More tourneys, TV highlight 2014 LPGA schedule

A scene from the 2013 Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic. The event will kick off the 2014 LPGA season on Jan. 23.

— The LPGA unveiled its 2014 schedule Vanna White style, with a communications official turning around cards one by one as players announced each tournament on a video screen. The theme of the press conference was “Up,” and let’s just say it was a far cry from how the tour has announced its schedule in recent years. Big news calls for a big event.

With a total of five new tournaments – four official and the International Crown – the LPGA has crossed the 30-mark threshold with ease. The 2014 schedule will feature 32 official tournaments as well as the new Crown event, which features eight countries vying for a $1.6 million purse. The 2013 schedule had 28 events.

“I think the schedule right now is solid,” said Whan, who has announced previous schedules via a media conference call in January. “Do I think it could be better? I do.”

The best number for all involved might be that the total number of official North American events jumped from 18 to 21. Whan felt it was crucial to maintain a strong American base for the LPGA, unlike the “nomadic” feel of professional tennis. It wasn’t too long ago that the tour’s schedule was extremely bleak in that regard. 2011 featured only 13 domestic events and 23 total.

“I've completely forgotten 2011,” said Whan. “No, just joking. It's an exciting time. I said this in 2010 and I really believe it that some people were writing an obituary for the LPGA that was way, way, way ahead of its time and the brand was never the problem. . . . If you can't sell this product, then shame on you. These players are approachable, they understand.”

In addition to the new Meijer LPGA Classic in Michigan and the return of the Prattville, Ala., stop, the tour announced a new domestic event outside of San Francisco at Lake Merced Golf Club – the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic – that’s co-sanctioned with the Taiwan LPGA. Swinging Skirts, a private organization based in Taiwan that hosts a who’s who of tournaments each December, will be the event’s main sponsor. It’s the first time the LPGA has co-sanctioned an event on American soil. The April 24-27 event will feature a $1.8 million purse.

Plans are also in the works for a second fall stop in China on Oct. 30-Nov. 2, filling the off-week that came before the Mizuno Classic. That would bring the tour’s total number of tournaments in Asia to eight, plus one in Australia. Whan said the sponsor of the new event in China wanted to wait until the tour was in Asia early next year to make the announcement. The event will have a $2 million purse.

The Portland Classic is slated as “tentative,” as a contract has not been signed.

“We fully intend to be back for our 43rd year,” said Whan. “What I can't tell you today is that's a given.”

From the Founders Cup in March til the year-ender in Naples, not once does the schedule have more than a one-week break. Whan feels that’s critical to keeping the LPGA fan base intact and he’s right.

The total purse for the 2014 season will be $56.3 million, up more than $7 million. The average purse size will grow from $1.74 million to $1.76 million. Whan, who started his tenure as commissioner in 2010, has done an admirable job of increasing the total number of events amid a down economy without diminishing the quality of events. But veteran Cristie Kerr would next like to see the tour concentrate on raising the average purse size to $2 million and majors to more than $3 million.

“If would be nice if you were 70th or 80th to make a nice living,” said Kerr. You’re playing professional golf. You’re a professional athlete. . . . The focus has to go there.”

Hall of Famer Karrie Webb has spent the last three years serving on the LPGA Board of Directors. She expressed a new appreciation for what it takes to get a tournament on the schedule.

“When I came on we were in dire straits,” said Webb. “To have been a part of us righting the ship and getting things back on track has been fun and rewarding. I think we’re in good shape. I don’t think we can rest on our laurels. Still plenty of places we can improve to strengthen our schedule.”

Another large area of improvement is the number of televised events, increasing from 27 to 32 for 2014. Two of the last three events on this year’s schedule – Japan and Mexico – weren’t on television, a noticeable black eye for the tour as the race for year-end awards heated up between the tour’s top players.

In 2010, Whan said 63 percent of LPGA events were tape-delayed and standard definition. Now it’s 90 percent live and entirely high definition.

“While the schedule growth has been good,” Whan said, “the TV growth has been much better.”

Texan Angela Stanford said she feels the ideal number of events is somewhere in the neighborhood of 32-35. Anymore than that, she said, and too many stars would start taking too many weeks off.

In a perfect world, Whan would like to have one more full-field domestic event added.

“We have one week I wish we would have sold, if I was being honest, and we didn’t,” said Whan. “Other than that it's been a pretty good run.”

Despite the one that got away, Friday’s press conference in the Tiburon Ballroom should be celebrated by fans as a pivotal moment in the health and vitality of this 63-year-old organization. No longer on life support, the LPGA is forging ahead with a youthful vibrance and worldwide appeal. And as the stage grows larger, more stars are stepping up.

Credit Whan and his team for creating the opportunity.

• • •

2014 LPGA Schedule

Jan. 23-26: Pure Silk Bahamas Classic, Atlantis, Ocean Club Golf Course, Paradise Island, Bahamas

Feb. 13-16: ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, Victoria Golf Club, Melbourne

Feb. 20-23: Honda LPGA Thailand Chon Buri, Thailand

Feb. 27-March 2: HSBC Women’s Champions, Sentosa Golf Club, Singapore

March 20-23: LPGA Founders Cup, Wildfire Golf Club, Phoenix

March 27-30: Kia Classic, Aviara Golf Club, Carlsbad

April 3-6: Kraft Nabisco Championship, Mission Hills CC, Dinah Shore Course, Rancho Mirage, Calif.

April 16-19: LPGA Lotte Championship, Ko Olina Golf Club, Oahu, Hawaii

April 24-27: *Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, Lake Merced Golf Club, Daly City, Calif.

May 1-4: North Texas LPGA Shootout, Las Colinas CC, Irving, Texas

May 15-18: Kingsmill Championship, Kingsmill Resort, Williamsburg, Va.

May 22-25: Mobile Bay LPGA Classic, RTJ Golf Trail, Magnolia Grove, The Crossings, Mobile, Ala.

May 30-June 1: ShopRite LPGA Classic, Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club, Bay Course, Galloway, N.J.

June 5-8: Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, Grey Silo Golf Course, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

June 19-22: U.S. Women’s Open, Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst, N.C.

June 27-29: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, Pinnacle, CC, Rogers, Ark.

July 10-13: Ricoh Women’s British Open, Royal Birkdale, Southport, England

July 17-20: Marathon Classic, Highland Meadows Golf Club, Sylvania, Ohio

July 24-27: *International Crown, Caves Valley, Owings Mills, Md.

Aug. 7-10: *Meijer LPGA Classic, Blythefield CC, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Aug. 14-17: Wegmans LPGA Championship, Monroe GC, Pittsford, N.Y.

Aug. 21-24: Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, London Hunt & CC, London, Ontario, Canada

Aug. 28-31: Portland Classic, Columbia Edgewater, Portland, Ore.

Sept. 11-14: The Evian Championship, Evian Masters Golf Club, Evian-les-Bains, France

Sept. 18-21: *Alabama LPGA Classic, RTJ Capitol Hill, Senator Course, Prattville, Ala.

Oct. 2-5: Reignwood Pine Valley LPGA Classic, Pine Valley Golf Club, Beijing, China

Oct. 9-12: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur G&CC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Oct. 17-19: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship, Sky 72 Golf Club, Incheon, Korea

Oct. 23-26: LPGA Taiwan Championship, Sunrise G&CC, Taiwan

Oct. 30-Nov. 2: *New event, China, TBD

Nov. 7-9: Mizuno, Japan, Kintetsu Kashikojima, Mie, Japan

Nov. 13-16: Lorena Ochoa Invitational, TBD, Mexico

Nov. 20-23: CME Group Titleholders, Tiburon Golf Club, Naples, Fla.

*New event

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