Hard to believe the Ladies European Tour has just announced a record-breaking 2021 schedule consisting of 27 tournaments in 19 different countries for a combined prize fund of more than €19 million. It’s the best golf news of the year so far.
Amazing to think just four years ago many of us were predicting the LET’s demise.
Anyone who questioned the LPGA and LET merger in January last year need only read the new schedule and weep. Here are the highlights:
· Nine new tournaments
· A 23-week run from May to October
· All tournaments postponed last year back on the schedule
· Biggest-ever Race to Costa Del Sol bonus pool
· €2 million increase in prize money on 2020
· €6 million increase on 2019
The season kicks off 13-16 May with the Investec South African Women’s Open, and ends 25-28 November with the Andalucía Costa del Sol Open de España, the final event on the Race to Costa del Sol, the LET order of merit. The ‘Race’ has a bonus pool of €250,000. The 2021 number one will pocket €125,000, number two gets €75,000, with €50,000 for third place.
The LET announced an improved, record schedule last year when the LPGA merger was sealed. The schedule, like those of many tours, was thrown in to chaos because of Covid-19. There were fears all that work might have been wasted as a result. Instead, the LET has come back bigger and better.
Throw in Europe defending the Solheim Cup and golf in the Olympics, and it’s no wonder many LET players are champing at the bit for the season to start.
“We are extremely excited to announce our record-breaking schedule for 2021 and thrilled to offer some good news to our membership after a difficult season last year,” LET chief executive Alex Armas said.
Remember 2017 when the LET was in mess not even Covid-19 could have caused? Who can forget Ivan Khodabakhsh’s disastrous tenure when tournaments were dropping off the schedule faster than the world’s best men jumping at appearance fees? There were just 15 tournaments on that year’s schedule when the former World Series of Boxing chief executive exited stage left, allegedly leaving a $1.5 million hole in LET accounts.
Mike Whan rode into LET headquarters last year like a knight in shining armour to announce an LPGA/LET merger. The merger, which could have taken place two years earlier, was welcome news for LET members worried about their careers.
Europe’s top women golfers have had a rough deal in recent years. Lack of playing opportunities is the reason the LET’s best – Charley Hull, Georgia Hall, Catriona Matthew, Carlotta Ciganda, Anna Nordqvist, Suzzan Pettersen, and many others – now call the LPGA home. Many of those who couldn’t make that step have quit to take up other careers, fed up banging their heads against clubhouse walls because prize funds were so paltry they couldn't make a decent living.
The LET will probably always be a feeder circuit for the LPGA, just as the European Tour is for the PGA Tour. However, at least the circuit is strong enough now to keep Europe’s aspiring players dreaming of one day making that jump to the LPGA, and stop many leaving game.
If there is one downer to the schedule news it is Whan’s impending departure. He obviously saw the potential of having a strong LET. Hopefully his successor will too. As European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said last year when the tours merged, it is in golf’s best interest to have a strong LET. It's certainly in Europe's best interest.
With any luck, and a lot of hard graft, the LET will become even stronger in years to come.
#JustSaying: “Constitutionally and physically women are unfitted for golf. They will never last through two rounds of a long course in a day. Nor can they ever hope to defy the wind and weather encountered on our best links even in spring and summer. Temperamentally the strain will be far too great for them.” Lord Wellwood in 1890, an attitude many sadly shared until the 21st century