LPGA Tour rules women’s game but gender pay gap is wide as ever

Ladies European Tour is still struggling with small prize funds as focus remains stateside

The LPGA season tees off on Thursday for a season that will comprise 34 events and distribute some $70m (€61.2m) in prize money, a record amount for the circuit although it is still barely one-fifth on offer on the PGA Tour.

In Europe the contrast is even stronger as the Ladies European Tour – which began with the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open last week, won by Charley Hull – will consist of just 20 events while the men's equivalent will stage 48, including five Majors on the women's circuit and four on the men's.

After last week's event the LET won't put on another tournament until the Australian Ladies Classic on February 21st where Ireland's Leona Maguire will make her season debut after securing her card at qualifying school towards the end of last year.

Last season the LET’s total prize money was just less than €11.5m and looks like being roughly the same this year. In contrast, the European Tour’s Rolex Series – which consists of just eight out of the total of 48 tournaments on the schedule – carries a total prize fund of just less than €50m with another 40 regular events also on the schedule.

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This is still less than the offerings on the PGA Tour which remains the most lucrative circuit in the men’s game by a long way but, for the women, the emphasis is very much on the US, even more so than for the men.

Stephanie Meadow, who hails from Jordanstown in Co Antrim, is the only Irish player who will hold a full LPGA Tour card this season after she secured her playing privileges last October.

Maguire also has a Symetra Tour card stateside for the 2019 season, which she can play in her bid to earn a path onto the LPGA Tour, but her LET membership allows her to play a more expansive global schedule and also earn qualifying points for the European Solheim Cup team for the match against the USA at Gleneagles next September.

Last May, English player Mel Reid told BBC Sport that Ladies European Tour players were having to take up part-time jobs to supplement their earnings because "it's pretty much impossible" to make a living otherwise.

Reid has since moved to Florida and secured a full LPGA Tour card for the 2019 season, leaving a tour which she says may not exist soon.

“The LET needs help and quickly,” Reid said.

“I’ve encouraged players to support offers we get in because it’s all good fighting a cause but there’s not going to be a Tour to play on soon.”

However, even in the US the prize money on offer in the women's game lags a long way behind the men, something LPGA commissioner Mike Whan puts down to the large difference in television ratings.

“The difference in purses is the difference in total viewership,” Whan told Reuters .

“There is a real business reason. It’s based on real data. I understand it. I was a sponsor before a commissioner.

“It doesn’t mean I like it, doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road. Seven or eight years ago it wouldn’t have been one fifth. We’re up 80 percent in purses since 2010.”

Meadow will start her season on February 7th at the ISPS Handa Vic Open in Australia – one of 13 LPGA Tour events which will be held outside the US this year.

The event is a first in golf as it will feature men and women playing the same course for the same purse although it will be separate competitions with alternating tee times and different tees.