Ivan Khodabakhsh, CEO of the Ladies European Tour
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If you were to ask how many events on the Ladies European Tour took place in Europe, you might be surprised to hear that the answer is less than a dozen.
In fact, halve that number and you get closer to the mark.
Neglecting the two major championships which take place on European soil, for which many LET players don’t qualify, and those attempting to forge a living are left with a total of five European events in which to compete. Of course, we live in a globalised age and there are a host of events taking place over the coming months in Asia and Australasia in which the girls, if they have the funds, can play. It’s a good job, for between the middle of March and the start of September there has been a mere seven events.
There is of course a reason behind this seemingly absurd scheduling. The CEO of the LET, Ivan Khodabakhsh, has set in place a long-term plan which aims to grow the profile of the circuit and in turn enable the tour to have enough cash and leverage to host a full programme of events, such as that seen in the past.
The idea is a noble one but of little help to the young players currently coming through the ranks, who are dreaming of competing against the best on a weekly basis.
In discussion with a Curtis Cup player recently, I asked about her goals for the upcoming year. The plan, as with many of her competitors, was to head straight to LPGA Qualifying School in the hope of bypassing the Ladies European Tour altogether. Her reasoning was straightforward. She’d spent her amateur career dreaming of playing with the world’s best players week-in-week-out and had little wish to be sitting at home at the height of the golfing season.
Of course, financial constraints inevitably limit the tournament portfolio. The prize pot has dipped by ten percent since the financial crisis and events cannot be built up without the cash flow to support them.
The consequence is that from October onwards there is a host of tournaments for the girls to play in the oil wealthy Arab countries, such as the inaugural Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open. From here the girls head to India, Qatar, Dubai and then, for those that regain their card at Q-School, a three-week trip down under. The idea sounds an exotic one, and for those who have the funds to support such a trip, it undoubtedly will be.
The reality of life as a professional on the Ladies European Tour however is not quite as glamorous as it sounds.
Those that made the journey to China to play in the co-sanctioned Sanya Ladies Open, were competing for a slice of the €300,000 prize pot. The figure sounds substantial but is less impressive when you consider that the top placed finisher outside of the top ten only picked up €5,000. A tidy sum but hardly anything to write home about once the costs of travelling to China has been deducted.
Bearing in mind that many of those competing had only been playing intermittently throughout the year and the result is that, for those without a substantial sponsor, travelling to these far-flung places is just not economically feasible.
If Ivan’s plan comes to fruition, then I, and the tour’s other critics, will be forced to eat our words. We just hope that by the time that happens Europe’s best talents haven’t all headed to the other side of the pond in pursuit of their dreams.