UK. Now we get less exposure and interest than women’s cricket, football, tennis, rugby, hockey and athletics – to name but a few. These sports have been where we currently are. Surely we can learn from them? Often, someone somewhere has walked the walk before you. Just read Judy Murray’s inspiring book, “Knowing The Score”.
And……..something else that makes my blood boil. This talk of the LET players not being able to make the Solheim Cup a real match. Yes, the European team will always be partly made up of purely LET-based players and yes, while the schedule is so paltry that is very difficult indeed for us, but the depth of talent in Europe is terrific. Remember, until a fantastic day’s singles play from a pumped-up US team in 2015 the Europeans were on course for a third consecutive victory. What short memories the critics have!
One thing we have lacked is a far-seeing, charismatic leader at the helm, someone with a long-term vision and understanding of the landscape of sport and business, who can look beyond establishing their own, limited personal fiefdom. To attract the quality of individual required a top-rated salary needs to be on offer. Perhaps this is where any concrete “help” should be directed – in finding and paying for this individual. This is a tough, tough world but one thing I can guarantee this person – the product you will have to work with is fantastic.