With an eye toward stronger fields and bigger purses, the LPGA Tour released a 2005 schedule Thursday that features one less tournament and a record amount of prize money.
The LPGA managed to stretch the American women's golf tour season from Feb. 11 in South Africa to Nov. 20 at the ADT Championship in Florida by taking eight weeks off over the course of the year as it takes its brand all over the world.
Two events will be played in Mexico to capitalize on the popularity of 23-year-old Guadalajara native Lorena Ochoa. The LPGA will play the first Women's World Cup at Fancourt in South Africa. It also will go to France and England, along with its late-season swing through South Korea and Japan.
It adds up to 31 official tournaments, plus the World Cup and Solheim Cup, for official prize money of US$43.3 million.
"We've had a fundamental question we've asked ourselves," commissioner Ty Votaw said. "Are we a world tour that happens to be based in the United States, or are we a US-based tour that happens to play a number of events outside its boundaries? I think we're a world tour that happens to be based in the United States."
That much is clear in the membership, which has 96 players from 24 countries around the world. Even this week at the season-ending ADT Championship, there are 17 foreign-born players in the field of 30.
Votaw said that has contributed to financial stability, noting that a television rights deal with Korean-based SBS will be the largest in LPGA history.
"Our international television revenues have grown tenfold since 1996," he said.
The LPGA Tour lost five tournaments from the 2004 schedule -- the traditional season-opener in Tucson, Arizona; the Kellogg-Keebler Classic outside Chicago; the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic in Ohio; North Augusta, South Carolina; and the Wachovia Classic that Betsy King hosted in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
Those were replaced by two tournaments in Mexico and a return to Hawaii, where the LPGA Tour's official season will begin Feb. 24-26 in the SBS Open at Turtle Bay.
Votaw also has a US$2 million event on the schedule the week after the US Women's Open.