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Ladies European Tourgoes global in 2001

The Ladies European Tour (LET) has adopted a more global approach in a bid to increase the playing and earning opportunities for its growing membership, and today released a schedule for the 2001 Evian Tour that includes three tournaments in the Southern Hemisphere and one in Asia.

The new-look schedule for next season consists of 20 events spread across 14 countries, with a minimum 5 million up for grabs. This represents four more tournaments than this year and an increase of nearly 2 million in the overall prize fund.

With the LET building on Europe's thrilling triumph in The Solheim Cup last October, the 2001 schedule includes new joint-sanctioned tournaments in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Taiwan, while closer to home, Antalya in Turkey will be the first European stop on the 2001 circuit.

Next season's Evian Tour will also include two new events in Scotland - an International Matchplay and the Ladies Scottish Open - and Royal Porthcawl GC in South Wales will be the venue for the re-launched WPGA Championship of Europe.

Speaking at a press conference in London, LET Chief Executive Tim Howland said the 2001 schedule reflects the growing appeal of women's professional golf across the world

"We are delighted with the progress that we have made with next season's Evian Tour, and feel that the 2001 schedule offers tangible proof that the LET is moving in the right direction," said Howland.

"Europe's victory in The Solheim Cup has definitely given the Tour added impetus. The women's game in Europe is currently enjoying greater interest from the commercial market place and from a variety of promoters across the world.

"When we took over management of the Tour at the tail-end of 1998, our two-year plan was to build a schedule consisting of at least 20 events with a minimum 4.5 million in prize money. We have exceeded those targets and our goal now is to help develop these tournaments and continue to build the prize money."

Howland added that the LET had followed the example set down by the men's European Tour by taking advantage of opportunities outside the traditional European boundaries.

"At certain times of the year, the climate restricts events from being held in Europe so the natural progression was to start looking for opportunities further afield," said Howland.

"The men's European Tour enjoys a very successful series of tournaments outside Europe at the start of its season, and this is something we are looking to develop in the future. We see Asia-Pacific as a potential growth market and will continue to develop strong relationships with promoters in this region."

Last season, the Evian Tour made its maiden visit to Australia for the AAMI Women's Australian Open. Added to this in 2001 will be the 200,000 Australian Ladies Masters, which represents another joint-sanctioned event with the Australian LPGA, while the Cloud 9 Women's Classic represents the first leg of the Tour and the LET's first visit to New Zealand.

From Australia the Tour will move on to Taiwan, before returning to the Southern Hemisphere for the 100,000 Nedbank MasterCard SA Masters in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The WPGA Championship of Europe, re-launched as part of Wales' bid to stage the 2009 Ryder Cup, slots into the week before the Weetabix Women's British Open. With 400,000 on offer, it becomes the third most lucrative event on Tour.

The WPGA Championship was last staged in 1999 before its future was thrown into doubt when McDonald's withdrew its sponsorship. "The WPGA Champs has traditionally been one of our strongest events," added Howland, "and we are indebted to Royal Porthcawl and the Welsh Ryder Cup bid for helping us to re-launch it with the PGA.

"Royal Porthcawl is a terrific links course, and with the event coming the week before the Weetabix we can expect to see some of the finest players from across the world in South Wales."

Other major developments include the Evian Masters raising its prize money to a record 1.4 million, whilst the Weetabix Women's British Open has also increased its prize fund to 1 million. Both tournaments will be joint-sanctioned with the LPGA

. "I would like to thank Evian once again for its generous support and the loyalty it has shown the Tour, and also for building the Evian Masters into such a distinguished event," added Howland. "T

he Evian is a unique in the world of golf and I applaud the vision they have shown in positioning it as the women's equivalent of the Augusta Masters." The 2001 season will come to a close with the second Ladies World Cup of Golf.

The LET hopes to announce the venue and sponsor early in the new year. There is also a strong possibility that the Middle East will host at least one tournament towards the end of the season.

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