N’wide Tour releases ‘strong’ 2012 schedule

Signage displayed at the 2010 Nationwide Tour Championship.

With uncertainty looming, the Nationwide Tour announced Thursday a strong schedule for 2012. The upcoming season, the last in which the circuit will be known by its current name, will feature 27 events and a total purse of $16,600,000. Both the number of events and total purse have increased over last season, ending years of decline.

Nationwide Insurance has been the tour’s title sponsor since the 2003 season. The Columbus, Ohio-based company already has said it will not renew the sponsorship contract when it expires at the end of the 2012 season, ending a 10-year reign.

The tour’s brass will be busy this year trying to find a replacement for this vital sponsorship, which underwrites much of the tour’s operations. Industry sources say the tour is seeking between $10-12 million per year for the new title sponsor. The players, meanwhile, will benefit from an improved schedule.

The 2012 schedule features two new events – the Chile Classic, which will be held March 8-11 at Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago, Chile, and the United Leasing Championship, scheduled for June 28-July 1 at Victoria National Golf Club near Evansville, Ind. The tour’s Chattanooga, Tenn., stop is the only event that will not return from last year’s schedule.

The 26 events on last year’s schedule were the fewest in tour history. This was the first increase in the number of events since 2007, when the tour increased to a record-high 32 events.

The average purse on this year’s circuit, $614,814, is the third consecutive year of decline in that category. The tour’s total purse of $16,600,000 is $525,000 larger than last season, but still the tour’s lowest purse since 2005. The tour's total purse had declined every year since 2008, when it was a record $18,991,094.

The tour has strengthened its early-season schedule, avoiding the lengthy gaps that marked the tour’s opening months last season. The addition of a new event in Chile and the movement of the Soboba Classic, the tour’s third-richest event, to April have helped solidify the early schedule.

The tour opens Feb. 16-19 with the Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open, followed by an open week. Two Latin American starts, the Panama Claro Open and Chile Classic, will be played in consecutive weeks. The Chitimacha Louisiana Open will again serve as the tour’s domestic opener. It will be played March 22-25 at Le Triomphe in Broussard, La.

The tour’s flagship event, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, will be held July 26-29 at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course in Columbus, Ohio.

The season finale, the Nationwide Tour Championship, will be played Oct. 25-28 at TPC Craig Ranch, returning to the McKinney, Texas, course after several years in Charleston, S.C. Two Florida events, the Miccosukee Championship and Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open, will precede the Nationwide Tour Championship. Those events will be preceded by the Neediest Kids Championship at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, the former site of the PGA Tour’s Kemper Open.

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