I wholeheartedly agree with Tony Jesselli that the long-awaited announcement of the 2012 LPGA schedule is full of great news. When you compare the new schedule to those from 2009, 2010, and 2011, the improvements are striking. The LPGA now has 27 official tournaments scheduled for 2012, without having to include any shaky ones this time around (you'll notice there's no Tres Marias event listed and not even a TBA for a China event). What else stands out about the 2012 schedule? And what could it become in future years? Let's take a look.
The late winter is starting to look a bit healthier. I've been calling for years for the LPGA to bulk up its early-spring schedule with co-sponsorships with other major women's professional tours. While the return to Australia by co-sponsoring the Women's Australian Open with the ALPG doesn't exactly fit this model, it's definitely a step in the right direction. For the future, I'd still love to see newly-created co-sponsored events with the JLPGA and KLPGA (in late February and early March) extend the lead-up to the HSBC Women's Champions (in mid-March), but I understand that would involve convincing 2 tours which like the way they kick off their own seasons to create limited-field opportunities for their top golfers (to make room for the LPGA's best).
There's still room for improvement in the transition from the early Asian swing to the start of the domestic schedule. I'm as excited about the LPGA's return to Hawaii as anyone, but I'm not so thrilled with the placement of the event 17 days after the Kraft Nabisco Championship, with only 5 days between its finish and the start of the Mobile Bay Classic in Alabama. The obvious place the LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J-Golf should go is the week after the HSBC Women's Champions. This would not only improve travel for the players, but also push LPGA's Phoenix-to-California 3-event swing well into April, with room for the creation of, say, the San Antonio event that Lorena Ochoa has been pushing for, to break up the trip from the Southwest to the Southeast (whether or not the Tres Marias is kaput for good).
The outlines of regional mini-swings within the U.S. are starting to emerge. As I noted before, the LPGA has a nice Southwestern mini-swing to kick off the 2012 domestic schedule. And it seems to be setting up the foundation for a Southeastern mini-swing in May by, say, moving the LPGA's return to Kingsmill, which is awkwardly placed the week before the RICOH Women's British Open in September 2012, back to the spring to follow on the Mobile Bay Classic and, say, the new Florida event than Annika Sorenstam's been pushing for, as well as act as the transition to the LPGA's already-existing Northeastern mini-swing, which culminates in the Wegmans LPGA Championship after a couple of events in New Jersey. I'd like to see the new Waterloo event be better integrated into this visit to the Northeast in future years. Perhaps the LPGA could free up some space in the late spring by tranforming the unoffical HSBC LPGA Brasil Cup into an official kickoff event to the season sometime before the 2016 Olympics? That way they could still have a 4-event mini-swing to the Northeast in May and June, but keep some separation between their 2nd and 3rd majors by making the Walmart and Farr events a Midwestern entry into a somewhat later U.S. Women's Open (if the USGA cooperates). And with The Evian becoming a major in 2013 and moving to mid-September (where the Women's British Open will most likely stay), there's plenty of room to do that and build in a Northwestern mini-swing via the Safeway Classic and CN Canadian Women's Open (with the Navistar somewhat awkwardly appended to it), as a lead-in to either the European swing or the fall Asian swing. Heck, there's even room to expand the Midwestern and Northwestern mini-swings with new events as opportunities arise.
There's even room for improvement in the late Asian swing. The LPGA's mini-swing from Malaysia to Korea to Taiwan to Japan could be augmented in various ways after 2012. Another Hawaii event at its beginning (if the NW mini-swing leads into it) or its end (my preferred solution if the LPGA decides to move from Europe straight to Asia) wouldn't be bad. A real-life, actual China event would be cool to kick off that latter kind of Europe-to-Asia swing.
What about a mini-Americas swing to conclude the season? It wouldn't be that hard to create. If the Brasil Cup organizers don't like kicking off the LPGA season, what if their event were moved back to November to precede Lorena's and, say, a new event in the Caribbean? What if it were to become the vehicle for that team-event concept that Mike Whan has been talking up in recent months, to drum up further interest in the 2016 Olympics and to add Solheim Cup-style spice at the end as well as near the beginning of the LPGA's European/Asian sojourns? Heck, the lead-up to the CME Titleholders could even include 1 or 2 more domestic events that fit the "mini-Americas" concept (perhaps the Navistar better belongs here?). Yes, doing all this would involve extending the LPGA schedule past Thanksgiving, starting in January, or both, but what's wrong with that? Wouldn't a 36-to-39-tournament schedule (when you add up all the additions I'm calling for) be worth it?
So, yes, Virginia, the 2012 schedule is the best I've seen in years for the LPGA. But I'd love to see Mike Whan and his team come up with a fuller schedule that makes even more sense in terms of travel and weather. My idea--going from Southeast Asia to Hawaii to the U.S. Southwest and Southeast in the late winter and early spring, from the U.S. Northeast to the Midwest to the Northwest in late spring and early summer, from Europe to East Asia in the late summer and fall, and back to a concluding mini-Americas swing from Hawaii to Brazil to Mexico to the Caribbean to the U.S. Southeast in the late fall and early winter--capitalizes on the global strengths of the best women's professional tour on the planet while raising the number of U.S. events from 15 in 2012 to as many as 21 by 2016.
Now, a lot's going to have to go right for this vision to become a reality, there are some bugs to be worked out (making sure there's always a window left open for the Solheim Cup and the Olympics, for instance), and there are even more ways to improve on it (for example, I'm still hoping that the JLPGA's/KLPGA's Pinx-Kyoraku Cup will be synchronized with the Solheim Cup in odd-numbered years and lead up to world team championships among the 4 top women's tours in even-numbered years, with winners and losers of each regional match-play team event facing off against each other).
But wouldn't it be great for the LPGA to put together a sustainable 21st-century schedule as awesome as its players are?
[Update 1 (7:33 am): Here are more stories/reactions from Steve DiMeglio, Ron Sirak, Stephanie Wei, and Emily Kay.]
[Update 2 (1/12/12, 2:36 am): And here's Randall Mell, Beth Ann Baldry, Brent Kelley, Ruthless Mike, and Armchair Golfer.]