Forty-nine of top 50 expected for new LPGA opener

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OCALA, Fla. – The Coates Golf Championship is gearing up for a big-bang start to 2015 with a stellar field expected for the LPGA’s new season opener in two weeks.

Forty-nine of the top 50 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are expected at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, according to Andy Bush, senior vice president of business development for Octagon, the company running tournament operations for the LPGA’s newest event. Bush was emcee on media day Wednesday for the Coates Golf Championship.

Ninety-six of the top 100 women in the world are expected, according to the LPGA.

Count Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park, No. 2 Lydia Ko and No. 3 Stacy Lewis among those scheduled to tee it up. Michelle Wie, the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, is also committed to make her ’15 debut there.

The Coates Golf Championship gives the LPGA its first domestic start to the season since 2009, when the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Hawaii was host to the year’s start. It is the first season opener in the continental United States since ’04, when the Welchs/Frys Championship started the year in Tucson, Ariz.

Major champions Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lincicome joined the Coates family introducing the new title sponsor and venue at media day.

“A few years ago, our tour didn’t have any tournaments in Florida,” said Pressel, who was raised in Florida and still makes her home in Boca Raton. “Now we start and end the season in Florida. It’s nice to be so close to home to start the year.”

The CME Group Tour Championship will once again conclude the LPGA season in Naples.

Coates Golf is a new business based in Ocala and scheduled to launch its brand at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando next week. It’s a golf equipment and apparel company devoted to women.

“Coates Golf is really about the empowerment of women, so there wasn’t a better way than to partner with the LPGA to launch this brand,” said Mollie Coates, president of the company.

The 72-hole event will feature a field of 120 players and a $1.5 million purse.

Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club is a course designed by Ron Garl that features eight “tribute” holes, replica holes modeled after iconic holes at Augusta National, St. Andrews, Royal Troon, Baltusrol and Muirfield. The replicas include Augusta National’s 12th, 13th and 16th holes, Royal Troon’s postage stamp hole and the Road Hole at St. Andrews.

“I can’t wait for fans to see the Tribute holes,” Lincicome said. “They really look like famous holes all around the world.”