The relatively unknown world of women’s developmental golf was highlighted November 1-6, 2022, at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Florida. The second annual PXG Women’s Match-Play Championship was held on the Slammer & Squire Course, with 87 top female golfers competing over five days for a $60,000 purse.
The tournament’s format is unique, with two days of stroke-play that seeds the players for three days of match-play. However, the format is not the real story here. The real story is just how underserved this level of golf is. The $60,000 purse is one of the highest these players have competed for all year, but this is a pretty sad statement when you realize that on this level of the men’s game, there are very few purses under $100,000. Additionally, there are 30+ developmental tours available for men versus just three for women. The men can actually make a living playing on these tours, while the leading female money winner last year made less than $40,000. Her expenses surpassed $50,000, so she actually lost money.
How is a player aspiring to the LPGA Tour supposed to launch a career in this space when she knows she can’t even break even on the investment? Would you invest your hard-earned money in a venture where you knew you would lose money year after year? I know I wouldn’t! Yet, these players, most supported by their families, travel to Arizona, Texas, or the central Florida area to compete on one of the three developmental tours in hopes of playing well enough to reach the Epson Tour and eventually the LPGA Tour. Or, they don’t play any of the three tours and instead work, practice, and put all of their eggs in one basket at the LPGA Tour Qualifying School, where they spend upwards of $5,000 and could be one-and-done if they don’t make it out of the first of three stages.
The PXG Women’s Match-Play Championship was created two years ago by myself and my business partner to bridge the gap between the end of the developmental season and the end of the year, giving the players one more earning opportunity. It was also created as a platform for women’s development through a partnership with Generation W, a nationally recognized non-profit focused on elevating women and girls. In addition, the Links to Leadership Summit, hosted during the tournament week, was available to all golfers in the field and featured valuable tools of education, inspiration, and connection that work together to expose female athletes to the positive and the possible. This summit further highlighted women’s initiatives through panel discussions and mentorship during the day session.
The Links to Leadership Summit was a great success and something that truly needs to be done throughout the year at this level, not just once a year. Let’s face it. Only a small percentage of the players in the PXGWMPC field (or playing at the developmental level in general) will make it to the LPGA Tour, so the majority will need to have a Plan B. By exposing the players to a forum like Links to Leadership, featuring women who have risen as former athletes to become corporate CEOs, we are allowing these athletes to see that there are choices after their golf careers may come to an end.
As valuable as this program is, it does not address the question of why the playing field is so uneven for female golfers with so few opportunities versus an abundance for men. This is something I have repeatedly asked of people in the industry and, unfortunately, really haven’t received a good answer. Honestly, the major difference between the men’s and women’s games is that men certainly don’t have superior short games compared to the women, and I guarantee more people relate to the women’s game when comparing it to their own. The fact remains, however, that sponsorship dollars and overall support, for the most part, go to the men despite the fact that women represent the fastest-growing segment coming into the game (according to the National Golf Foundation). The paradigm shift has not yet happened in professional golf. Is it even coming?
Nonetheless, I truly believe that women’s developmental golf is a critical piece to the future of the sport. This is where the future of the LPGA Tour will hone their games and prepare themselves for golf’s highest level. But the path is riddled with obstacles that most people will not be able to overcome. Because of the lack of financial support at this level, along with the Epson Tour level, the players ascending to the LPGA Tour are not always the best players, but the best players who can afford to stay out there. College All-Americans like Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi—players who parlayed sponsor exemptions into full-time LPGA Tour status—are few and far between. Most players must come through the developmental ranks, then qualify to play the Epson Tour and hopefully earn LPGA Tour status down the road—or make it through three grueling stages of LPGA Q-School.
The developmental women’s golf space is not well-known, but hopefully, you are now at least a little bit more informed and have empathy for these athletes as they chase their dreams. The PXG Women’s Match-Play Championship is not going to change the current dynamics, but it does certainly help in the short-term. The more people that know this side of golf, the better the chances that there will be more support down the road. These amazing young women from all walks of life deserve a fair shot, just like their male counterparts. Let’s hope the future looks kindly on this part of the golf world and evens the playing field so all the best players have a fair shot at making it to the “Big Show” and realizing their dreams.