The 2017 Ladies European Tour season begins on Thursday with the Oates Vic Open at 13th Beach Golf Links in Barwon Heads near Melbourne: one of three new tournaments which have been added to the schedule this year.

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HISTORIC EVENT
For the first time in history, the Ladies European Tour Members will compete for equal prize money with the men, as both the men’s and women’s Oates Vic Open fields will be playing for identical purses of AU$500,000 as part of a total prize fund of AU$1 million, which will increase to $1.3 million in 2018.

The women’s Oates Vic Open is a Golf Victoria event, co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour and Australian Ladies Professional Golf, while the men’s event is sanctioned by the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.

SCHEDULE
The first of this year’s two Pro-Ams teed off on Tuesday with several local sporting celebrities taking on the Creek and the Beach Courses and more Pro-Am action to come on Wednesday.

Tournament rounds one and two will be played on the Creek and Beach Courses, with the men’s and women’s fields teeing off in alternate groups. Rounds three and four will be played on the Beach Course.

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ABOUT THE VENUE
Set on the stunning Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, Thirteenth Beach Golf Links is a 36 hole golf and residential complex.

The first of the two courses, The Beach Course was opened in December 2001 and designed by Tony Cashmore. The challenging and natural links style course has received many high accolades, including recently voted 28th best course in Australia by Australian Golf Digest magazine and 8th best public accessible course in Australia (Golf Course Guide, 2016).

The Creek Course was designed by Cashmore in conjunction with six-time major championship winner Sir Nick Faldo. Recently rated as 78th best course in Australia by Australian Golf Digest and No.21 best public accessible by the Golf Course Guide, the Creek Course is regularly compared to some of Melbourne’s best Sandbelt courses.

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STAR PLAYERS
The players who will start their 2017 LET season at 13th Beach include the star performers of 2016: Order of Merit winner and Players’ Player of the Year Beth Allen from the USA, Rookie of the Year Aditi Ashok from India and Florentyna Parker of England, who will be joined by 2016 tournament winners Supamas Sangchan from Thailand, Isabelle Boineau of France, Nanna Koerstz Madsen of Denmark and Nuria Iturrios from Spain, as well as recent Solheim Cup players Melissa Reid from England, Sandra Gal from Germany and Caroline Hedwall of Sweden.

21/12/2016 Ladies European Tour 2016: Lalla Aicha Tour School, Samanah Country Club, Marrakech, Morocco. 17-21 December. Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden with her trophy. Credit: Tristan Jones

ROOKIES IN THE FIELD
There are 10 Ladies European Tour Rookies making their debuts as Members. The winner of Lalla Aicha Tour School in December, Madelene Sagstrom (above), will be joined by fellow Swede Jenny Haglund and Spanish pair Maria Parra and Luna Sobron, who finished second, third and seventh on the 2016 LET Access Series Ranking respectively. They are joined by Valdis Thora Jonsdottir from Iceland, Indian duo Amandeep Drall and Vani Kapoor, Australian Celina Yuan, Alexandra Bonetti from France and the LET’s youngest member, Madelene Stavnar, 16, from Norway.

HOME HOPES
Joining LET Rookie Celina Yuan as part of a 48-strong Australian contingent are the Olympic players Minjee Lee and Su Oh, who both tied for eighth in the women’s golf competition at Rio 2016. The field also features some of the LET’s top players including Rebecca Artis, Sarah Kemp and Whitney Hillier… but don’t overlook Stacey Peters, neé Keating, who will be playing under her new married name for the first time on Tour.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 15: Su-Hyun Oh (L) and Minjee Lee of Australia pose together during a practice round prior to the start of the women's golf during Day 10 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Olympic Golf Course on August 15, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Su Oh and Minjee Lee at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games