Golf’s Ladies European Tour is enjoying an unmissable renaissance. After years of searching and hardship, it has unveiled a tournament calendar for 2022 with a record-breaking 31 events and total prize money of €24.5 million. It will include the Tipsport Czech Ladies Open tournament in June in Beroun. And it can be said that the Czech stop on the LET has gone through a similar process – from collapse, through a cautious resurrection, to a situation where it is one of the strongholds of Europe’s highest level of competition for women. We talked about the tournament, and not only this year’s, with the promoter and owner of Premier Sports, Luboš Koželuh.
This year, the Ladies Open is being played for the fourth time in the Czech Republic, the third time in Beroun. How has the tournament improved?
How can I put it in the simplest possible way… Every year I feel that the tournament gets better and better, which is related to the way we keep learning and communicating with the LET. This is confirmed by the feedback from players who have played the tournament. Actually, the only thing that brings complications is the COVID situation, but despite that we had successful tournaments.
While the first renewed tournament on the Ladies European Tour was more of a test event, a joint venture between the LET and LETAS, the tournament is now a permanent part of the LET. Is that right?
You could say that it is, and it’s nice that the LET management also sees us that way.
The Ladies European Tour went through a rough patch in recent years, with a number of tournaments coming to an end, but this year it is back in full glory. Do you feel that you have also contributed to this?
I think so. We are one of the thirty-one parts, but it’s true that four years ago there were barely half the tournaments. And barely a third of them were played in Europe. And those European tournaments have contributed to the revival, to the rebound this year, which is a record year and, from my point of view, really very interesting for the players. The tournaments are spread out over the year and the prize money is very interesting indeed, in my personal opinion professional ladies golf today is second only to tennis in terms of prize money.
Do you have an explanation for what happened to raise the LET so much?
It’s hard to say. But if I can judge for myself from the outside, I see two moments. A new LET director, Alex Armas, arrived and there was a joint venture between the LET and the US LPGA. And the cooperation is very close. These two factors contributed to it, or at least that’s what it seems at first glance. Of course, they had to find promoters who are new or had previous experience. And I can say for myself that communication with other promoters – “colleagues” – is better every year. It’s strange in a way, because times are not good, especially for sport, yet the LET has taken a significant step up to the next level.
That’s why I’m asking. It’s a bit of a paradox. Could the fact that golf was classified as a safe activity in the COVID era and tournaments can still be played have played a role?
It could be one of those things. Or rather, it certainly is. The second is the business negotiations between LET and the promoters. They treat us as equals, we discuss conditions, they try to understand and accept the local situation. There’s also a human element. I was most pleased to see the addition of European tournaments, which is interesting for European and especially Czech players, because for them such tournaments are much more accessible in terms of cost and travel.
I’ll return to Beroun this year. Does the June date mean a firm anchor in the LET tournament calendar?
I guess so. I think that there is no other date, or no other option than summer for the Czech Republic. Whether in terms of weather or day length. We tried to choose the date to fit into the Czech golf season. I see it in such a way that we have two highlights of the professional golf season. The first is Albatross. The Czech Masters is clearly the top men’s tournament, it is much bigger than ours and is played in August. So I thought it best to play ours sometime in the early summer. It was successful, so I’m happy.
Did you think about other options?
We talk about it every year. But always about the end of June or the beginning of July. However, the beginning of July is complicated by public holidays, so the end of June had the upper hand in the end. It’s a good date, the longest days and stable weather.
Before the tournament in Beroun, LET has two tournaments on the calendar, but both in a different format than a classic stroke-play tournament. Not every female player gets to play there. Could this help increase interest in your tournament?
It may help a little bit, but in the previous three years we had a very good starting field. It was not a big problem and the good feedback from the players confirmed it. We have a lot to offer – a nice, high-quality course, a short way from Prague, from the airport, from the motorway, which is a direct route to Germany. These are all things that put the tournament in a favorable light. With a third of the players playing tournaments before ours and two thirds taking a break, it’s definitely a time when we can look forward to a very good starting field.
Could the fact that the last two winners from Beroun got their LPGA cards help the tournament?
That’s an interesting factor. We’re lucky in terms of the winners and the fact that really great players or future great players win. On the one hand, it’s interesting, but on the other hand it confirms the tournament’s quality. All three winners were very interesting in their own way. That’s good for the tournament, of course.
The home tournament is always a great chance for the home players. Do you have a fixed quota for the number of them?
There’s no fixed quota. It’s more or less my decision. I have a certain number of invitation cards available, and I’ll either use them for Czech players or for someone interesting. I try to communicate with the CGF about nominating the best amateurs, every year we agree on the nomination and I also try to have at least eight to ten Czech players in the tournament. But there were always more of them playing in the end. The Czech footprint is also interesting for the media. From the viewpoint of the further development of golf in the Czech Republic, it’s extremely important that Czech players can play such a tournament and gain experience that they otherwise have no chance to gain.
How happy are you that at the end of last year three Czech golfers succeeded in the Q-School for LET cards, although only one of them got a full card. Is this additional motivation for you to organize this tournament?
I have two motivations. One is close to me, kind of a family thing. Both my daughters play professional golf, the older Eva is now more of a golf coach, the younger Tereza is really into golf. She also played the qualifying school, played very well, unfortunately she just missed the final stage. The second motivation is that I’m convinced that in two or three years we will have three players with full LET cards and two or three more with lower quality cards. There is a generation of players born around the year 2000 who have gone through the training system and the CGF national teams, two thirds of whom have studied or are studying in America. Today, they are coming to an age where they can make use of what they can do in a professional career. And besides that there is also a group of relatively still young female professionals who have been between LET and LETAS for two or three years. To summarize, these are my two strong motivations.
I’ll give you one specific name: Klára Spilková. She didn’t get an LPGA card this year, but plans to continue playing in the US. Will she be among those you invite to your tournament?
very interesting name for Czech fans. I’m optimistic in this respect. I believe
that when Klára planned this year, she booked the date of our tournament there.
We know about each other, we communicate with each other, so I believe she’ll
show up in the Czech Republic. Of course, I’ve got my fingers crossed for her
in the battle for an LPGA card, but where she plays is purely her personal
decision. But I think that, especially for her, starting a tournament in the
Czech Republic is good.
Every promoter must have a wish or dream to bring a big golf name to a tournament. Last year, LPGA winner Sandra Gal played in Beroun. Do you have someone picked out for this year, or are you letting events take their course?
I more or less let it run its course and someone always shows up. Last year it was Sandra, the year before it was Klára. I like the Czech footprint a lot, so I’m focusing in that direction. I carry one wish within me, if I can put it like that. Our tournament is relatively close to the biggest tournaments in Europe that are played on the LET and LPGA tours together. So if I were to think of even more interesting names, either within the Czech footprint or otherwise, I would have to consider moving the tournament date to mid-July. In that case, it would be following on from the biggest tournaments in Europe, the British Open and Evian. Then there would be an even greater chance to bring another big name to the Czech Republic. But I’m really seeing that as more of a wish..
In such a case, finances probably play a role. Now we are playing in Beroun for € 200,000, so I guess this amount would have to be increased?
I see everything realistically. The Czech golf market is not that big. If you convert the prize money into Czech crowns, it’s not a small budget at all for a week-long event. Plus, I don’t think it’s really about budget and prize money. It’s about personal negotiation and maybe some kind of starting fee or service provided. Of course, every promoter would like to have interesting prize money, but I also have to look at the tournament in terms of its sustainability and economics.
Speaking of the budget, how big is the budget for the Beroun tournament?
It’s under CZK 10 m.
You mentioned the tournament’s sustainability. How difficult is it to maintain a tournament and partners at a time when there are problems with COVID, price increases, inflation…? How many wrinkles does that give you?
It’s not easy and it’s giving me more wrinkles. If I didn’t have, how could I put it, a little support, it would be even more difficult. You go into it with a certain risk that you have to set yourself and minimize in advance. Put resources together and work with them. It’s a classic sports business that can go either way. Good and bad.
Try playing the visionary. What will the tournament look like in five years?
I don’t presume to guess at all. Of course, it could be here and somehow shifted, we could bring in top stars, but on the other hand this doesn’t have to happen at all. What is encouraging – and I believe positive – is that negotiations are underway between O2TV and the owner of the broadcast TV rights, LET. If an agreement is reached, the LET tournaments could be broadcast on O2TV, which would be very helpful for the Czech context and women’s golf. And there are other things related to this – more space for the media and for partners.
And one more tip from you. When will the first Czech win an LET tournament on home soil?
This may happen relatively soon. Personally, I think that in 2023 one of the Czech players will be in the top 3. But I am talking about the LET in general, not only the Czech Ladies Open. If it were to be in Beroun, it would be completely perfect. Golf is so complicated and unpredictable in this way. In addition to top form, you have to have a lot of luck, have long putts go in; in short, a lot of things have to come together. But I am optimistic from the viewpoint of Czech women’s golf and I believe that someone will make it.
Alois Žatkuliak thanks you for the interview
Tipsport Czech Ladies Open
- Beroun, 24 – 26 June 202
- Prize money: € 200,000
- Winner 2021: Atthaya Thitikul (Thailand)