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LPGA Tour Releases 2014 Schedule
One of the first questions asked of Commissioner Michael Whan when he joined the LPGA Tour in 2010 was, "How many official events are required to have a great LPGA schedule?" His answer reflected an ideal schedule of between 30 and 32 events.
Friday morning at the 2013 season-ending CME Group Titleholders, Whan took center stage with Chief Marketing Officer Jon Podany to reveal a 2014 schedule with 32 official tournaments and growth in several other areas.
"Up" was the word of the day for the LPGA. The overall number of official tournaments grows by four, including three new events in North America. Prize money increases by more than $7 million, swelling to an all-time high of over $56 million, and 2014 television coverage jumps above 350 hours, surpassing the previous record established this year. The start date of the 2014 schedule also moves up on the calendar to January with the season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic teeing off January 23-26.
"It's certainly exciting to introduce the 2014 LPGA Tour schedule," Whan said Friday. "There's no doubt that our schedule has a little something for everyone; but most importantly, it creates more opportunities for our players, more coverage for our fans, and more exposure for the world's best female golfers. The real credit for our growth goes to my incredible, customer-focused team in Daytona Beach, and the overwhelming support we get every week from our players on tour."
As the LPGA is an American-based tour, one of Whan's goals was to create more playing opportunities in North America for members. April brings a return to the Bay Area for the $1.8 million Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic; August marks a trip to Grand Rapids, Mich. - the tour's first stop in the state since 2000 - for the $1.5 million Meijer LPGA Classic; and the fall schedule involves a reunion with the Prattville, Ala., community after a one-year absence with the $1.3 million Alabama Classic on September 18-21.
In all, 32 events are on tap - although a return to Portland, Ore., for the 43rd year is still tentative.
After a 2013 run in the majors dominated by the top three players in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings - Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen and Stacy Lewis, the 2014 schedule is again highlighted by five major championships, with some interesting twists. The 2014 slate includes a new stop for the Wegmans LPGA Championship at Monroe Golf Club, a return to Royal Birkdale for the RICOH Women's British Open, and a trip to Pinehurst No. 2 course for the U.S. Women's Open, which, for the first time ever, will be played a week after the U.S. Open at the same venue.
Announced in January, the International Crown will debut July 24-27 at Caves Valley Golf Club outside Baltimore and move to Rich Harvest Farms in 2016, offering an unofficial $1.6 million purse. The first biennial, global team match-play event of its kind, the event will feature eight qualifying countries, determined by the Official Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings, vying to be "crowned" the best golfing nation in the world.
The eight foreign countries (Australia, Chinese Taipei, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand and the United States) qualifying for the International Crown have also been announced. Four players representing each country will be announced at the 2014 Kraft Nabisco Championship April 3-6 after the individual qualifying process is complete.
Highlighting the new additions to a growing domestic schedule in 2014 is the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, announced for the first time on Friday. The full-field event follows the LPGA LOTTE Championship in Hawaii and will take place April 24-27 at Lake Merced Golf Club outside San Francisco.
The tournament will mark the Tour's first event in the Bay Area since 2010. It's sponsored by Swinging Skirts, a group whose goal is to grow women's golf and the golf industry in Taiwan. The event is co-sanctioned with the Taiwan LPGA, and will feature 120 LPGA players as well as players from Taiwan. It becomes the first-ever LPGA co-sanctioned tournament on American soil. The venue has long been supportive of women's golf, as Lake Merced was one of the first golf clubs to have no gender restrictions on its membership.
Another inaugural event in 2014 is the Meijer LPGA Classic, to be held just outside Grand Rapids, giving the LPGA a Midwest footprint in a state rich with golf courses and traditionally strong fan support. The event will take place August 7-10 at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, marking the tour's first visit to western Michigan and first stop in the state since a nine-year run in East Lansing ended in 2000.
Prattville, Ala., is no stranger to women's golf. After a one-year break, the full-field Alabama Classic will return to the Robert Trent Jones Trail's Capitol Hill Course, September 18-21. With the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic on board for a fifth consecutive year, the state of Alabama joins California (three) as the only states with multiple LPGA events.
"Those who follow our Tour closely realize that when a community opens up their arms, we'll do our best to hug them back," said Whan. "Our goal is long-term relationships where both sponsors and fans come to know our players, and events become long-term traditions."
Over the past few weeks, momentum built toward Friday's schedule release with the November 6th announcement of Canadian Pacific as the new title sponsor for the Canadian Pacific Women's Open - won each of the last two years by New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko, whose first event as a professional came in this week's Titleholders. The Canadian Pacific Women's Open will be played at the London Hunt and Country Club in London, Ontario. It follows the Wegmans LPGA Championship, which not only moves to the Donald Ross-designed Monroe Golf Club as its new Pittsford, N.Y., home, but will be played in August 2014.
Twelve new events have been added in the past three years to the LPGA Tour schedule, providing players more opportunities, fans more excitement and a promise of long-term stability.
"This is by no means a finished product," Whan said Friday of the 2014. "But it's an enjoyable journey right now for our players and our partners and we're going to continue pushing toward something in which the LPGA's Founders and LPGA fans can be proud. We're excited about where we are, but even more excited about where we're going."
The above report is courtesy of the LPGA Tour. For the full 2014 schedule, visit www.lpga.com.