NAPLES, Fla. – If the LPGA were a publicly traded company, the stock would be up this morning.
The 2014 schedule released Friday shows the tour in strong growth mode in Mike Whan’s fourth season as commissioner.
Next year’s LPGA schedule will feature 33 events, 32 of them official tournaments, plus the new International Crown, an international eight-team event. The schedule’s tournament total is up from 28 official tournaments this year. That reflects significant growth, given the shaky foundation Whan inherited when he took over as commissioner in 2010, when title sponsors were abandoning the tour in bunches. There were just 23 LPGA events in 2011, down from 34 events in ’08.
Whan was hired with a player mandate to increase playing opportunities and repair relationships with alienated business partners.
“We are excited where we are, but by no means are we finished,” Whan said.
While the LPGA has made significant strides building tournaments internationally the last few years, next year’s schedule features substantial growth on the home front, with 18 domestic events, four more than were featured this year, and five more than were on the schedule in 2011. Actually, if you count the two Canadian events and the Bahamas event on the ’14 schedule, it feels like 21 domestic events for LPGA pros in the United States, where the LPGA is based.
Three of the four events added domestically are full-field tournaments.
The tour's swoon came with a combination of hard economic times and heavy-handed business tactics by former commissioner Carolyn Bivens, who was forced out by the player membership.
“All our players feel really good about our leadership and our staff and the progress we’ve made as a tour to get back to that level we were once at,” said Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, the LPGA president. “We know we still have work to do to improve things even more, but the schedule’s a great testament to our leadership. It says a lot about Mike and his vision and his work ethic. The ideas, how we’ve regained the relationship with the Tournament Owners Association, and with sponsors, has just been fantastic. It is a true testament to Mike as a person, not only as a leader.”
Jon Podany, the LPGA’s chief marketing officer, said conversations with sponsors begin differently now.
“We aren’t starting conversations with ‘What’s wrong with the LPGA?’ anymore,” Podany said.
Whan is nearing what he has described as an optimum schedule. He said the tour really has 32 to 34 weeks to sell that make sense.
Asked about his success growing the tour, Whan credited the players.
“Sports are at their best when the best athletes are at their best,” Whan said. “We have the best players at their best right now, and so it’s no surprise our schedule is growing.”
Some highlights of the new schedule:
• Players will be competing for $56.3 million in prize money, up from $48.8 million this year and $40 million in 2011.
• Of the five events added to the ’14 schedule, four are in the United States. The Meijer LPGA Classic at Blythefield Country Club in Grand Rapids, Mich., the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced Golf Club outside San Francisco and the International Crown at Caves Valley in Maryland are new events. The Alabama Classic, formerly the Navistar Classic, is back on the schedule on the Robert Trent Jones’ Trail Capitol Hill course in Prattville, Ala., after a year’s hiatus. There also is a new Asian event planned in China in the fall, but the tour is waiting until February to unveil it.
• The LPGA season will open three weeks earlier than it did this year with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic as the new start, Jan. 23-26 at the Ocean Golf Club on Paradise Island.
• The Wegmans LPGA Championship is moving to a new date and venue. Traditionally played in early June, the championship is moving to Aug. 14-17. It’s also moving from its long-time home at Locust Hill Country Club to Monroe Golf Club in Pittsford, N.Y.
• The U.S. Women’s Open will be played at Pinehurst No. 2 June 19-22, the same venue as the U.S. Open, but a week later.
• The Portland Classic is on the schedule with an asterisk. While the LPGA expects the event to go off, there are sponsorship issues.
• The new schedule’s flow is improved, with just two gaps of more than one week in the schedule.