Epson Tour eases journey to LPGA

Newly rebranded Epson Tour to help players through lower entry fees, increased purses and life experiences on and off the course

Nelly Korda — Solheim Cup, Saturday, September 4, 2021
Nelly Korda, currently No. 2 in the Rolex Women's World Rankings, got her professional footing on the Epson Tour, which at the time was known as the Symetra Tour.

Nelly Korda has spent a good chunk of time over the last 12 months as the top-ranked golfer in the women’s game. She won four times in 2021 and added an Olympic gold for good measure.

But Korda's career got started on the newly rebranded Epson Tour, and she wouldn’t have traded that experience for the world.

In 2015, Korda was navigating the Road to the LPGA, and finished ninth on the money list of what was then known as the Symetra Tour. As a result, Korda, currently ranked No. 2 in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings, earned her LPGA Tour card for 2016.

In late January, Epson agreed to take over the naming rights of the tour that funnels into the LPGA. It is a five-year deal, with terms not disclosed. The sponsorship took effect immediately and will run through 2026.

Korda was thrilled.

“I think the game of golf and women’s golf is moving in the right direction," she said. "For those companies to step up ... show up for us, I think is a really big steppingstone going into the future. I learned so much being on the Epson Tour.”

There were plenty of reasons for Korda, amongst others, to celebrate the Epson Tour announcement. From a purely financial perspective for up-and-coming female pros, this is a big deal.

Epson is increasing the standard tournament purse size to $200,000. Mike Nichols, the chief business officer of the LPGA Qualifying Tours, said when he started with the Tour in 2013, the average purse size was $109,000 and the biggest was $150,000.

The 10 golfers who earn LPGA Tour cards for the following season — the Epson Tour graduates — will immediately become Epson Tour ambassadors. With that, they’ll receive $10,000.

Finally, Epson is reducing the tournament entry fees by 10 percent this year. That will amount to as much as $1,000 per player over the course of the year. The Tour is working with other companies to try to help cut tournament entry fees in half — from $500 to $250.

“Everyone's journey is different and it's not easy,” LPGA Tour commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan said. “A sponsorship like this is actually digging directly into that and saying, ‘Hey, let us start you off on your LPGA Tour with a little boost. Let's put Epson on your shoulder and represent our brand.’ But more importantly, ‘Let us help you with the travel expenses and with all the things that it takes to reach your goals.’

“It's women from all over the world doing this, coming from very different circumstances, very diverse backgrounds, but coming together in this goal of something that they love, and they've worked their whole lives for.”

Nichols remembers 10 years ago when the Triple-A circuit did not have a title sponsor at all. Midway through 2012 is when the agreement was first installed with Symetra, which had just spun off from SafeCo Insurance and was keen to create a brand all its own.

It was, Nichols admitted, a business-to-business opportunity for a regional insurance company. Now the globally recognized Epson brand is a solid leg for this Tour to stand on moving forward. The company, with its global headquarters in Japan, has 80,000 employees.

“Even though (the Tour) plays in the United States, it’s an international property," Nichols said. "We have players from 40 different countries who are playing this Tour, and we’ve graduated players from all those countries. It’s an international opportunity for (Epson).”

Fatima Fernandez Cano finished second on the Symetra Tour money list in 2021 after 10 top-10 finishes. She’s now on the LPGA Tour and is one of the first Epson Tour ambassadors. Her golf journey took her from a small town in Northern Spain where, she said, golf is “not really that big or popular.” She went to Troy University in Alabama — site unseen — and played the Symetra Tour for four years before finally earning LPGA Tour status for 2022.

She said it’s already been an incredible partnership with Epson as the monies she was given have gone toward allowing her to play, practice, and travel even before earning her first check on the LPGA Tour.

“(Epson) is not only just saying, ‘Here’s some money, now you’re on the Tour, go on with your life.’ They’re actually supporting us, supporting women’s golf,” Cano said. “Somebody like me, I'm just new to the Tour. There's so many expenses, everything is new, and (to) have a company like Epson behind us supporting us the whole way through, not just through the Epson Tour but also on to the next level, that's just huge.”

From Korda to Cano, there are plenty of other stories that exist currently on the Epson Tour and that are being written. Kendra Jones, the vice president of legal counsel at Epson, said the company’s impact on women’s golf isn’t just with things happening on the course, however.

Jones said there was a recent dinner where she got to hear the stories of the Epson Tour graduates and feel the international reach. She said Epson is excited to start helping with their growth — and, quite literally, the company has put its money where their mouths are.

"Reflective of the Epson Tour itself, we recognize that maybe not every woman who goes through the Epson Tour may ultimately play on the LPGA, but we think everything they're learning on their journey through the Epson Tour is preparing them for leadership positions and other roles and other careers," Jones said. "We're excited about representing them with that journey."