LPGA unveils expanded 2013 schedule

Scott Halleran

Buoyed by a year of double-digit growth in its global fan base, TV ratings, and corporate sponsorship, the LPGA Tour on Tuesday released its 2013 schedule that includes 28 tournaments.

In addition to three new events on this year’s calendar -- and with the possibility of commissioner Mike Whan adding another to the docket -- Golf Channel and other networks will provide a record 300 hours of television coverage.

In total, Yani Tseng, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, and the other stars of the LPGA will play one more tourney than they did last season for $49 million in prize money. Though the tour lost two events (the Sybase Match Play Championship and Navistar LPGA Classic), Whan added another three.

The 2013 schedule is the most robust since 2009, when the LPGA also staged 28 contests. By 2011, with the sagging economy limiting events to 23, the future of the tour seemed at stake. Now, Whan is confident about adding another tourney later this year to the newbies already on the calendar.

“We expect to have one more tournament to announce in the very near future,” Whan said in a statement.

In addition to the Pure Silk-Bahamas Classic at the Ocean Club Golf Course over Memorial Day weekend and the North Texas LPGA Shootout April 25-April 28 at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, the tour will travel to Beijing, China, for the $1.8 million Reignwood Pine Valley LPGA Classic from October 3-October 6.

Native daughter Shanshan Feng’s LPGA Championship win -- the first major victory for any Chinese golfer -- should bode well for the tour’s inaugural event in Beijing.

The tour will also play five major championships, with the former Evian Masters emerging as The Evian. The Old Course at St. Andrews will host the Women’s British Open a month prior to the fifth major.

“Global exposure and exciting worldwide fan opportunities will be the real theme for 2013,” Whan said.

While global growth remains a backbone of the LPGA, the increasing stature and popularity of Lewis was key to attracting corporate backing for this coming season. Thanks to her breakout 2012, which included four tour wins and the LPGA Player of the Year award, Lewis was instrumental in the signing of at least two title sponsors -- Marathon Petroleum and Pure Silk -- both of which endorse her.

“The performance, approachability and growing popularity of our players is the No. 1 factor in the LPGA’s continued momentum, which has led to expanding coverage on Golf Channel, the growing slate of playing opportunities and our ever-increasing fan base,” Whan said.

Should Whan be successful in adding a late-season event in the U.S., it would bring the tour back to home turf during a stretch between September 1 and November 17 when the women are slated to play seven straight international tournaments.

Another positive indicator is that players will have no three-week gaps, which gives them more playing and TV time, with 27 of the 28 events televised globally.

"Without having those big breaks, we are more consistently in the American viewers' eyes," Paige Mackenzie, a member of the LPGA board of directors, told USA Today. "We are relevant, which is the most important thing for our fan base."

This season, which starts February 14 at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and wraps up in Naples, Fla., at the CME Group Titleholders on November 24, also features the Solheim Cup. Four-time major champion Meg Mallon will lead the U.S. squad at Colorado Golf Club outside Denver, with the Americans hoping to bring the cup back home after losing it to the Europeans in 2012 Ryder Cup-like fashion two years ago.

2013 LPGA schedule:

Feb. 14-17: $1.2 million ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, $1.2 million

Feb. 21-24: $1.5 million Honda LPGA Thailand

Feb. 28-March 3: $1.4 million HSBC Women’s Champions

March 14-17: $1.5 million RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup

March 21-24: $1.7 million Kia Classic

April 4-7: $2 million Kraft Nabisco Championship

April 17-20: $1.7 million LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf

April 25-28: $1.3 million North Texas LPGA Shootout

May 2-May 5: $1.3 million Kingsmill Championship

May 16-19: $1.2 million Mobile Bay LPGA Classic

May 23-26: $1.3 million Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic

May 30-June 2: $1.5 million ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer

June 6-9: $2.25 million Wegmans LPGA Championship

June 20-23: $2 million Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G

June 27-30: $3.25 million U.S. Women’s Open

July 11-14: $1.3 million Manulife Financial LPGA Classic

July 18-21: $1.3 million Marathon Classic Presented By Owens Corning & O-I

Aug. 1-Aug. 4: $2.75 million Ricoh Women’s British Open

Aug. 15-18: The Solheim Cup

Aug. 22-25: $2 million CN Canadian Women’s Open

Aug. 29-Sept. 1: $1.3 million Portland Classic Presented by Safeway

Sept. 12-15: $3.25 million The Evian

Oct. 3-Oct. 6: $1.8 million Reignwood Pine Valley LPGA Classic

Oct. 10-13: $1.9 million Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia

Oct. 17-20: $1.9 million KEB Hana Bank Championship

Oct. 24-27: $2 million Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship

Nov. 7-10: $1.2 million Mizuno Classic

Nov. 14-17: $1 million Lorena Ochoa Invitational

Nov. 21-24: $2 million CME Group Titleholders

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