- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2011

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - The PGA Tour is launching a developmental tour south of the border, hoping it can expand its presence in South America as golf prepares to become an Olympic sport again in 2016 in Brazil.

The “PGA Tour Latinoamerica” will start next year, featuring 11 tournaments that will be played in seven countries, most of them in South America but including Mexico and Puerto Rico.

The tournaments will have 144-man fields consisting primarily of players from the region, although there likely will be some access for Americans who now play the mini-tours. The top players on the Latin American tour then will have access to the Nationwide Tour.

“This expansion into Latin America, when combined with what the Nationwide Tour has been able to accomplish in the region in recent years, is part of the natural progression for golf which continues to grow globally,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said. “We see this as an opportunity to help in the further development of elite players across the region.”

Tournaments are to be played next year from September through December in Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru. The Nationwide Tour already has an event in Colombia, and will have one next year in Chile.

The tour still has to determine how many players from Latin America could advance to the Nationwide Tour. A decision is expected before the Latin American tour starts play.

Latin America already has produced players such as two-time major champion Angel Cabrera, Andres Romero and Jose Coceres of Argentina, Camilo Villegas of Colombia, Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela and Carlos Franco of Paraguay, who has played in the Presidents Cup.

Cabrera and Romero got their starts by going to Europe, while Franco first blossomed while playing in Japan.

“This potential pathway to the higher levels of professional golf is something that is an improvement for the players in the region,” said Henrique Lavie, the commissioner of the Tour de las Americas.

Lavie will become executive director of the new Latin American tour, which hopes to grow to 14 events by 2013.

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