LET members may not want it to become a feeder tour to the LPGA, but it's the most sensible option for all involved
The European Tour and the Ladies European Tour have announced plans to stage a new mixed event in Sweden next summer in which 78 men and the same number of women will compete against each other for one trophy and a single prize purse.
Hosted by Henrik Stenson and Annika Sorenstam, the new Scandinavian Mixed is the latest attempt by both tours to promote inclusivity in golf and for that reason alone deserves our full support.
Competitors will play for a prize fund of €1.5 million which is considerably more than was up for grabs at this year’s Jordan Mixed Open, contested by players from the Challenge Tour, the Staysure Tour and the LET and also at the subsequent ISPS Handa Invitational in Northern Ireland.
It also offers world ranking points for both tours, plus Race to Dubai points and Ryder Cup points for European Tour members. That should certainly enhance its appeal among the men, although it is to be played the week before the US Open which is bound to have some negative repercussions for the quality of the field.
Women competitors will receive LET Order of Merit points although most would undoubtedly have played anyway given the large gaps in their current schedule and the fact the prize fund in Sweden dwarfs what they normally play for.
The introduction of the new Scandinavian Mixed event comes at an interesting time for women’s professional golf in Europe. Around the same time as it was announced, stories started to emerge about renewed discussions between the LPGA and the LET about some sort of partnership.
The details remain unclear but what we do know is that in mid-October the LET’s board chair, Marta Figueras-Dotti, sent a letter to LET members stating that a dialogue to create a “50-50 joint venture” between the two tours was “in full swing”.
Subsequently, LPGA and LET officials issued a joint statement which included a passage from Figueras-Dotti’s previous letter to members. It read: “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 complete, earn an income and advance their professional career.”
The joint statement added the two tours hoped to have an agreement in place to present to LET members at their AGM in Spain on November 26.
Of course, there is nothing new in this. Back in 2016, the tours held talks about some sort of partnership, possibly also involving the European Tour and the R&A, but they stalled when the LET hierarchy decided to continue to go it alone. However, it has made very little progress in the intervening period which resulted recently in the tour’s chief executive, Mark Lichtenhein, not having his contract renewed and may well be what led Figueras-Dotti and her supporters to instigate new talks.
It will be interesting to see what sort of agreement is put to the players at their AGM in Spain but it is surely being overly optimistic to expect a 50-50 joint venture given the disparity in strength between the two tours, best highlighted by the fact this year the LPGA played 33 events worth $66 million whereas the LET had 15 – including co-sanctioned events – worth around $14 million.
Realistically, the best option available to the LET might be for them to become what is in effect a satellite tour for the LPGA, a bit like its secondary tour, the Symetra, in the US, which this year featured 24 tournaments, often with bigger prize purses than at rank-and-file events on the LET.
That arrangement will not appeal to all LET members but if, as is likely, it leads to more tournaments and bigger prize purses, surely such opposition would be short lived.
Throw in automatic ‘promotion’ to the LPGA Tour for, say, the top 10 on the annual LET Order of Merit and it would be even harder to turn down.