- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - The LPGA Tour begins a new season with four more tournaments and a lot more reason for optimism.

The tour took a big step toward beefing up its schedule by adding three tournaments in the United States, including the return of two popular events in Ohio and Virginia.

The biggest surprise Tuesday was the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic, which was not played a year ago. The LPGA also is going back to Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va., a favorite among players that was last played in 2009.

The tour previously announced new tournaments in Hawaii and Canada, along with sanctioning the Women’s Australian Open, which will kick off the new season Feb. 9-12 at fabled Royal Melbourne Golf Club.

Right when it looked as though the LPGA Tour would suffer irreparable harm from the economic downturn, Commissioner Mike Whan delivered a schedule of 27 tournaments worth $47 million in prize money that signals a strong recovery.

Along with the new tournaments, Whan said the North American events will get live television coverage on the Golf Channel on the weekend, instead of being shown on tape delay. That led to complaints from its fan base that it didn’t know when to watch.

Another big improvement is the flow of the schedule.

A year ago, the LPGA was coming off its first major championship _ Stacy Lewis winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship _ when it took three weeks off before its next tournament. Even with a global schedule in which tournaments will be played in a dozen countries, the LPGA will not go more than two weeks without playing.

It also might get more attention for its biggest event _ the U.S. Women’s Open, which in the last three years was held a week before the men’s British Open. This year, the Women’s Open will be played July 5-8, two weeks before the British Open.

Meanwhile, the Women’s British Open will be held at Royal Liverpool on Sept. 13-16, moved back a month in part because of the 2012 Olympics in London.

The LPGA goes to Australia, Thailand and Singapore in consecutive weeks to start the year. The first domestic tournament will be the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup outside Phoenix, and this time the players will actually get paid. A year ago, it was a mock purse. The earnings were applied toward the money list, but the actually money went toward a charity program to honor LPGA founders.

Whan said the LPGA was able to renew eight of the nine tournament contracts that ended in 2011, and 10 of its 11 marketing agreements. The one tournament it lost was the State Farm Classic in Illinois.

“With more tournaments, more corporate partners, more viewers and more fans, the anticipation and excitement for the 2012 season is at an all-time high,” Whan said. “Our message to everyone is `see why it’s different out here,’ and we’re hopeful that more people than ever before will take notice and become a part of our growth.”