Last November, LET players met at the tour’s season-ending event to vote on a potential merge with the LPGA. Soon after gathering in Spain, however, leadership said there would be no vote. The LET Board adjourned the meeting without explanation.
Earlier this month, LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan sent a letter to players that shined a bit of light on what happened. In the letter, obtained by Golfweek, Marcoux Samaan confirmed that Golf Saudi submitted a last-minute request for further information on the proposed operating model of the tour following any potential transaction.
“As a significant partner of the LET,” Marcoux Samaan wrote, “Golf Saudi wanted to ensure that they fully understood any risks, implications, and opportunities for the Aramco Saudi Ladies International and Aramco Team Series before finalizing their commitment to the events in 2024.”
The loss of Aramco would be devastating to the LET given that its $10 million in prize funds account for nearly one-third of the tour’s combined purse.
Of course, this was no last-minute vote. In fact, a vote on a merger between the two tours was expected to happen in late 2022. The vote kept getting pushed back as the two tours continued to work on terms.
As part of the merger, the top four LET players at the end of the 2024 season would receive LPGA cards for 2025. At a player meeting on Tuesday at the LPGA Drive On Championship, Golfweek has learned that the commissioner confirmed that there would be no cards available for the LET next year.
The commissioner’s letter went on to describe discussions with Golf Saudi as “constructive and collaborative,” noting the presence of the five Aramco Team Series events on the 2024 schedule, each with $1 million purses, as well as the $5 million Aramco Saudi Ladies International next month.
Nelly Korda poses with the trophy after winning the Individual title at the 2023 Aramco Team Series presented by PIF – London. (Photo: LET)
Golf Saudi’s plans in the women’s golf space beyond its current presence on the LET remain uncertain, but its power to stop a merger vote is quite clear.
With the vote now postponed indefinitely, Marcoux Samaan told players the two tours have decided to focus on maximizing their joint venture partnership, which first came together in November 2019 under the leadership of former LPGA commissioner Mike Whan and has two years left on the contract.
What’s still squarely in the middle of all of this, of course, are the question marks that surround doing business with the Saudis. The Aramco events remain controversial given the wide-ranging human rights abuses Saudi Arabia has been accused of, especially toward women.
As it currently stands, the LPGA can somewhat distance itself from Aramco while being part of an alliance. But should the LET fall completely under the umbrella of the LPGA, some observers question if existing and future LPGA sponsors might choose to distance themselves from the LPGA because of Aramco’s large presence. And, if so, how many?
On the other hand, LET players might wonder how much the LPGA could hold them back from bigger purses at Aramco events. Could the PIF pump so much money into the LET that it one day becomes the LPGA’s rival?
The flip side to that, of course, is that the LET becomes so dependent on Saudi money that it couldn’t survive without it. And there’s no telling how long the Saudis will want to remain so heavily invested in women’s golf.
And what if Aramco events eventually find their way onto the LPGA’s official schedule?
Golf’s future still holds more questions than answers.