The PGA Tour is an organization that operates the main professional men's golf tours in the United States and North America, including most of the events on the tournament also known as the PGA Tour. It is headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, a suburb of Jacksonville. Its name is officially rendered in all-capital letters as "PGA TOUR."
The PGA Tour became a separate entity in 1968, when it branched off from the Professional Golfers' Association of America (PGA of America). It was intended to be an organization for tournament golfers, as opposed to club professionals, who are the primary focus of the PGA of America. It adopted the name "PGA Tour" in 1975. The PGA Tour organization runs 43 of the week-to-week professional golf events associated with the tournament known as the PGA Tour, including The Players Championship, hosted at the TPC at Sawgrass, the FedEx Cup, and the biennial Presidents Cup. It also runs the Champions Tour, for golfers age 50 and older, and the Nationwide Tour, a developmental tournament. The remaining events on the PGA Tour are run by different organizations, as are the U.S. based LPGA Tour for women and the other men's and women's professional tours around the world.
Due to the multiplicity of names, there is often confusion as to what the PGA Tour organization does and does not run. Of the events in the PGA Tour schedule, it does not run any of the four major championships (the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship), or the Ryder Cup. The PGA of America, not the PGA Tour, runs the PGA Championship, the Senior PGA Championship, and co-organizes the Ryder Cup with the PGA European Tour. Additionally, the PGA Tour is not involved with the women's golf tours in the U.S., which are mostly controlled by the LPGA. The PGA Tour is also not the governing body for the game of golf in the United States; this, instead, is the role of the United States Golf Association (USGA), which organizes the U.S. Open. What the PGA Tour does organize are the remaining 43 (in 2009) week-to-week events, including The Players Championship and the FedEx Cup events, as well as the biennial Presidents Cup. It also runs the main tournaments in two other championships, the Champions Tour and the Nationwide Tour.
The PGA Tour operates the following three tours, all of which are primarily contested in the U.S.:
PGA Tour, the top tour
Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. possession of Puerto Rico host one event each year. Note, however, that the events in Mexico and Puerto Rico are "alternate" events held opposite one of the World Golf Championships tournaments and therefore have weaker fields than a regular tour event. In addition, one of the four annual major championships is held in the U.K.
Champions Tour, for golfers age 50 and over
As of 2011, regular tournaments are held in Canada and South Korea, and one of the senior majors is held in the U.K.
Nationwide Tour, a developmental tour
As of 2011, Canada, Colombia, and Mexico host one tournament each.
The PGA Tour also conducts an annual Qualifying Tournament (known colloquially as Q-School), a six-round tournament held each fall; the top 25 finishers, including ties, receive privileges to play on the following year's PGA Tour. Remaining finishers in the top 75, plus ties, receive full privileges on the Nationwide Tour.
The top 25 money-winners on the Nationwide Tour also receive privileges on the following year's PGA Tour. A golfer who wins three events on that tour in a calendar year earns a "performance promotion" (informally a "battlefield promotion") which garners PGA Tour privileges for the remainder of the year plus the following full season.
At the end of each year, the top 125 money-winners on the PGA Tour receive a tour card for the following season, which gives them exemption from qualifying for most of the next year's tournaments. However at some events, known as invitationals, exemptions apply only to the previous year's top 70 players. Players who are ranked between 126–150 receive a conditional tour card, which gives them priority for places that are not taken up by players with full cards. Those players can also improve their status by going to the tour's qualifying school tournament, where those players can go straight to the final stage.
Winning a PGA Tour event provides a tour card for a minimum of two years, with an extra year added for each additional win with a maximum of five years. Winning a World Golf Championships event or The Tour Championship provides a three-year exemption. Winners of the major championships and The Players Championship earn a five-year exemption. Other types of exemptions include lifetime exemptions for players with twenty wins on the tour; one-time, one year exemptions for players in the top fifty on the career money earnings list who are not otherwise exempt; two-time, one year exemptions for players in the top twenty-five on the career money list; and medical exemptions for players who have been injured, which give them an opportunity to regain their tour card after a period out of the tour.
Similar to other major league sports, there is no rule limiting PGA Tour players to "men only." In 2003, Annika Sörenstam and Suzy Whaley played in PGA Tour events, and Michelle Wie did so in each year from 2004 through 2008. None of these three made the cut, although Wie missed by only one stroke in 2004.
There is also a PGA European Tour, which is separate from either the PGA Tour or the PGA of America; this organization runs a tour, mostly in Europe but with events throughout the world outside of North America, that is second only to the PGA Tour in worldwide prestige. There are several other regional tours around the world. However, the PGA Tour, European Tour, and many of the regional tours co-sponsor the World Golf Championships. These, along with the major championships, usually count toward the official money lists of each tour as well as the Official World Golf Rankings.
The PGA Tour places a strong emphasis on charity fundraising, usually on behalf of local charities in cities where events are staged. With the exception of a few older events, PGA Tour rules require all Tour events to be non-profit; the Tour itself is also a non-profit company. In 2005, it started a campaign to push its all-time fundraising tally past one billion dollars ("Drive to a Billion"), and it reached that mark one week before the end of the season. However, monies raised for charities derive from the tournaments' positive revenues (if any), and not any actual monetary donation from the PGA Tour, whose purse monies and expenses are guaranteed. The number of charities which receive benefits from PGA Tour, Champions Tour and Nationwide Tour events is estimated at over 2,000. In 2009, the total raised for charity was some $108 million.
The 2011 season includes 45 official money events in 41 weeks, including four alternate events played the same week as a higher status tournament. The other three events are:
- The biennial Presidents Cup, matching teams of golfers representing the USA and other nations outside Europe.
- The CIMB Asia Pacific Classic Malaysia, an event to be held in Malaysia; in 2011, it will end on October 30. The field will be limited to 40 players—the top 25 available players in the final FedEx Cup standings, the top 10 available Asian players, and five sponsor's exemptions, with at least one place reserved for a Malaysian player. Although it will not be an official money event, it will be the tour's first sanctioned event in Southeast Asia.
- The HSBC Champions, held the week after the Malaysia tournament. Despite its elevation to World Golf Championships status in 2009, it is not an official money event, although it is also sanctioned by the PGA Tour. Starting in 2010, if the event is won by a PGA Tour member, it will count as an official win and carry the three year exemption of the other WGCs.
Most members of the tour play between 20 and 30 tournaments in the season. The geography of the tour is determined by the weather. It starts in Hawaii in January and spends most of its first two months in California and Arizona during what is known as the "West Coast Swing," and then moves to the American Southeast for the "Southern Swing." Each swing culminates in a significant tour event. In April, tour events begin to drift north. The summer months are spent mainly in the Northeast and the Midwest, and in the fall (autumn) the tour heads south again.
In most of the regular events on tour, the field is either 132, 144 or 156 players, depending on time of year (and available daylight hours). All players making the cut earn money for the tournament with the winner usually receiving 18% of the total purse.
In 2008, the PGA Tour Policy Board approved a change in the number of players that will make the cut. The cut will continue to be low 70 professionals and ties, unless that results in a post-cut field of more than 78 players. Under that circumstance, the cut score will be selected to make a field as close to 70 players as possible without exceeding 78. Players who are cut in such circumstances but who have placed 70th or better will get credit for making the cut and will earn official money and FedEx Cup points. This policy affected two of the first three events with cuts, the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Buick Invitational. In late February, the Policy Board announced a revised cut policy, effective beginning with the Honda Classic. The new policy calls for 36-hole cut to the low 70 professionals and ties and, if that cut results in more than 78 players, a second 54-hole cut to the low 70 professionals and ties.
Majors: The four leading annual events in world golf are the Masters Tournament, U.S. Open, The (British) Open Championship, and the PGA Championship. These events each automatically receive 100 OWGR points.
World Golf Championships (WGC): A set of events co-sanctioned by the International Federation of PGA Tours which attract the leading golfers from all over the world, including those who are not members of the PGA Tour. Note that the HSBC Champions was made a WGC event in the middle of the 2009 season. Because it takes place after The Tour Championship, it does not count as an official money event or an official win, but the winner is invited to the following season's edition of the winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Beginning in 2010, if the winner is a PGA Tour member, the victory will count as an official win and the winner will receive a three-year Tour exemption (as with other WGC winners).
Unique: Two tournaments rate as unique, for different reasons:
The Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the first tournament of the season, has a field consisting of winners from the previous season's competition only. This results in a field much smaller than any other tournament except for The Tour Championship, with no cut after 36 holes of play.
The Players Championship is the only event, apart from the majors and the World Golf Championships, which attracts entries from almost all of the world's elite golfers. Official recognition is given to its unique position in the sport by the Official World Golf Rankings. Like a major tournament, it is allocated a fixed number of OWGR points (80), albeit 20% less than for a major. (The number of points allocated to "regular" events is dependent on the rankings of the players who enter each year, and is only determined once the entry list is finalized.) For purposes of the FedEx Cup standings, The Players has had an identical point allocation to that of the majors since the Cup was instituted in 2007. In North America, some people would like to make the tournament an official major with a ranking equal to the current majors in the OWGR. However there is little support for this in the rest of the world, and any revision to the points system for the world rankings would require a global consensus.
Playoff event: The last four tournaments of the FedEx Cup have fields based on the FedEx Cup rankings. The top 125 players on the points list are entered in the Barclays Classic. Each week after that fields are cut: Deutsche Bank Championship to the top 100 players; BMW Championship to 70 players; The Tour Championship to 30 players.
The Ryder Cup, contested in even-numbered years between teams from Europe and the United States.
Team: A United States team of 12 elite players competes in the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup in alternate years. The Ryder Cup, pitting a team of U.S. golfers against a European team, is arguably the highest profile event in golf, outranking the majors. The Presidents Cup, which matches a team of U.S. golfers against an international team of golfers not eligible for the Ryder Cup, is less well established, but is still the main event of the week when it is played. There is no prize money in these events, so they are irrelevant to the money list, but an immense amount of pride rides on the results.
Regular: Routine weekly tour events. The "regular" events vary somewhat in status, but this is fairly subjective and not usually based on the size of the purse. Some of the factors which can determine the status of a tournament are:
Its position in the schedule, which influences the number of leading players that choose to enter.
Its age and the distinction of its past champions.
The repute of the course on which it is played.
Any associations with "legends of golf." Six events in particular have such associations:
The HP Byron Nelson Championship, named after Byron Nelson, was until 2007 the only current event named after a PGA Tour golfer.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational, formerly the Bay Hill Invitational, closely identified with Arnold Palmer and played at a resort he owns.
The Northern Trust Open and Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, both identified with Ben Hogan, although the Colonial is more closely identified with him since he won that tournament five times.
The Memorial Tournament, founded by Jack Nicklaus, played on a course he designed, and annually honoring a selected "legend."
The AT&T National, while not hosted by a "legend," was able to gather a strong field because it was hosted by "future-legend" Tiger Woods.
Invitational: These events are similar to the regular ones, but have a slightly smaller (around 100–120 players), selective field. The top 70 on the previous year's money list can automatically take part in invitationals, as well as past champions of the event. There is an increased amount of sponsor's exemptions as well, and some invitationals allow the defending champion to invite one or several amateurs to compete. Invitational tournaments include the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Verizon Heritage, the Memorial Tournament and the AT&T National. The tournaments usually do have an association with a golf legend, or in the case of the Verizon Heritage, a famous course.
Alternate: Events which are played in the same week as a higher status tournament and therefore have weakened fields and reduced prize money. They are often considered an opportunity for players on the bubble (near or below 125th or 150th) in the money list to move up more easily or to attempt an easier two-year exemption for winning a tournament. Because of their weaker fields, these events usually receive the minimum amount of points reserved for PGA Tour events (24 points).
Fall Series: After the final playoff event of the FedEx Cup season (The Tour Championship), the season concludes with this series of events, usually passed on by the higher-status players. This provides an opportunity for players low on the Money List to increase their season's earnings enough to rank in the "magic" 125 and thus secure their "card" for the following season without having to re-qualify through Q-School.
There are also a number of events which are recognized by the PGA Tour, but which do not count towards the official money list. Most of these take place in the off season (November and December). This slate of unofficial, often made-for-TV events (which includes the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge, the Franklin Templeton Shootout, the Skins Game, etc.) is referred to as the "Challenge Season" or more disapprovingly as the "Silly Season."