The Ladies European Tour will continue to be a “feeder school” for the LPGA Tour despite plans to close the financial gap between them, according to LET chairman Marta Figueras-Dotti.
This year’s American LPGA has a prize fund of approximately £55m, compared with around £12m on the LET.
Figueras-Dotti told BBC Sport: “We are moving forwards slowly and the Solheim Cup win has helped.
“The LPGA needs a strong LET; we can help each other and make both strong.”
Spaniard Figueras-Dotti won the Women’s British Open as an amateur in 1982 and then spent one year as a professional on the LET before joining the LPGA Tour for 16 years until her retirement from playing in 2000.
The 61-year-old, speaking to the BBC as part of a special report on the health of the women’s game at last month’s Mediterranean Ladies Open, added: “The LET has never pretended to be like the LPGA, we are like a feeder school. It’s like the European Tour and the PGA Tour.
“But they need women’s golf. A lot of young women go to the US for college and they stay there. They play on the Symetra Tour [the development tour of the LPGA]– 17% of the players on that tour are European.
Figueras-Dotti is ambitious for the LET though. “We have great plans for next year,” she said.
“I dream big and I would like to see 40 events. If we reach 25-27 next year that would be wonderful.
“We want to create a better environment for the European based players, for them to make a living.”
On Monday, a new tournament, co-sanctioned by the European Tour and Ladies European Tour, was announced.
The Scandinavian Mixed, to be held from 11-14 June at Bro Hof Slott in Stockholm, will feature 78 men and 78 women in its field and has a total prize fund of 1.5 million euros (£1.3m), and will count towards world rankings.
The LET, which had dropped from staging 28 events a decade ago to 15 last year, is back to 20 this year, half of which were majors or co-sanctioned with other tours. The LPGA has 32 events for 2019.
But while the minimum prize money per tournament for LPGA events is $1.3m (£1m); the highest for an LET event was $500,000 (£395,000)
The current disparity in prize money means the leader of the LPGA money list, South Korea’s Ko Jin-young, has earned £2.1m in 2019, around 10 times more than her LET counterpart Carlota Ciganda, who has won £222,414.
The 100th top-earner on the LET is Trish Johnson with £7,840. In comparison, Mariah Stackhouse, who is 100th on the LPGA Tour list, has won £103,677.
“I feel bad for the girls,” said Ciganda, who picked up 45,000 euros (£39,000) for winning the Mediterranean Ladies Open near Barcelona.
“It’s really hard to play well if you don’t have many tournaments. The LPGA is so strong, so it’s hard to play here.”
‘We need to build on Solheim Cup win’
Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, who captained the victorious Solheim Cup team at Gleneagles in September, has played on both tours since 1995 and believes “the LET is healthy and will go from strength to strength” but needs to build on the “spectacle of the Solheim Cup and how it finished” like the women’s World Cups in football, cricket and netball.
She added: “It was a huge boost for women’s golf and hopefully a stepping stone for more sponsors and more events next year.”
It is a view echoed by England’s Meghan MacLaren, although she understands why sponsors are perhaps reluctant to get involved.
“People are talking about the Solheim Cup, the media are more interested. Look at women’s football. Big companies are involved and it’s opened up the market,” said the 25-year-old, who has won two LET events.
“The biggest disparity is what you can get personally. I understand sponsors have that value [in the men’s game]because it’s seen on television every week and we can’t offer that. But if we did, our value would go up.
“It’s difficult for the younger players to break through and make a career.
“There used to be more events. Look at the US, that is thriving, but we are starting to move in the right direction. Things are moving – it could be different this time next year.”
MacLaren finished joint 32nd in Spain, winning £2,333. But the vast majority of the money will have been spent on travel, accommodation and food, with many of the players choosing to share houses for the week and cook for each other to help keep costs down.
“We can see career earnings on a website, but that’s a far higher number than has gone in my bank account.
“You’ll spend on food and accommodation and flights, and then there’s money for personal development.
“A lot of girls will be pulling their own trolley, it would be nice to have a caddie.”
You can hear more on this story on the BBC News Sportsday programme from 18:30 BST on Tuesday, 15 October.