Golf column: The women's game is in CRISIS but the men have to save it - NEIL SQUIRES

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The Lalla Meryem Cup ran parallel to the Morocco Open on the European Tour

Last weekend’s Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco was the first standalone Ladies European Tour event of the year. 

There are just two more this summer – the Ladies French Open and the Estrella Damm Ladies Open – in a terribly empty calendar.

There are co-sanctioned tournaments like the British Open and the Scottish Open and more minor events such as the Jabra Ladies Open in France for both LET members and players from its feeder circuit, the Access Series, but if you are a female professional golfer based in Europe the picture is bleaker than a Lowry.

No wonder the likes of Charley Hull have headed over the Atlantic to earn their living on the LPGA Tour – there simply isn’t a living to be made here.

The Ladies European Tour cannot attract sponsors, so the women’s game is shrinking at professional level.

In an era when women’s football, cricket and rugby are expanding – and netball has just stolen the show at the Commonwealth Games – this cannot be right.

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Sweden’s Jenny Haglund won the women's event of the Lalla Meryem Cup

Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the European Tour, has offered to help as have the R and A and the LPGA but the LET have not exactly bitten their hands off.

“We are surprised that they didn’t take us up on what we believed was a really genuine offer to make the LET flourish,” said Pelley. “I’m not sure exactly why that was the case and can’t understand why they didn’t come back and say, ‘here’s how you can help’, because their schedule is not what it needs to be.”

Pelley has already shown his interest in promoting joint ventures between Europe’s top men and women golfers.

Next month the field for the GolfSixes event in St Albans will incorporate leading women players, Hull included. The problem is there will only be five of them.

The European Golf Team Championship at Gleneagles in August offers a wider spread with half the 64 players women.

There will be a novelty element to both with women competing alongside men in what will be interesting tests of the concept of mixed golf but the women’s game needs to thrive as a pure entity too and for that to happen in Europe it would make sense to align itself much more closely with the men’s tour.

Morocco, at the weekend, provided an example. The Lalla Meryem Cup ran parallel to the Morocco Open on the European Tour. So while the men played the red course at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam, the women were playing the blue course. Spectators were able to drift from one to the other and realise that, hey, these girls can play.

The play-off that Sweden’s Jenny Haglund won to clinch the women’s event was much more exciting than the conclusion to Alexander Levy’s victory.

The women’s prize fund may have been 450,000 euro compared to 2.5m euro for the men – but at least there was some income.

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Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the European Tour, has offered to help

The Oates Vic Open, held in Australia in February, went a step further. Separate 144-player events were played on neighbouring courses on the Beach Golf Links at Bellarine Peninsula before the men and women were brought together for the final day.

After the second of two cuts, the men and women went out in alternate pairs on the same course as the two events reached a climax.

A step too far? European Tour member Richard Green played in the event and says it worked.

‘’I think this sort of format, rolling alongside the men in some way, whether it be with the Challenge Tour, the European Tour or the Australian Tour, is a great way to get extra interest in the game,” said the Australian.

“The Ladies European Tour players are a damn hard-working bunch of girls that deserve to have a job and there’s got to be something that kicks it along a little bit again.”