European Tour chief warns LET: Offer of help won’t last forever

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
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An offer from the European Tour, LPGA and R&A to help the struggling Ladies European Tour (LET) is still on the table despite being rejected but will not be there “forever”, according to Keith Pelley.

The three organisations made what the European Tour chief executive described as a “really genuine offer” after the LET lost seven events last year in the build-up to the Solheim Cup in Des Moines.

The 2017 schedule had 15 events, down 11 from six years ago, leading Catriona Matthew to call for a change in leadership at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns.

The following week, Ivan Khodabakhsh stepped down as CEO, with LET chairman, Mark Lichtenhein, having been in charge of day-to-day duties since then.

Mike Whan, the LPGA commissioner, first hinted about being prepared to help the LET during last year’s Solheim Cup and was quickly joined by both Pelley and R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers in offering to provide assistance.

The rejection of that offer is mystifying given that the 2018 LET schedule is again threadbare, currently comprising just three events that are solely for players on that circuit. The rest are all co-sanctioned, including the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open at Gullane.

“We want European golf to flourish and we want the LET to flourish,” Pelley told The Scotsman in an exclusive interview. “We want to help and we think we can help. We are surprised that they didn’t take us up on what we believed was a really genuine offer from ourselves, the R&A and the LPGA to make the LET flourish.

“I’m not sure exactly why that was the case and can’t understand why they didn’t come back and say, ‘here’s how you can help’, because their schedule is not what it needs to be.

“It’s not a one-time only offer. I’ve said that we believe that the LET can flourish. It’s going through a challenging time at the moment and we hope that they can turn it around, but we are here. Now, we are not going to be here forever. We are not.”

Next week’s Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco will be the first LET-only event of the year, with the Ladies French Open and the Estrella Damm Ladies Open the only other such events confirmed so far. The Jabra Ladies Open in France is for both LET and players from its feeder circuit, the Access Series.

“I think this is a pivotal time as we are growing and there may come a time where we do some mixed events,” added Pelley, pictured. “I believe it makes sense for Tours to be working closer together and I believe that should be the case with the R&A, the LET, LPGA, PGA Tour and Asian Tour.

“All of us should be working closer together because at the end we are all in it to grow the game of golf. And, if we continue to just compete with each other, I think it won’t do the sport any good in the long run. And I do believe strongly that we can help the LET.”

Five LET players, including 2019 Solheim Cup captain Matthew, are taking part in the second staging of the European Tour’s innovative GolfSixes early next month while European Tour and LET players are also competing together on the same stage in the inaugural European Golf Team Championships at Gleneagles in August.

Part of the multi-sport Glasgow 2018 European Championships, it will be the first in the game to feature a 50/50 gender split in the field and will also see players competing for equal prize-money over the PGA Centenary Course at the Perthshire venue.

“The organisers of the Glasgow 2018 European Championships came to us saying golf was going to be involved and wanted us to be involved and we feel comfortable about that based on the fact the golf course is going to be Gleneagles,” said Pelley.

“We also applied the innovation of men and women playing together. It will be a good solid case study for us to sit back to see how it is perceived. That’s kind of the way we are looking at it.”