I have been in the golf business for over 30 years. It is hard to believe that, until recently, I was not aware of the disparity between men’s professional golf and women’s professional golf—more specifically, the opportunity to pursue a career playing professional golf.
I played on what we called “mini-tours” back in the mid-80s, looking to hone my game to one day play on the PGA TOUR. At that time, there were probably ten tours I could choose from across the country, each consisting of 15 to 20 tournaments with purses ranging from $2,500 to $15,000 (in 1980’s money). Fast forward to today, and that number is close to 30 tours, with many purses surpassing six figures. On the men’s side, you can actually make a living these days crisscrossing the country playing the various events as you prepare for Q-School and the next step towards a PGA TOUR dream. The mini-tours of old are the “developmental tours” of today and are still the best place to learn how to compete, travel, and get ready for the next step.
There are also three Tours that fall under the umbrella of the PGA TOUR that you could also call developmental: PGA TOUR Canada, PGA TOUR Latinoamerica and the Forme Tour. These three Tours feed into the Korn Ferry Tour, a nationwide tour consisting of 26-28 tournaments that awards 50 PGA TOUR cards each year. On the other end of the spectrum, you only have three choices in women’s developmental golf if you dream of playing on the LPGA Tour: the Women’s All Pro Tour, the National Women’s Golf Association, or the Cactus Tour. These tours get the women ready for the next step: the Symetra Tour, the equivalent to the PGA TOUR’s Korn Ferry Tour, and then (hopefully) the LPGA Tour.
Until I got involved in the PXG Women’s Match-Play Championship (October 25 – November 4 at World Golf Village in St. Augustine, FL), I did not realize there were only three developmental Tours in the entire country for a woman to play. Sure, there are fewer women than men looking to play at the next level, but you’d think there would be more than three. It has to be very daunting when a woman coming out of college looks at the professional landscape. They have to make a choice; chase their dream to play on the LPGA Tour with limited resources and at a great expense or go out and get a “real” job. Unfortunately, most are forced to choose the latter. The Paula Creamers, Jennifer Kupchos and Maria Fossis of the world, who made the leap from college right onto the LPGA Tour, are few and far between. There are many more players with the skills to play at the next level but saw the road to their dream all too difficult and entered the business world instead.
The three developmental tours for women operate from January through September for the most part, with a few October events sprinkled in. The Women’s All Pro Tour (Texas, Louisiana and Florida) has 14 events on its schedule in 2021, while the National Women’s Golf Association (Florida) and Cactus Tour (Arizona, California and Nevada) both have 23. All three are doing their part to add events each year to their respective schedules, but the discrepancy between playing opportunities in men’s and women’s golf remains wide. This expanse also extends to the ability to earn money.
The 2020 leading money winner on the WAPT earned just over $23,000 in 11 starts. Compare that to the 2020 Men’s Minor League Golf Tour, where the top seven money leaders all earned over $24,000, and in just ten events on the men’s All Pro Tour this year, the leading money winner has earned over $75,000. These are just a couple of examples of the hill the ladies must climb to not only hone their game but to make enough money to cover the heavy expense of playing professional golf. Depending upon who you talk to, expenses to play a 14-tournament season are in the neighborhood of $30,000.
If the American female professional golfer is to compete and win on the world stage, she needs to have more playing opportunities leading up to that stage. Unfortunately, too many highly skilled players are choosing to enter the workforce instead of LPGA Tour Q-School because they see how limited the road is. We are not going to come to a conclusion about how to add more playing opportunities for women developmental professionals today, but this is something all of us should be aware of, and, frankly, all of us who love the game of golf should want to see remedied.