Professional golf tours

Professional golf tours

Top level professional golf consists of a year round schedule of weekly tournaments played all around the world. Most of the tournaments are organized into series called tours. There are separate tours for men and women. Each tour is based in a specific geographical region, though some of them also feature events in other parts of the world.

Golf is one of the more lucrative sports in the world for both men and women, but it is has a very different structure from other sports, especially team sports. A large majority of professional golfers (at least 95%) make their main income as club or teaching professionals, rather than from competition. "Touring professionals", also known as "Tournament golfers" or "Pro golfers", who make their income from prize money and endorsements, are a small elite within the profession. The very best golfers make up to 8-figure incomes in U.S. dollars; Tiger Woods is the highest earning sportsman in the world, according to "Forbes" magazine.

But for the less successful, tournament golf can be an unstable profession. It is also an expensive one to participate in: tournaments have entry fees and practical costs such as travel and lodging expenses, as well as paying for a caddy. Moreover, most tournaments have a "cut" midway through, in which the bottom half of players with the worst scores are eliminated. Only those players remaining after the cut earn any prize money at all. Thus, after costs are taken into account, lesser-known tournament golfers who are playing erratically (and do not have a steady income from endorsements) can be in dire financial straits in a bad year.


The golf tour system evolved more by trial and error than by design. In the early days of professional golf in each region of the world each professional tournament was established by a separate golf club, golf organisation or commercial sponsor. As the number of tournaments increased the most talented professional golfers concentrated mainly on playing in tournaments rather than on club professional and golf instruction work. Once a good number of tournaments were being played in a region each year they were formalised into a "tour", which was supervised by a single organisation, although individual tournaments continue to be run by separate bodies in many cases.

The PGA Tour was the pioneer of the tour system, and its establishment date is not very clearly defined. The PGA of America was established in 1916, lists of players with most wins in each season are available from that year, and career win totals are based on results from 1916 onwards. However the idea of a "tour" had not firmly crystallised at that time and several important developments came much later. Bob Harlow was named manager of the PGA Tournament Bureau in 1930, the first "playing pros" organisation was formed in 1932, and money lists are available from 1934. However the PGA Tour itself dates the formal establishment of the Tour to 1968, when the "Tournament Players Division" split from the PGA of America. [] The dates of establishment of the other key tours include: LPGA Tour (1950); European Tour (1972); Japan Golf Tour (1973); Asian Tour (1995). The term "circuit" is often used to describe professional tournament golf in the pre-Tour era in any given region. For example, before the foundation of the Asian Tour, tournaments in Asia were part of the "Asian circuit".

As professional golf has continued to expand developmental tours such as the Challenge Tour (1986) and the Nationwide Tour (1990; originally called the Ben Hogan Tour), and senior tours such as the Champions Tour (1980; originally the Senior PGA Tour) and the European Seniors Tour (1992) have been established to give more golfers the opportunity to play on a tour, and to take advantage of the willingness of sponsors and broadcasters to fund an ever increasing number of tournaments.

tructure of tour golf

There are more than twenty professional golf tours, each run by a PGA or an independent tour organisation which is responsible for arranging events, finding sponsors, and regulating the tour. Most of the major tours are player controlled organisations whose commercial objective is to maximise the income of their members by maximising prize money. The larger tours have a tournament almost every week through most of the year.

Each tour has "members" who have earned their "tour cards", meaning they are entitled to play in most of the tour's events. A golfer can become a member of a leading tour by succeeding in an entry tournament, usually called a Qualifying School ("Q-School"); or, by achieving a designated level of success in its tournaments when competing as an invited non-member; or, much rarer, by having enough notable achievements on other tours to make them a desirable member. Membership of some of the lesser tours is open to any registered professional who pays an entry fee.

There are enormous differences in the financial rewards offered by the various golf tours, so players on all but the top few tours always aspire to move up if they can. For example, the PGA Tour, which is the first-tier tour in the United States, offers nearly a hundred times as much prize money each season as the third-tier NGA Hooters Tour. The hierarchy of tours in financial terms is as follows:

*Clear 1st: PGA Tour
*Clear 2nd: European Tour
*Third and fourth (in alphabetical order): Champions Tour; LPGA Tour
*Fifth to seventh (in alphabetical order): Asian Tour; Japan Golf Tour; LPGA of Japan Tour In the 1990s the Japan Golf Tour was the third richest tour, but in recent years its number of tournaments has been steadily contracting from a peak of 44 in 1990 to 24 in 2007, and tournament purses have risen only slowly. The Asian Tour and the LPGA of Japan Tour have enjoyed rapid growth in prize money in the last few years.

Men's tours

International Federation of PGA Tours

The International Federation of PGA Tours is the trade body of the main men's professional golf tours. As of 2007, there are six full members:

*Asian Tour (for Asia excluding Japan)
*European Tour (also visits Africa, Asia and Australasia; ranks second by prize money)
*Japan Golf Tour
*PGA Tour (based in the United States; ranks first by prize money)
*PGA Tour of Australasia
*Sunshine Tour (Southern Africa - mainly South Africa)

These six tours co-sanction the Official World Golf Rankings, and world ranking points are awarded at all official money events on their calendars. The Canadian Tour and the Tour de las Americas are associate members of the Federation. [ [ Tour de Las Americas Joins International Federation of PGA Tours] , "", July 30, 2007] Canadian Tour events receive world ranking points, but as of 2007, Tour de las Americas events do not.

Other men's tours

World ranking points are also awarded for good placings in events on two developmental tours:
*Challenge Tour (second-tier tour to the European Tour)
*Nationwide Tour (second-tier tour to the PGA Tour)

The richest tour that does not offer ranking points is the Korean Tour. Below this level, the tours do not offer ranking points, and the prize money on offer will be at a level that allows only a few of the members, or perhaps none of them at all, to make their main income from playing on that tour alone. Some of the players will also play on other tours when they are able to, and others will be club or teaching professionals who play tournament golf part time.

The official development tour in Japan is the Japan Challenge Tour. Other regional tours include the Professional Golf Tour of India and the China Golf Tour.

The United States and Europe have additional tours for players who haven't made it onto the Nationwide Tour or the Challenge Tour. At this level the prize money is partly funded by entrance fees and only the most successful players will win enough to do more than cover their expenses: the emphasis is very much on moving up to a higher tour.

In Europe there is a well-defined third tier of tours which are independently operated but offer promotion to the Challenge Tour for the most successful players. The three third level tours are the PGA EuroPro Tour, the Alps Tour and the EPD Tour. Below this level there are various minor professional tournaments, some of which are organised into series by national golf associations, for example the men's leg of the Swedish Golf Association's Telia Tour, the developmental tour for Wales, Scotland and Ireland, the Celtic Pro Tour, and the Midas Tour covering the south of England.

In the United States the lower-level tours do not offer direct promotion to the Nationwide Tour so there is not a well defined third tier. The larger regional tours include the Tar Heel Tour ( Gateway Tour and NGA Hooters Tour and there is a constantly changing roster of small "mini-tours". The term mini-tour is colloquial and not easy to define - the larger regional tours carefully avoid applying the term to themselves. Some of the smaller and lower cost tours such as the Tour prefer the term "develomental tour" asserting that real pro golf with large audiences and great financial opportunities for its players starts at the Nationwide Tour level. Either way, below Nationwide Tour level there is little possibility of earning a living from the prize money alone and players compete to gain competitive experience. Some are employed as club or teaching professionals and play tournaments part time, while some may have sponsors or family backing.

There have also been some well known sportsmen from other sports who, after retiring as wealthy men while still at an age when elite golfers are in their prime, have tried their luck as tournament golfers on the developmental tours, but none of them have made it into golf's elite so far. Examples include Ivan Lendl and Roy Wegerle. Two prominent professional athletes from other sports, however, have had modest success on the Champions Tour for golfers 50 and over. Former National Football League quarterback John Brodie won one tournament and had 12 top-10 finishes on that tour, and former Major League Baseball pitcher Rick Rhoden has had three top-10 finishes.

Men's senior tours

Upon reaching age 50, male golfers are eligible to compete in senior tournaments. Golf is unique among sports in having high profile and lucrative competitions for players of this age group. Nearly all of the famous golfers who are eligible to compete in these events choose to do so, unless they are unable to for health reasons. A number of players win more than a million dollars in prize money each season, and once endorsements and other business activities are taken into account, a few of the "legends of golf" in this age group earn more or less as much as any of the younger PGA Tour pros, other than Tiger Woods. The two main senior tours are:

*Champions Tour (based in the United States)
*European Seniors Tour

Women's tours

Women's professional golf is also organised by independent regional tours. Leading female golfers make incomes well over USD$1 million per year, more than most other women athletes other than top tennis players. There are currently six first tier regional tours:

*LPGA Tour (based in the United States)
*Ladies European Tour
*LPGA of Japan Tour
*LPGA of Korea Tour
*Ladies Asian Golf Tour, for Asia outside of Japan and Korea
*ALPG Tour, based in Australia

The LPGA Tour is the dominant tour, and is the main playing base of almost all the world's leading players. The LPGA of Japan Tour is the second richest tour, and retains many of its leading players. The best players from the other tours usually move to the LPGA Tour at the earliest opportunity.

The second tier women's professional tour in the United States is the Duramed FUTURES Tour. Although there used to be little opportunity for women's developmental play in the United States besides the Duramed FUTURES Tour level, women are welcome to compete against men on some mini-tours, and the Pro Women's Victory Golf Tour will begin May 2008 going to eight cities in the eastern United States. By defining itself as complementary to the LPGA and not simply developmental to it, the Victory Golf Tour offers the second largest purses for U.S. women golfers and promises to be a needed alternative to the LPGA and Duramed FUTURES Tour. Sweden, which is the European country where women's golf is most popular, has its own Telia Tour, which serves as a feeder tour for the Ladies European Tour. The LPGA of Japan operates the Step Up Tour as a feeder for its main tour, and the LPGA of Korea operates two mini-tours that effectively serve as feeders for its main tour.

In 2001 the U.S. based "Women's Senior Golf Tour" was founded, featuring golfers 45 and over. In 2006 it was rebranded as the Legends Tour. The LPGA of Korea now operates the Akia Tour, a four-event mini-tour for the same age group. The Tour in central Florida since 1992, offers women the opportunity to develop through frequent low cost pro/scratch events.


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