NAPLES, Fla. – The LPGA continues to build on a stable foundation of events under commissioner Mike Whan.
On Friday at the CME Group Tour Championship, the tour announced its 2016 schedule, which will feature 34 events, including the UL International Crown, and record prize money totaling more than $63 million. That’s two more events than the LPGA played this year with $4 million more in total prize money.
Notably, the LPGA isn’t losing a single tournament that was played this year.
“I made this comment a couple years ago that wouldn’t it be nice if somewhere in the future our schedule announcement didn’t have so much drama,” Whan said. “When the PGA Tour announces its schedule, sometimes it’s just an email. It’s because people know the schedule is going to be strong and stable without a whole lot of change. I feel like we’re coming over a hill.
“For the last few years, you’ve been walking in here, and so have I, and we’re talking about a schedule that is so much different. I’m really excited to say there is not a lot that’s different. Generally speaking, our schedule is what our schedule was.”
The former Reignwood Classic in China, canceled this year, is the only 2016 event listed as “TBD,” but Whan seemed confident the event will be played in the fall Asian swing. The new LPGA Volvik Championship (May 26-29) in Ann Arbor, Mich., is the only other event added to this year’s schedule.
The LPGA schedule is nearly maxed out as Whan envisions it. Almost from the day he became commissioner, Whan has said he believes 34 events are optimum. Whan believes 34 events assure strong fields at every stop, sufficient breaks and a good offseason.
“Our team’s focus has exclusively shifted from securing new events to enhancing the ones we have,” Whan said. “Increasing purses, number of weeks on network TV and creating more exposure for our events and players are the short-term goals we have set.”
While Whan’s schedule typically includes breaks opposite men’s majors, the Meijer Classic in Belmont, Mich., will move opposite the U.S. Open (June 16-19). Whan said Meijer requested the dates for its strong community-oriented event.
Because golf is returning to the Olympics next year, the LPGA schedule has been juggled to accommodate it. The LPGA will be taking a three-week break in August with the Olympic women’s event scheduled the week of Aug. 15-21. To make that work, the LPGA will be playing 11 consecutive weeks leading up to the Olympics. The Yokohama Classic is moving from August to May and the Cambia Portland Classic is moving from August to the start of July.
Whan said he’s expecting to announce a new venue for next year’s UL International Crown in about a week. Rich Harvest Farms outside Chicago was originally scheduled to host but the LPGA recently announced it was looking for a new venue.
Whan’s mandate when he took over as commissioner six years ago was to rebuild the tour’s schedule, which had withered down to 23 events in 2011 with title sponsors abandoning in bunches.
The 2016 schedule Whan unveiled Friday features 10 more official events than the tour played in 2011 with eight more North American events and $22 million more in prize money. That’s also nine more full-field events than the tour played in 2011.
Here is the complete 2016 schedule: