The Ladies European Tour expect an “amazing future” for the Aramco Team Series following its second event last week in Spain.
The new concept, which mixes a team event with an individual tournament, is halfway through its inaugural campaign after last week’s stop at La Reserva Club in Sotogrande.
The Golf Saudi-owned series, sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour (LET), features four 54-hole events, all of which carry a $1 million prize fund and play out across three days.
The team tournament is made up of 36 teams, each one containing three professionals and an amateur. The series opened at London’s Centurion Club last month and will next move to New York in October before completing in Jeddah in November.
“The beginning has been incredible,” Alexandra Armas, the LET CEO, told The National. “It doesn’t feel like we’re halfway through because we have such an amazing future for this that I think this is just the beginning - we’re just at the beginning of what we’re going to do with these events and the partnership with Golf Saudi and Aramco. “I’m excited. It’s going really well. The players are enjoying it and the amateurs are enjoying it also. And we’ve gone to a couple of fantastic venues, so it’s all coming together very nicely.”
Golf Saudi, established in part to drive participation in golf in the kingdom, and Aramco have become some of the most prominent backers of the elite women’s game in Europe and at present support five events on the current LET calendar.
Outside of the Aramco Team Series, the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund precedes the series finale in Jeddah and is staged also at the Royal Greens & Country Club. It too carries a $1m prize fund. Meanwhile, last November, the kingdom hosted The Saudi Ladies Team International on the LET.
Understandably, the inception of the Aramco Team Series is seen as a significant boost to the tour, especially as major sport continues to feel the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s hugely important,” Armas said. “When we started this partnership, you didn’t know how things are going to go. You want to achieve something, but you don’t know how that’s all going to happen.
“But from our perspective it’s not just about having the professionals get a pay-cheque at the end of it. It’s about leaving a legacy, it’s about growing the game and Golf Saudi have that commitment to do that. Our players do, and that aligns really well with what Golf Saudi want to achieve.
“But it’s not only what they invest in prize funds and where we go. It is the infrastructure that they put behind it, the commitment to getting the exposure, the media and the live television.
“I know how good these players are - they just need to be seen. So, for us it’s much more than just an event: it’s the opportunity to be seen.”
The new format has elicited widespread praise from the participating players. Teams are determined pre-tournament by a draft system similar to the NFL and NBA, in which 36 captains select a fellow tour professional and then have a third pro randomly assigned. An amateur completes the team, with all four players contributing to the final result.
At Sotogrande on Saturday, Ashleigh Buhai’s team prevailed in a play-off against a side captained by Linnea Strom, while American Alison Lee clinched the individual title with a five-stroke victory – her first win as a professional. The team tournament offers an $800,000 prize fund – winnings are split between the teams’ three pros - with the individual tournament making up the other $200,000.
“It’s really interesting, because the faces on the course are very different to any other week,” Armas said. “The players are smiling, supporting each other, and cheering each other on, which is unusual in golf tournaments.
“Even though they play for an individual part of it too, they get the opportunity also to come together because of the way the draw is done with the draft party. They get to play with players they normally wouldn’t and form a really strong bond. It’s definitely bringing the membership much closer too.”
As for what improvements could be made, even at this early stage in the series, Armas said: “The base is there. There are always small things to improve. I can’t pinpoint anything specific right now. We’ll go away, debrief, and every week we learn something because it’s a new concept.
“We just want to keep improving it, make it more competitive, more attractive for the fans. Obviously, a lot of this comes from Golf Saudi’s vision to grow the game. So, there’s ways to see how we can utilise this to do that. It’s been a great start.”
Launched last year, Golf Saudi’s “mass participation” programme includes within its objectives the creation by 2030 of almost 4,000 jobs, as well as training up to 24,000 golfers within the next decade.