With the end of the LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour (LET) seasons, something else is coming to a close: the waiting for the definition of the well-announced merger between the two circuits. The ball is currently on the tee for the LET players.
This Tuesday, November 21, the LET players will be voting on the merger of the European circuit with the LPGA Tour. This will take place during the annual players' meeting that comes after the European season finale, the Andalucia Costa del Sol Open de España.
While the players have a lot to consider, it all comes down to one aspect: financial. With this in mind, the decision for the LET players is (or should be) a No-Brainer.
For a professional sports circuit, secure and stable access to financial resources is indispensable. They simply cannot survive without money. The LPGA Tour has passed that test with flying colors, especially in recent years. They have even helped their European counterparts.
According to data published in Sports Pro Media and Golf Monthly, the LPGA Tour's total annual purses have grown from $48.8 million in 2012 to $108 million in 2023. In the same proportion, earnings for the circuit, sponsorships, investments, etc. have grown.
Since 2019, the two tours have maintained a close collaboration that has positively reverted to the LET's finances. Their total annual purses went from $12.58 million to $38.3 million. But the results of the collaboration go far beyond that.
So described LPGA Tour commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan to Sports Pro Media in August 2023:
"The goal and the reason for the joint venture was to help create a unified connected women’s golf ecosystem to drive value for everyone. It’s in the best interest of everyone to have golf thriving around the globe, and the LET was struggling a bit at that time."
"And that’s really happened. We’ve been able to support them [LET] through some extra infrastructure and through the connections that we’ve provided. If you look at the growth of the LET in those three years, it’s been really significant."
Considering the success of this stage of work, the commissioner herself expressed that the next natural step was the merger. On the European side, they didn't see it much differently. So much so, in fact, that the players will vote on Tuesday with the board's recommendation to approve the merger.
PGA Tour, LET and the Saudi money
So far, there have been no major announcements of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) interest in the LPGA Tour. However, it is something that is not ruled out. In fact, it is one of the big question marks surrounding the eventual merger.
The LET's biggest purses currently draw on Saudi money. They are none other than the five tournaments that make up the Aramco Team Series. In fact, only the majors have higher purses than these in the world of women's golf.
According to Sports Pro Media, the CEO of LIV Golf, Greg Norman, said that the creation of a women's version of his circuit was under study. It's something to keep an eye on.
The big question is how the LPGA Tour will deal with this should the merger be approved. The question arises from the accusations against Saudi Arabia for alleged human rights violations, particularly of women.
However, the truth is that the LET would not be able to maintain its current pursuit without its Saudi sponsor (the oil company Aramco). The LPGA Tour, for its part, would be in a very complicated situation if it had to face the emergence of a rival circuit with bigger pockets.
What does the LPGA / LET merger propose?
Broadly speaking, the merger agreement provides for the LPGA Tour and the LET to continue to operate in a similar manner to the current one for the next three years. Virtually no changes will occur in the competitive order.
According to Golf Digest, the initial work will focus on the organizational order, specifically, finding better revenue opportunities with new and existing partners. One of the first steps also includes the LPGA Tour securing $1.25 million annually for the LET, in order to be used for prizes, investments and more.
Once the merger moves forward, the LPGA will establish a LET Committee, with four representatives from the European Tour and five from the American Tour. The committee will also include two player directors and two independent directors from each circuit, as well as the LPGA Tour commissioner, who will lead it.
One of the main objectives in the medium term is for the LET to have a calendar of at least 30 tournaments, with a minimum purse of $328,290.