The LPGA Tour is returning to Southwest Florida

The LPGA Tour is returning to Southwest Florida. In a big way.

More than 10 years after the area's last LPGA event folded, Chicago-based investment firm CME Group is prepared to bring the historic, recently revived Titleholders to TwinEagles in North Naples in November 2012.

The event's likely relocation was first reported by Golfweek magazine Thursday but has not been finalized, said Anthony Solomon, executive vice president of The Ronto Group in Naples, which owns TwinEagles.

"I'd wait for the formal announcement, but we're close," he said. "Everybody is really, really excited."

The return of the LPGA Tour would give Southwest Florida events on the three leading U.S.-based tours, with TwinEagles home for two of them.

The PGA Tour's Franklin Templeton Shootout is held in December at Tiburon Golf Club in North Naples, and the Champions Tour's The ACE Group Classic is returning to TwinEagles in February after a six-year hiatus elsewhere in the area.

The ACE Classic will be held on TwinEagles' Talon Course, co-designed by Jack Nicklaus and son Jack II, while the Titleholders would be held on the community's reconstructed second course, the Eagle, co-designed by Steve Smyers and Patrick Andrews and scheduled to open in December.

"We want TwinEagles to be known as the place where the pros play and is the golfers' community for Naples," Solomon said. "We think between having the ACE and the LPGA, that just proves it is where the pros want to play."

The CME Group Titleholders, scheduled this year for Nov. 17-20 at Grand Cypress in Orlando, was first held in 1937 and recognized as a major championship throughout its 28-year-history, which straddled the LPGA Tour's founding in 1950.

Its inaugural winner was LPGA Tour Hall of Famer Patty Berg. The late, longtime Fort Myers resident won the event seven times on her way to 15 major championship titles, the most in women's golf.

The LPGA Tour last visited Southwest Florida with the Naples LPGA Memorial from 1999-2001 at The Strand in North Naples before losing its host venue and then one-time title sponsor, Subaru.

The Titleholders would be the sixth different LPGA Tour event to be held in Southwest Florida.

"We think the LPGA is fantastic for the area," Solomon said. "Women golfers in Naples take the game very seriously. There's a lot of strong women's leagues and women's golf associations. It's fantastic to have it back in Naples. Naples should be a focus for the golf world."

In a nod to the game's history, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan revived the Titleholders this year as the season-ending, limited-field tour championship.

He installed several twists over last year's lackluster installment, also at Grand Cypress, to spur interest and player incentive to qualify.

The field of 120 players was trimmed to a maximum of 69, with only the top three finishers in events throughout the season qualifying for the Titleholders.

World No. 1 Yani Tseng as well as Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lincicome, Michelle Wie, Karrie Webb and Ai Miyazato are among those already qualified.

Perhaps more significantly, this year's first prize of $500,000 is second only to the U.S. Women's Open.

CME Group, which derives its name from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, holds an annual pro-am in Naples and was a sponsor of the 2009 Solheim Cup.

"We trade more in the first three weeks of the month of January than the New York Stock Exchange does in an entire year," CME Group executive chairman Terry Duffy told Golfweek of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

 

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