South Korea’s importance to the LPGA is on display in a special way this week.
The tour’s home base is LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Florida, but now it has an overseas home, too.
The tour will show off its home away from home at the BMW Ladies Championship at LPGA International Busan in South Korea, the LPGA’s first golf facility established outside the United States. Formerly Asiad Country Club, the facility was renamed and moved under the LPGA’s umbrella last year, with a major course renovation by architect Rees Jones preparing it as host of the only LPGA event staged in the country.
The field of 84 players will feature 50 from the LPGA, 30 from the Korean LPGA and four sponsor exemptions.
“We consider the KLPGA a partner in this event,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said. “I think, talking about partnering up with the KLPGA, the benefits are that we get significant players from both tours. We have help with our TV partners helping. We share some of the sanction fees.”
Whan said the new Busan facility illustrates how the LPGA has changed from its inception in 1950.
“We don’t consider ourselves a U.S. tour,” Whan said. “We consider ourselves a world tour based in the U.S.
“Like any global company, we have a home. We want our employees to be able to move together, live together, go to each other’s weddings and all the stuff we do, but we consider ourselves a world tour based in the United States, not a United States tour that kind of occasionally leaves the U.S.”
The BMW Ladies Championship takes the place of the KEB Hana Bank Championship on the schedule.
Busan is South Korea’s second largest city, behind Seoul. It’s a port city in the country’s southeast region.
“The very first time I came here, I fell in love,” Whan said. “I spent 25 years in California. It reminds me of San Diego. It's got a beach vibe. It's a big-city vibe ... It's a good sports town.
“It's neat to see how much my staff and my players are reacting to driving up and seeing our logo when you drive in on such an incredible venue. It's going to be our honor, quite frankly, to show off this city for the 175 countries that televise us.”
The event arrives with South Korea’s Jin Young Ko reigning atop the Rolex Women’s World Rankings for a 13th consecutive week and looking to clinch the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year Award in her homeland. Ko can clinch the points-based award by finishing sixth or better in the tournament. She can also clinch if Jeongeun Lee6 doesn’t win this week. Lee6 will keep the competition for the award going if she wins and Ko finishes seventh or worse.
It’s a special week for American Danielle Kang, who claimed her third career LPGA title last week at the Buick Shanghai.
Kang, 27, who was born in San Francisco and won back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateurs, has a special place in her heart for South Korea, her parents’ homeland. Kang spent a few years living in Busan while growing up. Her father, who died of cancer six years ago, was a telecommunications executive in South Korea.
“It’s been a long time,” Kang said. “It’s a lot of memories.
“I still have friends out here. It’s a childhood memory growing up, speaking the different dialects, but it feels a little bit different.”
Kang will tee it up in the first round with Ko and Hye-Jin Choi. Choi was raised in Busan.