(Tytherington, Cheshire, January 28 2004) The Ladies European Tour (LET) today announced the 2004 Tour schedule with significant prize fund increases in six tournaments along with the addition of a minimum of three new events, which include a return of the Ladies English Open, the Ladies Dutch Open and a tournament in Denmark.
Following a year in which women’s golf came to the fore and culminated in a hugely successful Solheim Cup, the Tour has continued to progress and develop its tournament schedule and provide improved playing opportunities for its members.
“We have worked hard to build on the successes of 2003 and are delighted that our schedule offers more tournaments and a number of significant prize fund increases with a distinct possibility of further tournaments being added in the near future,” said Ian Randell, Chief Executive of the LET.
“The end of 2003 saw a profound restructuring of the business by bringing our commercial arm, Ladies European Tour Enterprises in house, which has created a business structure that will enable us to continue to maximise the opportunities that present themselves.
“The fruits of this are already being shown as we welcome tournaments in England, Denmark and The Netherlands back to the schedule and major international companies such as BMW and KLM have put their names to tournaments on the schedule, highlighting the growing attraction of ladies professional golf to the commercial world.”
The 2004 season tees off ‘down under’ with the $Aus800,000 ANZ Ladies Masters on Australia’s Gold Coast from February 26-29, which will contain one of the strongest fields of the year including the presence of World number one Annika Sörenstam, four time winner Karrie Webb and of course the defending champion Laura Davies from England.
The Tour then heads to Concord GC near Sydney for the AAMI Women’s Australian Open which boasts an increased prize fund of $Aus550,000, where Scotland’s Mhairi McKay defends her title.
The European swing begins once again off the coast of Africa on the Canary Islands with the Tenerife Ladies Open from April 29 – May 2 at the newest course on the island, Buenavista GC, designed and built in the North West of Tenerife by the legendary Severiano Ballesteros.
The following week sees the Tour return to Lisbon for the Ladies Open of Portugal, which has an increased prize fund value of €300,000, nearly doubling that on offer last year, and will this time be played on the number one course at the notoriously tight and tree-lined Aroeira GC on the Charneca de Caparica.
Two weeks later from May 27-30, the Tour heads to the far North West of the Iberian Peninsula in Galicia at Club de Golf La Coruńa for the Open de Espana Feminino, which was won last season by Federica Dassu, who became the oldest winner of an LET event, aged 44.
From June 3-6, The Ladies Italian Open changes venues from the rolling Tuscan hills of Poggio Dei Medici to the hills above the Italian capital city Rome at Parco di Roma GC. The Tour is also delighted to announce that German car manufacturer BMW will become the title sponsor of the event and that the prize fund has increased to €275,000, up by €85,000 on last season.
From June 10-13, the Ladies French Open will once again take place at Arras GC in the Pas de Calais region of Northern France where the newly wed Lynnette Brooky will be aiming for a hat trick of titles following her victories in 2002 and 2003.
And rounding out the busiest month of the season, the Tour will head back to Kennemer G&CC in Zandvoort from June 25-27 for the return of the Ladies Dutch Open after a two year break, which will be sponsored by the Dutch national airline KLM.
From July 9-11, after a break of some eight years, there will be a return of the Ladies English Open, last played in 1996 when Laura Davies won at the Oxfordshire GC. The prize fund is set at £125,000 and the venue will be announced in the near future.
The pinnacle of the season begins with two of the biggest events on the women’s world golf calendar with the Evian Masters from July 21-24 where American Juli Inkster will defend her title at the Evian Masters GC, high above the banks of Lake Geneva. The Evian Masters also boasts a prize fund increase of some $400,000 and now stands at $2.5million.
The following week and for the second time in four years, the Old Course at Sunningdale GC hosts the final major championship of the year, the Weetabix Women’s British Open where World number one Sörenstam will defend her title against the very best in women’s world golf, who will be hoping to snare their share of the £1.05million prize fund.
The £325,000 HP Open takes place this year from August 5-8 at Ullna GC in Stockholm where Sophie Gustafson will hope to retain her national title from a top class field before the Tour heads over to Royal Porthcawl GC from August 12-15 for the fourth straight year for the annual examination of links golf in the Wales “Golf as it should be” Ladies Open.
And making a comeback after eight years away from the schedule, Denmark will host a €200,000 event from September 9 – 12. The venue and tournament title will be announced in due course.
Finally, the traditional closing event of the season will once again take place in the southwestern corner of France with the Biarritz Ladies Classic, won last season by Sweden’s Marlene Hedblom, her maiden victory.
However, with regret there is no event scheduled for Ireland, who as a nation has shown unbroken support for the Tour since 1993. Unfortunately, Fáilte Ireland has been unable to commit to funding the Ladies Irish Open in 2004 and so far the Tour has been unable to source the necessary sponsorship to include it on the schedule.
“Whilst obviously disappointed that an event looks unlikely in either Southern or Northern Ireland this year, we are delighted that despite this, our tournament schedule shows progress,” added Randell
“It remains our intention to be competing in each of the countries in Great Britain and Ireland and we are extremely optimistic that we will be able to resurrect our tournaments in Ireland and confirm an event in Scotland in the near future.”