Khodabakhsh departs as Ladies European Tour tries to get out of the rough
Ivan Khodabakhsh has left his position as chief executive of golf’s Ladies European Tour, the schedule for which has been hit by the cancellation of various events this year.
The LET said on Wednesday that its board had asked chairman Mark Lichtenhein to take over the running of the series on a temporary basis while it “reviews its current governance structure and business strategy.”
Uncertainty over the position of Khodabakhsh (pictured) was heightened by his absence from the recent Ladies Scottish Open and Women’s British Open events and concerns raised by some of the participants after the loss of several tournaments and reports of financial difficulties at the LET.
Seven LET events have been called off this year because of a loss of sponsorship or other reasons, the latest being the Xiamen International Ladies Open in China, which was scheduled for mid-October, with the players having been informed via email on Monday, according to reports.
There are also serious doubts over the Qatar Ladies Open, which is earmarked for late-November, but a likely victim of a political dispute between the Gulf state and other countries in the Middle East.
At the end of June, the LET felt compelled to deny a report in the UK’s Times newspaper, which claimed the tour was “on the brink of collapse,” having recorded losses of almost £1 million ($1.3 million) in 2014 and 2015.
However, it has now confirmed the departure of Khodabakhsh, adding: “The Board of the LET has asked its Chairman, Mark Lichtenhein, to assume the day-to-day management of the business on an interim basis as the Board reviews its current governance structure and business strategy.
“Under the Board's guidance, the executive management team will continue to support all its stakeholders and ensure the future direction of the Tour.”
Khodabakhsh left the World Series of Boxing, the annual competition for professional fighters overseen by AIBA, the international boxing federation, to succeed Alexandra Armas as LET chief at the start of 2013, and has been credited for helping increase the television coverage of the tour.
However, this year’s schedule now only comprises 16 tournaments, with the most lucrative events being the Ladies Scottish Open, Women’s British Open and Evian Championship, all of which are co-sanctioned with USA’s LPGA.
Speaking ahead of last week’s Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns in Scotland, home player Catriona Matthew, who now focuses on LPGA events, told reporters: “I don’t really play much in Europe, but they [the LET] have obviously been having their issues with the commissioner.
“I think we need to try to get that sorted and see what direction they are going in there. The product’s there and they have a lot of good players. It’s just perhaps they have had the wrong person at the head. So hopefully if they can get that resolved, it can start building itself up again.”
However, Laura Davies, one of the UK greatest-ever players, was more sympathetic, saying: “We need people to step up with the money to back us. We’re getting more TV now, which I thought was going to help, which is what Ivan did really well or has done really well. But we’re not seeing the results from it.
“I know why we’re not playing in Turkey and other tournaments we’ve lost because of non-golfing reasons. I just think we’re very unlucky. I really do. I think everyone at the tour is working so hard and they are just getting hammered left, right and centre. In a way, there’s not a lot they can do about it.”
Lichtenhein, a member of the LET’s board since 2015, was appointed chairman last December. He spent 16 years working for the men’s European Tour as the joint manging director of European Tour Productions, the tour’s television unit.