The crisis on the Ladies European Tour
Cancelled events, disappearing money, player discontent... explaining where the LET goes from here.
Last June, having cancelled seven tournaments in the 2017 season and seen its assets reportedly fall from £1.05m in 2013 to just £72,000 at the end of December 2015, the Ladies European Tour denied it was in crisis and on the brink of collapse. “We fully understand the frustrations our members have with the tournament cancellations and are doing everything we can to improve the situation,” read a statement that described the Times’ figures as “highly inaccurate”. Privately, the LET emailed its members to acknowledge that they “all feel sad, disappointed, upset, furious, angry”, but pleads with them not to vent their frustrations on social media.
What happened next?
The season ended with only 15 events, just six beyond the majors. Charley Hull complained that without events, Europe’s stars would be forced to chase tournaments and riches across the Atlantic. After LET chief executive Ivan Khodabaksh was replaced by chairman Mark Lichtenhein, offers of help came in from the LPGA, the men’s European Tour and the R&A. “Over the next weeks and months we are going to be looking at all those offers and how we can move forward and rebuild our tournament schedule, particularly in Europe, so that we can make a bright future,” said Lichtenhein last August.
The situation today
While the LET declined to comment, Keith Pelley shone light on the situation. “We tried to get involved,” he said in late November. “We presented to the LET board along with Mike Whan from the LPGA a couple of months ago… a three-way partnership with ourselves, the LPGA and the R&A. They have decided at this time to try to rebuild on their own. We’ve said we’re here whenever you need us.” As we went to press, the LET hadn’t confirmed its full 2018 schedule, with Mark Lichtenhein only saying: “We have a fairly meagre schedule in the first half of the year. That’s what we need to address for the future.”
The way forward?
The LPGA offers great encouragement here. In 2009, it attracted only 23 events, its lowest number since 1972. A player revolt led to a change in commissioner and under Mike Whan, the LPGA has gone from strength to strength, with more events, prize money, sponsorship and TV deals. If the LET can turn its own fortunes around with a new man at the helm then all well and good, but the next 12 months are crucial. If its struggles continue this year, a merging of the European men’s and women’s tours would make sense. The two bodies sharing resources, marketing, expertise and finances can only be good for the LET and game as a whole.