EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND | The sun was playing on the Firth of Forth and things were no less serene on the links at Archerfield, home of last week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies’ Scottish Open. Though Alexander Armas’ sudden announcement that she would be stepping down as the Tour’s CEO at the end of the season was still hot news, the players were concentrating on the business in hand.
Anne-Lise Caudal, from France, and Hannah Jun, from Australia, were the early leaders and there was a countess – Italy’s Diana Luna – in the mix. Laura Davies, though her scoring was not the best, was walloping the ball vast distances with her new Cleveland driver, and Helen Alfredsson, who has spent two years out of the game with a shoulder injury, was showing signs of recapturing her old form – and voice. No one yells after a ball like she does.
As for the course, that was looking every inch at home amongst its famous neighbours – Muirfield, Gullane and North Berwick. “Every hole’s a cracker,” marvelled Davies. “It’s the best course I’ve seen outside of a major championship venue.”
In such circumstances, the Tour itself was coming across as a success story. Yet, it is an open secret that the players, when they are off-duty, have been pondering, darkly, on why so much continues to disappoint.
They have had 15 or more chief executives since 1979 where the men have had just the two in the same period in Ken Schofield and George O’Grady. Again, though Europe has won the Solheim Cup four times since the event started in 1990, none among those victories has resulted in a rush of extra prize-money.
Even now, not too many more than the top five on the LET money-list are making a good living, with sundry players having recently had to cut back on the services of a professional caddie.
Against that, the women are keen to stress that Armas has got quite a bit right. They acknowledge that she has done well to raise the number of tournaments to 25, while they also point to how she has enjoyed good relationships with the CEOs of other bodies such as the R&A and the LGU. In most eyes, the main thing missing was about 10 years of experience.
Though Armas worked for the Faldo Junior Series for a couple of years before playing the Tour from 1999, she would have benefited from time spent serving under someone more senior at the LET. Instead, she was catapulted straight into the top job.
Davies, who is in her third decade as a professional, believes that the arrangement could have succeeded had there been better back up.
“I think that Alex has done a good job with what she’s had to work with,” said this former British and US Women’s Open champion. “Where she’s been limited is in having so many ex-players around her. They simply don’t have the necessary expertise. It’s the equivalent of asking me to run things – and I wouldn’t have a clue what I was doing.”
Rightly or wrongly, Armas, who studied economics at Wake Forest, has been viewed as part of an “old girls’ network.”
Certainly, she cannot have enjoyed the kind of emails which have been going the rounds from a disillusioned player using a pseudonym.
The latter has called the women professionals to arms over the poor prize-funds, the standard of the Tour’s website, the TV coverage and a second-rate Tour management system.
No less pertinently, she has posed the question, “How many of us are working in part-time jobs at the moment?”
She has also done as Davies in highlighting the lack of business know-how among the ex-players on the board. “Why is it,” she has asked, “that we are spineless and never question this?”
Here, she has furnished the answer herself. “We all feel that if we speak out, we get bullied into a corner … And, by way of a punishment, end up with the nastiest of starting times.”
Moving on from there, the mystery golfer has noted, “If we sit back and do absolutely nothing and use the same old excuse, ‘I just want to play golf,’ then, sadly, there is a huge risk that the tour will just become insignificant. The LPGA are already sniffing around our larger events.”
So now something is happening.
Already, a handful of younger players in Becky Brewerton, Rebecca Hudson and Carin Koch have been appointed to the board, with Koch a good bet to be the next LET chairman.
As for the CEO position, a few names have been advanced, these including Ian Forsyth, the ex-head of Nike in Europe, and Warren Seville, who works with the women’s professional game in Australia.
This time around, it has to be someone from the outside. Someone who experienced the “Wow” factor at the Solheim Cup and can see how to spread a touch of that magic across the Tour’s lesser events.