LONDON (Reuters) - Floodlit golf and tournaments that run from Sunday to Wednesday are among the innovations being planned by Ivan Khodabakhsh as the Ladies European Tour (LET) supremo looks to stimulate more interest in the women’s game.
The 48-year-old German has been in the role for 28 months and is ready to throw a few curve balls in a bid to gain more recognition for his organization.
“When I was putting our tournament schedule together for TV two years ago I had partners who were ready to showcase what we had,” Khodabakhsh told Reuters at the LET’s Buckinghamshire Golf Club headquarters on the outskirts of London.
“But they said that at the weekend their schedules were full and they had no time for us. We were trying to squeeze ourselves into one or two-hour slots.
“My point now is, let’s think outside the box. Why do I have to compete with other sports at the weekend? Let’s go for a blue ocean strategy and go for tournaments that run from Sunday to Wednesday when no one’s showing live golf,” said Khodabakhsh.
“That’s a fantastic way of showcasing women’s golf. I ran the idea past some of our main broadcasters and the first reaction was an odd look but then very quickly everybody saw the opportunities.”
The May 17-20 Turkish Ladies Open, which carries a prize fund of 500,000 euros ($561,300), will provide a good test case when it starts on a Sunday and ends on a Wednesday at the Carya Golf Club in Belek.
The Carya, which boasts that it is the first course in Europe to have nine illuminated holes, will also be used to try out Khodabakhsh’s floodlit idea on the eve of the Turkish Open.
“If you can’t change the dates or the times why not play under lights,” said the LET’s much-traveled chief executive who is part Armenian, has an Italian wife and has spent time living in the United States and the Middle East.
“In somewhere like Turkey, for example, people sometimes prefer to go out in the evening, not during the middle of the day when it’s very hot.
“If one day we have a full tournament under floodlights, why not? We know we have to be more innovative and more wise while still preserving the core elements of golf that people want to watch.
“I ran this idea by some of our British promoters and they were jumping up and down, saying ‘Us, us, we want to do that first’.”
Increasing the LET’s exposure on television is key to every new scheme that Khodabakhsh comes up with.
“TV is the lifeblood of any sport,” said the former chief executive of World Series Boxing and ex-European Athletics Association event director.
“We, as human beings, want to see, want to watch, want to engage and nowadays it is so much easier.
“Before we only had access to two or three television channels. Now you have laptops, tablets and mobile phones so you can engage with your followers,” added Khodabakhsh.
“We have over 300 playing members from all over the world, not just Europe. They have their followers and we can use their networks to engage with them.
“This is massively important for us and we are trying to do our best with these opportunities. It’s about being clever and sometimes looking at other options and not just taking things that have been set in stone.”
Khodabakhsh is excited at the prospect of seeing golf’s return to the Olympic Games, for the first time in 112 years, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“It is going to be a game-changer for our women to be playing alongside the men,” he said. “What is important for us in the LET is we have such a huge diversity of nationalities.
“It’s a challenge for us to do whatever we can in all of those individual countries to get the word out there before the Games and profile the players so they are already recognizable when they are performing at the Olympics.”
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Editing by Pritha Sarkar