LPGA and LET working on venture partnership to grow women’s professional game

LPGA commissioner Mike Wha and LET chairwoman Marta Figueras Dotti

LPGA commissioner Mike Wha and LET chairwoman Marta Figueras-Dotti after announcing the joint partnership between the two women’s tours, in Spain. Picture by TRISTAN JONES

THE world’s two biggest women’s professional golf tours are to unite after an agreement was reached between the LPGA and LET.

The Ladies Professional Golf Association and the Ladies European Tour are forming a venture partnership to push women’s golf to new heights in Europe and around the world.

The combination of the LET’s European expertise and relationships in the region, with the LPGA’s global strength – and worldwide exposure – provides the core ingredients to create a “shared vision for the future of women’s professional golf and growth of the game.”

The two governing bodies had remained tight-lipped about a collaboration since reports of a possible “merger” leaked out two months ago.

But discussions and work on the joint partnership have been ongoing since the Solheim Cup at Glenealges in September.

The LET’s chief executive Mark Lichtenhein stood down shortly after Europe’s win over the USA, in Scotland, after his contract deal with the Tour ended.

LET players voted their support for the joint venture partnership on Tuesday during the LET’s annual membership meeting in Spain.

LET board chairwoman Marta Figueras-Dotti said: “Two teams, joining for one common purpose, will create opportunities we simply could not have pursued on our own.

“At its foundation, this joint venture is about creating opportunities for our members to pursue their passion, and their careers as professional athletes.

“In just the 60 days since we began working on this joint venture, we have already seen a dramatic impact on our LET Tour schedule – an impact that will be a positive result for virtually all of our LET members.”

A letter was sent to LET members Figueras-Dotti a month ago outlining the talks that had been taking place “since the summer.”

A leaked copy of the letter said: ““This summer, the LPGA and LET began discussions about a true partnership, where we would work together to build stronger tour schedules, create more financial stability, and deliver a Ladies European Tour that could offer its members significantly more opportunities to compete, earn an income and advance their professional career.”

LET introduces Race to Costa del Sol with bigger prizes

That development, which the LET declined to confirm or deny at the time, followed reports of an attempted bid by the LPGA to take over the LET back in 2018, which former chief Lichtenhein rebuffed at the time.

The LPGA and LET share a common vision to strengthen the presence of women’s golf in Europe, the two tours said today (Wednesday).

“A thriving Europe-based women’s professional tour is critical to help women from the Continent pursue their dreams through the game of golf, and for the overall health and growth of the game globally,” said the LET’s spokeswoman.

“Perhaps most importantly, a strong women’s tour in Europe will expose millions of young girls to the great athletes, leaders and role models of the LET, helping to inspire the next generation of European players.”

LPGA commissioner Michael Whan said: ‘This is an exciting next step for the LPGA’s mission to provide more opportunities for women in this game.

“Over the past 10 years, the LPGA has had tremendous success partnering with other golf stakeholders, including the USGA, PGA Tour, European Tour, R&A and PGA of America, to enhance opportunities for women worldwide.

“We are thrilled to deepen our relationship with the Ladies European Tour in an effort to create the strongest possible women’s tour in Europe.

“We have experienced incredible growth in women’s golf in the US, and this is an extraordinary opportunity to accelerate and expand the game in Europe as well.

“I’m excited that this is something we will build together, with the LET.”

The venture will be jointly managed by the LPGA and the LET and, through their combined resources, will seek to fast-track an expanded LET schedule.

This year’s LET schedule currently includes 20 official events in 13 different countries, with eight of those events in Europe

They included two Major championships – The Evian Championship and the AIG Women’s British Open.

The partnership aims to immediately increase playing opportunities for women in Europe, and to have that schedule growth lead to both increased financial opportunities.

There will be an optional pathway to the LPGA for the tour’s top performers.

In recent years Dorset’s Georgia Hall – last year’s Women’s British Open winner – and Kettering’s Solheim Cup player Charley Hull have combined playing both tours, while Yorkshire’s Jodi Ewart-Shadoff and Lancashire’s Bronte Law have earned LPGA cards via the Symetra Tour.

How will LET schedule look in 2020?

THE LET is based at The Buckinghamshire GC and announcements on any further tie ups between the LPGA, the Symetra Tour, the LET and the LET Access Series will be eagerly awaited between now and the start of the 2020 season.

The first big announcement will be the LET’s 2020 playing schedule. In 2017 it lost seven tournaments completely, but has been more stable in the past two years, with 15 events in 2019 – the last of which starts in Spain on Thursday.

The LET season has got in full swing in recent years with three events in Australia – including the Victoria Open, played alongside the European Tour event, and Australia Ladies Open, in February and March.

Those two events are already co-sanctioned by the LPGA, which has a total of 33 events planned in 2020, with a total prize fund of close to $70million – almost five times the $14million the LET’s members competed for this year.

Nearly half of that total was swallowed up by the Evian Championship and The Women’s British Open leaving more and more women professionals struggling to justify a career on Tour, and having to juggle other jobs to cover the gaps in the playing schedule.

•The 2018 LET tournament schedule can be found here.

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