The global landscape of women’s professional golf appears to be a vote away from a dramatic change.
LPGA Tour Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan confirmed during her “State of the LPGA” press conference Thursday at the CME Group Tour Championship that the Ladies European Tour player body will vote next week on a proposal to merge the two tours that has already received unanimous approval from both the LPGA and LET boards.
The Nov. 21 vote will take place at an annual meeting of LET players ahead of their tour’s season finale, the Andalucia Costa Del Sol Open De España, with the LET board recommending to players that they vote in favor of the merger. The proposal requires a 60-percent approval of the LET membership to pass. If it does, Marcoux Samaan said there would be some final details to iron out, but LET players have been told the deal is expected to become official by the end of the year.
Under the initial three-year period of the merger, the two tours would continue much like they do today. The Ladies European Tour would retain its name and maintain its own tournament schedule independent of the LPGA Tour, with a handful of co-sanctioned events continuing to be operated during the year. The LET would maintain a headquarters in Europe.
However, the two would work jointly in oversight of the LET and in developing revenue opportunities that could be mutually beneficial to all. The LPGA intends to pursue enhanced commercial opportunities with existing and new tour sponsors.
Since Marcoux Samaan took over as LPGA commissioner in 2021, she has openly discussed the potential benefits of a merger as the next step between the LPGA and LET after they entered into a strategic alliance four years ago.
“I think we’ve been in this joint venture with the LET since 2019. That was obviously before my time, but the goal was to be able to work together to have a collaborative women’s golf ecosystem and to build women’s golf in Europe,” Marcoux Samaan said. “It’s been really successful.”
Marcoux Samaan did not reveal specifics of what a merger would entail, but the terms, which would be in place for the initial three years, were laid out in detail in a memo sent to LET players on Nov. 3 ahead of the vote, a copy of which was obtained by Golf Digest.
According to the memo, LET assets, including all intellectual property, would be put into the previously created Ladies European Golf Venture Limited (LEGV) created and operated by the LPGA since 2019. The LET, however, would keep its current cash. In turn, the LPGA would ensure that $1.25 million annually is available to the LET during the first three years of the partnership “for tournament prize funds, television, player support services and growth.”
The memo also states that the LET will target a minimum of 30 events annually, focused in Europe and supported by other events in the rest of the world, with a targeted minimum prize fund of €300,000 per event. The schedule would be developed by the LET CEO, subject to the approval of the LPGA commissioner.
In terms of administration, the LPGA Board would establish an LET Committee composed of four LET representatives and five LPGA representatives. There will be two LET player directors, two LET independent directors, two LPGA player directors, two LPGA independent directors, and the LPGA Commissioner. The LET Committee will “provide advice and guidance on the tour’s business, to provide recommendations regarding the operation of the tour (such recommendations will be given due consideration by the LPGA Board).”
After the initial three years, the memo notes that the LPGA “will have the freedom to determine its preferred governance structure in relation to the LET.” The memo states that the LPGA Board intends to diversify its board with representatives from Europe and “continue with the structure of the Players’ Council and the LET committee for as long as the LPGA deems them to be effective and appropriate to support the tour.”
As Golf Digest previously reported, the top four players on the LET Order of Merit at the end of the year who don’t already have status on the LPGA Tour would earn tour cards for the next season. The top 15 would also receive entry into LPGA Q Series, where they would have the opportunity to earn LPGA tour cards.
According to the memo to LET players, the current practices for “the management, qualification and selection of Team Europe” for the Solheim Cup would remain in place with the LET Committee having “oversight of the promoter and location section for European editions of the event. Net proceeds from when Europe hosts the Cup would be reinvested into the LET.
Under the strategic alliance between the LPGA and LET agreed to in 2019, the two tours have run the LET on a 50-50 basis through LEGV. During that time, the LET has experienced rapid growth. Marcoux Samaan recounted that the LET’s total purse in 2019 was £11 million, with less than 20 events. This year, they’re at more than £30 million with more than 30 events.
The successful alliance, however, does not guarantee that the vote of LET members will pass. If the LET did not approve the merger, and either came up with new terms or remained in the current strategic alliance, Marcoux Samaan would not speculate on what happens then.
“The expectation is we hope that they will. I think this makes sense for everybody,” Marcoux Samaan said. “If not, we’ll get back together with the LET board and figure out next steps. I think at this point we’re looking forward to getting that done and moving forward.”
Image: Ramsey Cardy