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Pay-as you-play scheme could be ideal launchpad for female pros

There was a time when receiving an email was an event of quite mind-boggling proportions.

Heather MacRae has opted to go down the PGA training route. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Heather MacRae has opted to go down the PGA training route. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

An entire family would huddle, entranced around the computer in anticipation of this technological marvel that promised to have the same earth-shattering impact as a mega meteor clattering into a nuclear reactor. When one, solitary message dropped with a pitiful 'bing' into the inbox, the oohing and aahing could not have been greater had Elvis and Zeus burst into the living room and performed the can-can.

Nowadays the email is a source of constant irritation as we struggle breathlessly to stay afloat on a daily basis against a veritable Tsunami of messages, press releases and general pointlessness.

Amid the unrelenting barrage, however, there are the odd items that catch the eye. The other day, a message appeared in this correspondent's mailbox with the title PLGC SLOT. Admittedly, it looked more like a Countdown conundrum than an issue involving golf but, in these acronym-driven times, the puzzle swiftly unravelled.

This was information regarding the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre Scottish Ladies Open Tour, a new, pay-as-you-play venture for female professionals and single-figure amateurs. The SLOT, as it's known, is the brainchild of the well-kent veteran Aberdonian golf journalist Colin Farquharson, a respected colleague who has been covering the game since the Cretaceous period and still shows no sign of easing up. His passion for the women's game in particular remains undiminished and he has found kindred spirits in three fairly big-hitters in his native north-east.

Along with Lawrie, whose tireless support of golf at all levels in Scotland knows no bounds, the tour is being backed by Martin Gilbert, the golf-mad chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, and Stewart Spence, the Granite City businessman who has sponsored Lawrie right through the 1999 Open champion's professional career.

In a nutshell, the circuit will comprise a series of 18-hole strokeplay events at various venues throughout Scotland. Entry to each tournament, a fee which also goes into the prize pot, will be £50, with Lawrie, Gilbert and Spence guaranteeing to throw in an extra £1000 to the purse at each event. There will be an end-of-season, double-your-money tour championship while a significant carrot on a stick is the plan to send the winner of the order of merit on an all-expenses paid trip to the Ladies European Tour qualifying school later in the year. For young, up-and-coming female professionals trying to gain a foothold in the paid ranks, this news should make for exciting reading and a huge amount of credit must go to those behind the whole concept.

It is yet another, positive example of the good work being done to bolster the game in this country. The opportunities, outwith the main European circuit, for girls to sharpen their competitive edge remain in short supply. In comparison, the men have a welter of lower-league platforms upon which to serve an apprenticeship and develop. The EuroPro Tour, the Alps Tour, the EPD Tour, the MENA Tour . . . the list goes on. Yes, there is the Ladies European Tour Access Series, a second-tier circuit which offers promotion to the top table through the order of merit, but bouncing around to places like the Ukraine, Morocco, Sweden and Greece does not come cheap for a fledgling pro trying to learn the ropes and, for many, the standard of the entry level may just be too high.

Some players, such as Heather MacRae, the former British Women's Amateur Strokeplay champion, have opted to go down the PGA training route and, thus, are eligible to compete alongside the men on the Tartan Tour. For those who have chosen not to pursue this particular avenue, though, it's almost a dead end in terms of openings.

The SLOT could just fill that, well, slot; a domestic circuit where players can experience the cut-and-thrust of tournament competition and develop in the financially friendly environment of their own backyard. It could act as a vital stepping stone.

MacRae, who failed at the LET's qualifying school, has expressed her enthusiasm for the new circuit while Pamela Pretswell, who earned her full card through the LET's Access Series last season, has indicated that she would be eager to support the venture when she has the odd spare week in the schedule.

As always with these types of tours, the challenge will be getting bums on seats as it were. Alan Tait, the former Tartan Tour No.1, had three attempts at establishing an independent Scottish tour down the years but always faced a fight in terms of entry numbers. When he opened his Xltec Pro Tour up to women, there was a loyal gathering who came from all around the UK to compete.

The organisers of the SLOT are also sending out a come all ye message. The purses are not going to be life-changing sums but any chance to get in among it with a card in the hand and stoke the competitive fires can only be beneficial.

The lack of playing opportunities for female golfers in the transition zone has been a long-running problem but those behind this latest scheme have shown an admirable commitment to doing something about it. For the players, it will be a case of use it, or lose it.

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