NAPLES, Fla. – In 2011, during the depths of the Great Recession, the LPGA bottomed with 23 official events and $40.5 million in prize money. It was the fewest tournaments for the tour founded in 1950 since 1972. My how times have changed. Commissioner Mike Whan unveiled a 2016 schedule on Friday at the CME Group Tour Championship that includes 34 tournaments and $63.1 million in total purses. Just call him Magic Whan.
The new season begins Jan. 25 at the Pure Silk-Bahamas Classic and ends Nov. 20 with the CME in Naples, Fla. Because of the Olympic Games, the tour will be dark from the Ricoh Women’s British Open July 31 until the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open Aug. 22. The first U.S. event is the Coates Golf Championship in Ocala, Fla., Feb. 3-6. As has been the case the last several years, the tour goes overseas for eight tournaments beginning in September with the Evian Championship, the final of the tour’s five majors, before returning for the season finale in Naples. The tour also announced a new event in 2017 near Green Bay, Wis., in association with the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin at Thornberry Creek, the official golf course of the Green Bay Packers. “We are at the point where we are comfortable with the number of events we have,” Whan said. “But I would like to create more opportunities for more of our players by having more full-field events.” The overseas stretch at the end of the year through Asia and Mexico are all limited-field tournaments. “The other priority now is to increase prize money and expand network TV coverage on the weekend,” Whan said. “Golf Channel is a great TV partner, but to grow our tour we need to reach the casual sports fan, not just those who are already hooked on golf.” TV ratings have continued to rise as new stars like Lydia Ko and Inbee Park connect with a new generation of fans as well as with the traditional base of the LPGA. This week the CME will end Sunday on ABC after three days on Golf Channel. The first major is the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage, Calif., March 31-April 3 followed by the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship June 9-12 at Sahalee C.C. in Sammamish, Wash.; the U.S. Women’s Open at California's CordeValle Resort, July 7-10; the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Woburn G. & C.C. in Milton Keynes, England, July 28-31 and the Evian Championship in France, Sept. 15-18.
What was a bleak picture just five years ago now appears to be a tour with a very rosy future.