The next two weeks of European golf provide a stark example of the vast gulf between the European Tour and the Ladies European Tour. The former will celebrate the first lucrative Rolex Series event of the season, while the latter has a purse that wouldn’t get most European Tour pros wouldn’t out of bed.
This week’s $7 million BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth sees the European Tour pull out all the stops to stage a bona fide five-star tournament. Next week’s $140,000 Jabra Ladies Open is further proof the Ladies European Tour is sliding into oblivion. (Yes, that’s just $140,000.)
Sadly, that’s not the lowest purse on this year’s LET schedule. The ActewAGL Canberra Classic and Women’s NSW Open , co-sanctioned events with the Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour, each offered prize funds of just $112,000.
Fourteen male players in the Official World Golf Ranking top 50 tee it up at in the BMW PGA, with eighth-ranked Rory McIlroy leading the pack. Reigning European No. 1 Tommy Fleetwood is in the field. So too are Paul Casey, defending champion Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ian Poulter, Francesco Molinari, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Branden Grace, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Ross Fisher, Haotong Li and Alexander Levy. Throw in “names” in the shape of Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, and no wonder the European Tour is excited about next week’s event.
By contrast, the highest-ranked player in next week’s LET event is Florentyna Parker at 144th. The Jabra tournament is one of just 15 events listed on this year’s LET schedule. That list includes the GolfSixes and a U.S. Women’s Open Qualifier. The European Tour schedule consists of 51 events worth approximately $205 million versus a total LET pot of approximately $13.5 million, even including the Golf Sixes. That figure compares to $68.75 million for the 34-tournament LPGA schedule.
Women’s golf in Europe ‘needs help’
Solheim Cup star Mel Reid recently renewed her bid for equality in European golf when she appeared in the GolfSixes. The 30-year-old English player proved women can compete with men under certain formats when she and partner Carlota Ciganda made it through to the quarterfinals alongside the English duo of Charley Hull and Georgia Hall. Those performances gave the moribund LET a much-needed boost, but Reid isn’t so delusional as to think the LET is off life support.
“The LET needs help and quickly,” Reid said. “It’s all good fighting for a cause, but there’s not going to be a tour to play on soon.
“A lot of my friends who have been on tour for 12 years have had to get part-time jobs. Golf is supposed to be the second-highest-paid women’s sport.”
I knew of LET players back in the 1990s who held second jobs during the winter to make ends meet. It’s a sad reflection that here we are two decades later and not much has changed. Indeed, things have probably become worse. Stanford alum Sally Watson gave up the game last year to return to school. Former English Amateur champion Lucy Williams is now a school teacher after realizing it was futile to pursue her dream of playing professionally.
The LPGA, R&A and European Tour offered $7 million last year to help the beleaguered LET get back on its feet. The LET board turned down that offer because it allegedly did not want to cede control to other bodies, especially the LPGA.
(Note to the LET board: Players don’t really care who’s in control. They just want playing opportunities.)
The current LET schedule comes to an end in September with the $350,000 Estrella Damm Ladies Open. The LET said it is working on increasing the schedule. In a statement during the GolfSixes, the LET said:
“There are 14 events listed on the 2018 schedule, in addition to the GolfSixes, but there are still more to be announced for this year in the near future.
“The LET is in discussions with a number of leads for new tournaments next year and expects to make some exciting announcements this summer, with a view to publishing a full schedule for next year.”
Let’s hope those words aren’t hollow, or the gap between male and female European golfers is only going to grow. Gwk