Many people think playing professional golf at any level is glamorous, but I can tell you after more than four years of professional golf that’s often not the case. Don’t get me wrong. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot on the mini tours, but the life of a mini tour player barely resembles that of a PGA Tour player.
I believe it was Lee Janzen who said, “If you haven’t slept in your car then you’re not a professional golfer.” Lee might have a point, but my back and neck would disagree the next day. Mini tour players have to do what they’ve got to do to make ends meet, but low scores normally allow them to get them a hotel room. Maybe that’s why I don’t play anymore… that score thing kind of matters.
What I do know is that most recreational golfers and even some top-level amateurs don’t know a lot about the life of a mini tour player and what it takes to play golf for a living. Here’s 12 things you should know.
No. 12: Tour Players
The next time you look at a PGA tour leaderboard, remember most of them started their professional golf career on the mini tours. Here is a short list of players who have won on the PGA Tour and played on the NGA Hooters Tour: Keegan Bradley, Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis, Lee Janzen, Shaun Micheel, John Daly, Tom Lehman, Lucas Glover, Craig Perks, David Toms, Gary Woodland, Camilo Villegas, Mark Wilson and Bubba Watson.
No. 11: Driving
The mini tour player’s vehicle is their predominant mode of transportation. Driving for 8-to-10 hours between tournaments or Monday qualifiers is nothing new. Your vehicle will even double as your bed on some nights. One time I had to sleep in the back of my two-door Honda Civic in a hotel parking lot in Iowa because all the hotels were sold out. I guess the state fair was going on and there was a big flood in Iowa. It was in July, so it was really humid and hot. I was awakened by some people making out on the hood of my car at 3 a.m.
No. 10: Pro Ams
Some mini tour events will have a pro-am the day before the tournament starts where players play in the same group with four amateurs. This is a great opportunity to see the course one last time before the tournament starts and have a fun time with your playing partners. The playing ability of your amateur partners might not be extremely high, so always be ready to give some pointers and duck. There was an amateur in my group who shanked the ball off the toe of his driver into the tee marker. If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. The next person reverse shanked the ball off his driver between his legs and hit the other tee marker. I don’t know what’s more impressive: the winner shooting 25-under that week or those two shots in a row.
No. 9: The Off-Season
Mini tour tournaments are held year-round in Florida, Arizona and Southern California for players to tee it up. A large percentage of players work in the off-season at golf courses in some capacity, either as a caddy or in the bag room or pro shop to make ends meet.
No. 8: Accommodations
How cheap can you get the room and how many people can you fit in the room to split the bill? These are two common questions you will hear. Players will use websites like Kayak and Priceline to find the best room rate for the week. The whole goal is to keep costs down so you can play in more tournaments throughout the year. Another option is host housing, which is where a family will host a player for the week in their house for free. These are some of the nicest people you will ever meet and you’ll call them friends for the rest of your life.
No. 7: Sponsors
You don’t see big corporate sponsors on any players’ bags on the mini tours. There are a few options of how players typically afford a season playing professional golf. They fund it themselves, their family helps them or they have a group of investors/backers that put up the money. Former mini tour legend Zach Johnson had help from a group of members from his home course growing up help him play on the Hooters Tour.
No. 6: Cinnamon Rolls
I’m talking about the cinnamon rolls at the Holiday Inn continental breakfast and they’re delicious. Here’s the deal, though: mini tour players normally stay at the Motel 8 or Quality Inn across the street for half the price, then casually walk across the street to enjoy a nice warm cinnamon roll. Sorry, Holiday Inn.
No. 5: Big Cities
Oh yeah, mini tour players tee it up in big cities all the time like Miami, Okla., Morganton, NC and Hawkinsville, Ga. But, you know what? Those small towns and the people who welcome the players with open arms are what make the tournament special. If it weren’t for them there wouldn’t be such a thing as mini tours.
No. 4: Equipment
Receiving equipment varies from player to player between each club manufacturer. The majority of players order equipment at a discount price, while others receive it for free. The players who receive free equipment normally have some kind deal where they’re required to carry a certain number of clubs.
No. 3: Caddies
Did you say caddy? No thanks, I will carry my clubs so I can eat dinner each night of the week. Around 90 percent of players carry their clubs using a carry bag or use a pushcart if the tournament allows. If a player does have a caddy for the week, it’s normally a relative or friend.
No. 2: Entry Fees
The entry fees vary based on the tournament and tour you play, but range from $700-to-$1,000 per tournament. Most tours have a membership fee you have to pay at the beginning of the year, which is normally between $1,500 and $2,200.
No. 1: These Guys Are Good
You’ve probably seen the commercials from the PGA Tour with players like Bubba Watson and Bill Haas saying, “These guys are good.” Here’s the thing: players on the mini tours could be included in those commercial. Did you know the winning score each week is between 15 and 25-under par? That’s with pin locations three steps from the edge or next to a huge slope of every green.