LPGA Commissioner Whan Keeps His Promise for 2012

By: Nancy Berkley

The LPGA Tour has released its 2012 schedule. By the looks of it, Commissioner Michael Whan has delivered on his promise to extend the Tour globally while still maintaining and growing its visibility in the U.S. Finalizing the schedule was not easy, but he's done it.

I knew Whan could pull it off because in my two interviews with him on Cybergolf (http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/a_conversation_with_lpga_commissioner_whan_the_future_of_the_lpga and http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/a_conversation_with_commissioner_mike_whan_an_update_on_the_borderless_lpga) I saw his strategy and tactics taking shape. He understands marketing and that's what the LPGA Tour needs.

The timing is perfect for expanding the LPGA Tour season. In 2014, the Women's U.S. Open will be played right after the U.S. Open on the same course - Pinehurst No. 2 at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. This will make for great TV and force announcers to provide comparable coverage and insights for top female and male golfers.

And in 2016, the Olympic Games in Rio will include women's and men's golf competitions for the first time in over 100 years. That will surely increase the visibility of women's golf.

Watch how the LPGA gets better and better at providing compelling stories about its players to make for more interesting TV viewing; the tour experienced a significant uptick in this area in 2011.

The full press release and information about the 2012 season can be found at http://www.lpga.com/content_1.aspx?pid=31636&mid=1. Among the highlights of the LPGA Tour schedule:

The addition of five new tournaments with 100-plus player fields and official money, four of which are in North America.

An increase in the total purse from $40.4 million in 2011 to $47 million this year.

100 percent of Golf Channel's weekend telecasts of the LPGA's North American tournaments will have carry weekend coverage and the percentage of overall live telecasts is projected to be at least 90 percent.

The return to the historically strong venue in Toledo, Ohio, for the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic Presented by Kroger, Owens Corning and O-I, where the LPGA has enjoyed great galleries, exciting finishes and great Toledo hospitality at Highland Meadows Golf Club.

A three-tournament swing through Australia and Asia to open the season in February with the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open at Royal Melbourne Golf Club - home of the 2011 Presidents Cup - before return trips to the Honda LPGA Thailand and theHSBC Women's Champions in consecutive weeks.

The U.S. domestic schedule will again start in March with the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix, followed by trips to the Kia Classic - which returns to a renovated La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., and the first major of the season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

The RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup will continue to recognize the LPGA's past and present while paying it forward for the future of women's golf at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix. It will now have a $1.5 million purse paid to players, a four-day, 72-hole format (up from three days and 54 holes in 2011) and the promise of $500,000 from RR Donnelley to the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf. This season, in addition to honoring the LPGA's Founding Members, the Founders Cup will feature a special tribute to LPGA "pioneers" who had a major role in creating one of the most successful women's sports organizations in history.

Players will once again work all season to punch their "Ticket to the CME Group Titleholders," the season-ending event that features three qualifiers from every official LPGA event. In 2012, the CME Group Titleholders will be played at the TwinEagles Club in Naples and coincide with the CME Group's Global Financial Leadership Conference.

The dates of the major championships have been strategically scheduled. The Kraft Nabisco Championship, won in 2011 by Stacy Lewis, will take place March 29 to April 1, followed by the Wegmans LPGA Championship, which returns to Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y. from June 7 to 10 - two weeks earlier than 2011. The U.S. Women's Open returns to Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisc. - site of Se Ri Pak's historic 1998 victory - July 5-8, where Yani Tseng will look to become the youngest player in history to win the Career Grand Slam. The final major, the RICOH Women's British Open, will for the first time be held at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, which has previously hosted 11 British Opens, including Tiger Woods' 2006 victory. The tournament will be played in mid-September to avoid conflict with the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail celebrates its 20th anniversary this season with two LPGA tournaments. Mobile, Ala., will again play host to the Tour with the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic, April 26-29 at Magnolia Grove's Crossings Course. Three hours up I-65 in Prattville, LPGA rookie Lexi Thompson will defend her title at the Navistar LPGA Classic, where she became the youngest winner in LPGA history in 2011. The tournament returns to the Trail's Senator Course at Capitol Hill in September.

Solheim Cup participants Suzann Pettersen and Brittany Lincicome will defend a pair of back-to-back events next season in New Jersey and the Pacific Northwest.

The Tour again will have two LPGA tournaments in New Jersey with the Sybase Match Play Championship, where Pettersen will defend, at Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, May 17-20, followed by the ShopRite LPGA Classic, where Lincicome will seek to retain her title at Seaview's Bay Course outside Atlantic City, June 1-3.

Pettersen is also the defending champion when the LPGA returns to Portland, Ore., for the 41st annual Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club August 17-19, followed by a second title defense for Lincicome at the CN Canadian Women's Open at Vancouver Golf Club in British Columbia, August 23-26.

The Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G will move to June 29-July 1 and serve as the lead-in to the U.S. Women's Open, creating a two-week swing that will feature $5.25 million in prize money.

The Evian Masters Presented by Societe Generale will be contested for the final time before taking on major championship status as "The Evian" in 2013. The tournament, played at Evian Masters Golf Club in France, is once again tied with the U.S. Women's Open for the highest purse on the Tour schedule at $3.25 million.

The Tour will return to Asia for a four-week swing beginning in October at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, where the purse has been increased to $1.9 million, before returning to Korea for the LPGA HanaBank Championship, Taiwan for the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship, and Japan for the 39th annual Mizuno Classic.

Lorena Ochoa will host the fifth-annual Lorena Ochoa Invitational in her native Guadalajara, Mexico featuring an elite 36-player field at Guadalajara Country Club.

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's golf and junior-girls golf. She is a frequent contributor to www.cybergolf.com/womensgolf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry. She offers information and advice about the golf industry on www.berkleygolfconsulting.com and is often quoted in national publications. She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on www.golfergirlcareers.com. Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager. She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.