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LPGA expects big year for Solheim

The LPGA expects the Solheim Cup, the biennial women’s team event scheduled for this week, to set new highs in attendance and corporate support, beating records set in 2005, the last time the event was held on U.S. soil.

The tournament starts on Friday at Rich Harvest Farms, about 45 miles west of Chicago. The 19-year-old event, named for Ping founder Karsten Solheim, features 12-person teams from the U.S. and Europe competing over three days in a Ryder Cup-style format.

Based on sales of tickets and corporate sponsorship packages, organizers expect walk-up crowds to push seven-day attendance numbers past the previous record of 103,000 set in 2005 at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. The first Solheim Cup, held in Orlando in 1990, drew a few thousand fans for the week.

Solheim Cup: By The Numbers
Roughly 50 percent of ticket buyers in 2005 purchased tickets to this week’s event
Half of all ticket buyers live outside the Chicago market
About 80 percent of corporate buyers are from Chicago

Unlike the 2005 event, which sold out eight months in advance by random drawing, there are still more than 10,000 tickets available for the three competition rounds. Capacity at Rich Harvest Farms is 10,000 more per day than at Crooked Stick.

Tickets cost $125 for weekly grounds passes, $5 or $25 a day for the four practice rounds and $50 a day for the three competition rounds. Organizers sold all 8,000 of the most expensive daily tickets to the Ping Pavilion hospitality area, priced at $125 on competition days or $350 for the week.

Kelly Hyne, tournament executive director since the 1998 event, said the expected record attendance figures are primarily due to a larger host course and a pair of firsts.

“This is the first Solheim Cup where we’ve been on the ground planning for four years, and being in a major market for the first time certainly increased spectators and sponsors,” Hyne said.

Hyne would not disclose corporate sales figures, but said the more than 100 companies buying ticket or hospitality packages purchased at higher price ranges than the same number of companies in 2005. Companies paid as little as $5,000 for group ticket packages to $1 million for hospitality tent and a la carte options such as expo tents and television ad units. The majority of packages sold for $30,000 to $100,000.

There were four companies that bought the most expensive $250,000 sponsorship packages in 2005, up from just one at that level in 2002.

The Solheim Cup is an important cash source for the LPGA, which uses profits from U.S.-based cups to help fund operations. Future events are scheduled for Killeen Castle Golf Resort in Ireland in 2011 and Colorado Golf Club in 2013.

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