With less than two weeks before the start of the season, the 15-tournament Symetra Tour schedule has been released. Still, that doesn’t mean it can’t continue to grow in 2013.
The Symetra Tour has announced four inaugural events for the upcoming season and three new sponsors. One of those events is the season-opening VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic, to be played Feb. 22-24 at Longbow Golf Course in Mesa, Ariz. It marks the tour’s much-anticipated return to the West Coast. The winner of the event also receives an exemption in the LPGA’s first U.S. event, the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup. That will be played in nearby Phoenix.
Mike Nichols, chief business officer of the Symetra Tour, called the Mesa event a way of “putting a stake in the ground” on the West Coast. A large portion of Symetra players hail from California and Arizona, and Nichols hopes to drum up more interest among sponsors.
“It helps to be playing in places where we have membership,” Nichols said. “It creates that grassroots groundswell.”
In addition to Arizona, the Symetra Tour also is making new stops at the Country Club of Asheville (N.C.) for the Friends of Mission Charity Classic; Palm Harbor, Fla., for the IOA Golf Classic; and Kissimmee, Fla., for the Volvik Championship.
Nichols still is pursuing more events for the 2013 season, and he has made other site visits and had sponsorship discussions. Nichols said the tour’s goal is for the schedule to exceed 20 events in the future so that it is similar in size to the LPGA schedule.
“The players want to play often and as much as possible,” Nichols said.
He also hopes to grow the number of LPGA cards offered at the end of the season. This year marks the second year that 10 cards can be earned, up from five in the past.
The format of the Symetra Tour Championship, to be played Sept. 26-29 at LPGA International’s Champions Course in Daytona Beach, Fla., also has changed. The tournament has grown from 54 holes to 72 holes, to make it more reflective of an LPGA event.
“That event – in terms of shaping who the players are, who joins the LPGA tour – is huge,” Nichols said.
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2013 Symetra Tour schedule
• Feb. 22-24: VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic, Longbow GC, Mesa, Ariz.
• Mar. 22-24: Florida’s Natural Charity Classic, Lake Region Yacht & CC, Winter Haven, Fla.
• April 26-28: Guardian Retirement Championship, Sara Bay CC, Sarasota, Fla.
• May 9-11: Symetra Classic, Raintree CC, Charlotte, N.C.
• May 17-19: Friends of Mission Charity Classic, Country Club of Asheville (N.C.)
• June 14-16: Decatur-Forsyth Classic, Hickory Point GC, Decatur, Ill.
• June 21-23: Four Winds Invitational, Blackthorn GC, South Bend, Ind.
• June 28-30: Island Resort Championship, Sweetgrass GC, Harris, Mich.
• July 12-14: Credit Union Challenge, Capital Hills at Albany (N.Y.)
• July 19-21: Northeast Delta Dental International, Beaver Meadow GC, Concord, N.H.
• July 26-28 Credit Union Classic, Drumlins CC (East Course), Syracuse, N.Y.
• Aug. 9-11: IOA Golf Classic, Innisbrook Golf Resort (Island), Palm Harbor, Fla.
• Aug. 16-18: Eagle Classic, Richmond (Va.) CC
• Sept. 20-22: Volvik Championship, Reunion Resort, Kissimmee, Fla.
• Sept. 26-29: Symetra Tour Championship, LPGA International (Champions), Daytona Beach, Fla.