By REX HOGGARD
The Nationwide Tour is expanding its international schedule starting in 2008. Next season, the circuit will add an early-season stop in Mexico to a lineup that already includes tournaments in Panama, Australia and New Zealand.
The Mexico Open will be played Jan. 31-Feb. 3 at Tres Marias Golf Club in Morelia, which is about an hour and a half outside Mexico City.
The 132-player field will include 112 Nationwide Tour players, 16 picks by the Mexican Golf Federation and the top four players from the Tour de Las Americas.
The event will follow the season-opening Panama Championship and will feature a $625,000 purse. After the Mexico Open, the tour will take a week off before heading Down Under for events in New Zealand and Australia.
“We’ve been trying to get an additional start with warm weather and this works great,” said Bill Calfee, president of the Nationwide Tour.
Calfee also said the tour is looking into the possibility of adding events to the Central American portion of its schedule. Among some of the candidates to host a new event are Puerto Rico and Costa Rica.
Although the tour is still a few weeks away from releasing its 2008 schedule, Calfee said officials are looking at four new markets that are interested in holding a tournament.
With an estimated 33 events on the schedule for ’08, however, it’s more likely the circuit would trim some tournaments that are currently struggling to maintain sponsor or community support before adding any new stops.
“We’ve got a nice problem to have, four markets that are interested in coming on board. Right now we are trying to make some room for them,” Calfee said. “We’re trying to hold the number of events we have now or maybe reduce by an event or two. We want to get all our events to a certain level and than look to grow the schedule.”
Calfee also dismissed a media report from earlier this week that speculated Nationwide Insurance, which recently penned a five-year deal to sponsor the secondary circuit through 2012, planned to drop its golf sponsorship after signing on to title sponsor NASCAR’s Busch Series.
“The reason they did the NASCAR deal is they saw the benefits of sponsoring the Nationwide Tour,” he said. “I think we will be able to cross promote now, so it should help us.”