(AP) — One month before its season begins, the LPGA Tour announced a 28-tournament schedule Tuesday that includes five majors, three additional tournaments and prize money closing in on $50 million.
LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan delivered a balanced schedule that circles the globe. It starts next month in Australia. More than half the tournaments are in North America. The Asian swing late in the year includes a new tournament in China. And the season ends in November with the LPGA Titleholders and $700,000 to the winner, the biggest payoff in women's golf.
Whan also announced that CME, the title sponsor of the season-ending Titleholders, has extended its deal through 2016.
“Our tournaments are about customers a lot more than they are about the players and television,'' Whan said. “If you do the right thing with the customer, you'll end up being with the customer a lot time.''
Along with a full schedule, the LPGA Tour will get 300 hours of television coverage, the most in its history.
The LPGA Tour took a beating during the economic downturn and a previous administration that alienated sponsors. Two years ago, the tour had only 23 tournaments.
Whan is close to what he considers an ideal schedule of no more than 32 tournaments – enough to give his players ample starts, still small enough that the tournaments can expect to get a majority of the best players.
The LPGA Tour previously announced a new tournament in The Bahamas on May 23-26 and a return to Texas, its first official event in the Lone Star State since Meg Mallon won the U.S. Women's Open at Colonial in 1991. The North Texas LPGA Shootout will be April 25-28, three weeks before the PGA Tour arrives in town for its Texas swing.
The third new tournament is in China toward the end of the year – the Reignwood Pine Valley LPGA Classic the first week in October, which launches an Asian swing that will take players to Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
“The performance, approachability and growing popularity of our players in the No. 1 factor in the LPGA's continued momentum, which has led to expanding coverage on Golf Channel, the growing slate of playing opportunities and our ever-increasing fan base,'' Whan said.
The Evian will become the fifth major, held Sept. 12-15 in France with a $3.25 million purse. That will be the last of a strong lineup of majors that includes the U.S. Women's Open going to Seabonack on Long Island, and the Women's British Open returning to the Old Course at St. Andrews.
The season begins Feb. 14 with the Women's Australian Open at Royal Canberra, followed by stops in Thailand and Singapore before the domestic schedule starts March 14 with the LPGA Founders Cup in Arizona.
Stacy Lewis was the LPGA player of the year in 2012, the first American to win the highest award since Beth Daniel in 1993. Inbee Park captured the money title, and 2012 also saw the emergence of Na Yeon Choi, who won the U.S. Women's Open and the Titleholders. The biggest surprise was Yani Tseng, who won three tournaments before April to cement her status as the best in women's golf, only to fall in a mysterious slump.
Her lead in the ranking was so large that Tseng goes into the season still at No. 1.
The biggest tournament on the schedule is the Solheim Cup, with Mallon as the captain as she tries to keep the Americans' record perfect on home soil. It will be played Aug. 16-18 at Colorado Golf Club.