Friday, February 13, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The LPGA Tour will return to the Los Angeles area after a five-year absence with a tournament in 2010, funded by its new deal with JoongAng Broadcasting Corp. of Korea.

LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens announced an agreement Thursday that makes J Golf the tour's official Korean media rights partner starting next year.

J Golf, a division of JBC, will have exclusive broadcast rights within Korea for nearly all LPGA Tour events through 2014. It is the country's leading cable and satellite provider, reaching 8 million households.

As part of the deal, JBC will underwrite an event in the Los Angeles area for five years, with the location and tournament name to be announced later.

The tour has been absent from the area since 2005, when the Office Depot Championship was last played at Donald Trump's course in suburban Rancho Palos Verdes. Before that, the event frequently moved around and changed sponsors.

The tour currently plays three events in California, including its first major championship, the Kraft Nabisco in Rancho Mirage on April 2-5.

JBC has also taken over title sponsorship rights to this year's Phoenix LPGA International, with the tournament name to be unveiled later. The company also has the rights to create and operate the official Korean-language Web site of the LPGA.

J Golf currently owns the broadcast rights in Korea for the Korea LPGA, Ladies Professional Golfers' Association of Japan, PGA European Tour and the Ladies European Tour.

``This is the largest contract ever signed in the history of the LPGA,'' Bivens said on a conference call following the announcement in Beverly Hills. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The deal followed Wednesday's news of a 10-year agreement with Golf Channel that makes the network the tour's exclusive cable home starting next year. The tour will receive a rights fee for domestic broadcast coverage.

``It really shows the progress of women's golf and the positive direction we're moving in,'' said tour player Sherri Steinhauer, who is on the tour's board of directors.

The two contracts come at a time when the tour is offering three fewer tournaments this year because sponsorships were lost due to the failing economy. Prize money also has been reduced by about $5 million.

``In some of the most difficult economic times in our lifetimes, we're able to show an around-the-world investment in the women of the LPGA,'' Bivens said.

Asian players have dominated the tour in recent years, winning three of the four majors in 2008. LPGA Tour membership includes 121 international players from 26 countries, including 45 from South Korea.

Besides televising LPGA tournaments, J Golf will produce event programming involving the tour.

JBC is owned by JoongAng Ilbo, a major Korean media conglomerate headquartered in South Korea that also includes Forbes Korea and Newsweek Korea. JBC includes J Golf, Q Channel and Cartoon Network.

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