Women's golf in China has taken a giant leap forward following news the China Golf Association (CGA) and Orient Golf Group will launch the China LPGA Tour in 2009 with the aim to stage 20 tournaments annually within five years.
Equivalent to the Korea and Japan LPGAs, the China format will promote the sport at the grassroots and nurture stars for the world's top tour, the US LPGA.
Eight events, starting in April or May, are tentatively scheduled for next year.
They will incorporate the four existing Orient Masters Tour events and culminate in the fourth edition of the season-ending China Ladies Open.
Zhao Xiaoning, CGA secretary-general, said the new tour was another initiative driving the development of golf across China.
"From next year, we will have a series of events in some Chinese cities. We believe those events will make golf popular in those regions, especially ladies golf. In future, we believe our tournaments and prize money will increase. Our tour will be right on track next to the US LPGA Tour."
TK Pen, owner of Orient Golf, a 10-strong chain of clubs around Chinese mainland and Chinese Taipei, said the tour would have an operating budget of 20 million yuan ($2.92 million) next year, up from the current $1.6 million.
With Orient Golf operating the Orient Masters Tour since 2004, helping to develop the nascent women's pro game in the country, Pen said the new China LPGA Tour would require a great deal more commitment from his organization to achieve the 20-tournament target by 2013.
"That's a big commitment and means we have to change our strategy," he said. "In the past five years it has always been about saving money, just doing the minimum to keep the tournaments going.
"From now on, since we are the only entity, that means we have to do a lot more marketing. We have to repackage the whole tour so people will know about it. We have to start building that brand value. We're really happy the CGA came to us, wanting to do something like this."
Details of qualifying events for the tournaments, entry rules for overseas players and co-sanctioning events with other tours will be announced soon.
Each event will have a minimum purse of US$50,000.
CGA boss Zhao said the new China LPGA Tour would enhance the careers of China's women professionals while maintaining a commitment to the integrity of the game.
"(US LPGA Tour regular) Feng Shanshan and Zhang Na' successes on the international stage have proved China has great potential. We hope this new platform will enhance their careers, and help them become international stars."
He added the role of the China LPGA Tour encompassed sanctioning, marketing, management, development and promotion of ladies professional golf tournaments in China. Its core activity will be to generate playing opportunities and increase prize money for its members through the sanctioning of Asian Tour events.