LPGA Officially Unveils Energized 2012 Schedule
By Stephanie Wei under LPGA

Suzann and Yani: all smiles

Commissioner Mike Whan and the LPGA released the 2012 schedule — which, for the most part, resembles the one that mysteriously appeared in my inbox just before the new year, but fills in some of the blanks. As previously noted on this site, there are at least five new events, four of which are in North America. So far the schedule features 27 tournaments, up from 23 last year — the only one missing is the “New China Event.”

The biggest surprise is the return to Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va., one of the players’ favorite tour stops, which was last played in 2009. The Kingsmill Championship will be held September 6-9 and sponsored by Kingsmill and Xanterra Parks & Resorts. It appears this is the “New Domestic Event” noted on the tentative schedule (moved a week later than it had been previously penciled in).

Last week the LPGA announced its return to Hawaii, with the Lotte Championship Presented by J Golf, which will be played in Oahu at a “TBD location.” According to a high-placed source (along with Golf Channel insiders), it will be held at Ko Olina Golf Club.

Of course the LPGA already unveiled other additions to the 2012 schedule, including the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic and the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic (returning after a one-year hiatus).

Some other highlights via LPGA.com:

  • The addition of five (5) tournaments with 100-plus player fields and official money, four (4) of which are in North America.
  • An increase in total purse from $40.4 million in 2011 to $47 million in 2012.
  • 100 percent of Golf Channel’s weekend telecasts of the LPGA’s North American tournaments will have live weekend coverage on Golf Channel and the percentage of overall live telecasts is projected to be at least 90 percent.
  • The return to a historically strong venue in Toledo, Ohio for the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic Presented by Kroger, Owens Corning and O-I, where the LPGA has enjoyed great galleries, exciting finishes and great Toledo hospitality at Highland Meadows Golf Club.
  • A three-tournament swing through Australia and Asia to open the season in February with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Royal Melbourne Golf Club – home of the 2011 Presidents Cup – before return trips to the Honda LPGA Thailand and the HSBC Women’s Champions in consecutive weeks.
  • The U.S. domestic schedule will again begin in March with the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix, followed by trips to the Kia Classic, which returns to a renovated La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., and the first major of the season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
  • The RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup will continue to recognize the LPGA’s past and present while paying it forward for the future of women’s golf at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix and will now have a $1.5 million purse paid to players, a four-day, 72-hole format (up from three-days and 54-holes in 2011) and the promise of $500,000 from RR Donnelley to LPGA-USGA Girls Golf. This season, in addition to honoring the LPGA’s Founding Members, the Founders Cup will feature a special tribute to LPGA “Pioneers” who had a major role in creating one of the most successful women’s sports organizations in history.

More good news came from the sponsorship front. LPGA renewed eight of the nine tournament contracts that ended in 2011.

“While many fans and media may focus on our new tournament additions, I think it’s just as important to understand the core elements that have created this upward momentum for the LPGA,” Whan said. “The commitment and support of our existing tournament sponsors, the dramatic improvement in our television production and viewership, and the significant growth in marketing partners is really the foundation for our schedule growth.”

The numbers indicate that the LPGA’s fanbase in increasing. Golf Channel viewership increased 29 percent across all tournaments and 38 percent for North American events versus 2010.

Big kudos to Whan and the LPGA for all the progress made. Like I’ve said, I was happily surprised when I saw the promising tentative schedule sent to the players. Hopefully, there’s a chance at the China event coming together to up the tournament count to 28, still considerably less than 34 in 2008 (just before all those contracts expired and sponsors didn’t re-up).

Go here to check out the 2012 Tour Schedule.

(Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images Europe)