Fewer tournaments, better purses

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The LPGA Tour's schedule for 2000 is commissioner Ty Votaw's idea of a dream situation - more money, less work.

The LPGA Tour's schedule for 2000 is commissioner Ty Votaw's idea of a dream situation - more money, less work.

The schedule, released today, has three fewer tournaments next season, but prize money increases in 20 of the 37 tournaments with at least 11 events worth $1 million or more.

"The fact that quite probably we'll have more money than we played for in 1999 suggests a great success story for us," Votaw said. "We'd all like to work less weeks for more money, and we're doing that."

The size and strength of the LPGA's schedule has been a sticking point in recent years. Some players complained that former commissioner Jim Ritts was adding too many tournaments that were unstable and had small purses.

Votaw continues to seek a balance, and he likes the direction the tour is going. Any new tournament must have a minimum purse of $800,000, and the majority of existing tournaments are raising their purses.

The biggest money will be available in the summer - at least eight $1 million tournaments in a 10-week stretch, ending with the Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale.

Three events have not yet announced their prize money. Votaw plans separate announcements in the next several weeks, anticipating significant increases.

The tour also left open two dates with hopes of adding new events.

One possibility is to make the Evian Masters in France part of the LPGA schedule the third week in June, right before the LPGA Championship. The other vacant date is the third week in September, when the Safeco Classic near Seattle used to be played.

Safeco decided to drop sponsorship after 18 years, but Votaw says another Seattle-area sponsor could step in.

The tour lost three other events. It terminated its contract with the Boston area tournament (areaweb.com Challenge) because Votaw said the promoter failed to pay the bills. And two Florida events - the HealthSouth Inaugural in Orlando and the Titleholders Championship at LPGA headquarters in Daytona Beach - are no longer on the schedule.

One addition is Takefuji Classic in Hawaii, the week after the Australian Masters.

And perhaps the biggest will be the Electrolux USA Championship, which will be combined with "The Vinny" - the celebrity fundraising tournament put on by country singer Vince Gill.

The total purse will not be available until the three tournaments - ShopRite Classic, Chick-fil-A Championship and Michelob Light Classic - announce their prize money.

But there will be only two tournaments played for less than $700,000, compared to nine small purses a year ago.

The largest increase was $250,000 each by the Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year, and the Women's British Open. Nabisco also will offer $2.5 million for the first time to any player who wins all four majors.

The one addition with no prize money is the Solheim Cup, to be played 6-8 October at Loch Lomond in Scotland. The United States leads the biennial matches, 4-1.

The 2000 season also marks the 50th anniversary of the LPGA Tour. It plans a black-tie gala 10 January, the Monday before the season-opening tournament in West Palm Beach, Florida, to kickoff a series of celebrations throughout the year.