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How much does it cost to chase the dream of playing pro golf?

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The 30-and-under crowd is taking over a sport which once represented a very different demographic.

This particular age group, also affectionately referred to as millennials, tend to show a strong enthusiasm for the occupation of “entrepreneur.” Could this be why so many golfers are now pursuing the dream of playing professionally? The lifestyle closely mimics that of a budding startup–though instead of laying the groundwork for a business, you are marketing a more personal product: your own game.

Not unlike the life of an entrepreneur, there are many expenses associated with the first few years of growth. Life on the mini tour is expensive and doesn’t guarantee returns; if your score isn’t in the red, your bank account most definitely will be. So how much must a player invest in order to chase their dream? The odds are slim, but for those who achieve status as a professional player, the rewards are abundant.

One example of this is Boris Stantchev, a California native who began his professional golf career in 2014. Finances are often a source of anxiety, especially when your income relies heavily on consistent performance in a game that is so often unpredictable.

“I’m currently looking for a sponsor,” Stantchev said. “It’s important to be around the right people when chasing your dream, but those that don’t have a sponsor do what they can to play in as many events as they can afford. I work outside service at the golf course down the street and rely on tip money to help pay for tournaments. It’s a decent way to save money and play some events in the summer months, but it’s not enough income to fund a full schedule.”

Let’s assume our player has a 30-week schedule planned, as well as Qualifying School. We have to factor in memberships to each mini tour that she (or he) plans to join–membership isn’t required, but the price break per tournament is significant. With that in mind, we’ll account for a tournament every other week within our 30-week calendar. Tournament fees range from $250-$850, so 15 tournaments at about $550 a pop sets our budget at $8,250.

Tack on Pre-qualifying, which is the first phase of Q-school. This costs between $2,700 and $3,500 depending on when you sign up, so we’ll be optimistic and plan for the former fee. This brings our total to $10,950. If our player isn’t one of the three percent that will advance through all four stages this year, s/he’ll have to pay the same entry fee on his/her next attempt (ouch).

We’ve paid for our schedule at this point, but what about other living expenses? Rent, food, and access to a gym are a given; so at about $1,000 a month, these bump our budget to $18,450.

Let’s assume that our player gets to practice at a facility free of expense–we need to factor in flights to and from each event, as well as travel fees while they are there. About $250 per flight, plus a car to and from the course, adds up to $5,250. If you have a couch to crash on for half of your events, you need a hotel for the other half — toss in $1,500 for that as well.

When all is said and done, we’ve reached $25,200 for the minimal expenses. Making the cut at most events gets you a check for about $1,400–so your scores need to be consistently solid to break even. The high cost of tour golf doesn’t stop players from pursuing the dream, even if only for a short time. In 2013, 420 players attempted the first stage, and that number continues to grow.

Not to be forgotten are the expenses that are measured through intangible currency: the sacrifice of a life on the road, the emotional stressors that come along with professional athletics, and the choice to be absent for many a family event. Though this paints a rather pessimistic portrait of chasing the tour, there are still many who join in hopes of becoming the next big player.

The beginning of Boris’s journey reflected this dynamic.

“First year was rough, a good wake up call,” Stantchev said. “I was playing my best but what really got me was how competitive it is even out here in the mini tours. I definitely felt underprepared compared to the guys that were constantly around the lead.”

The opportunity to play with the best comes with just as many opportunities for disappointment. According to Boris, the players who succeed are the ones who look past those obstacles and have a short memory of the difficulties they encounter.

“You can shoot 69-70 and miss the cut by a couple of shots in some of these events, that’s just the way it goes,” Stantchev said. “The patient guys are the ones that have the best chance at success…You just never know with this game. If you play well at the right time, it can change your life. It’s important to trust your practice and just go out and keep it simple.”

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28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. D

    Mar 28, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    Not even in the ballpark with a ~$25k estimate. You need have at least ~$50k to start each year and that’s if you can keep living costs at an absolute minimum by living with family etc. Which could add another $20k onto your costs.

  2. DW

    Mar 28, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    7 years mini-tour experience

    50k-60k minimum costs. Anything less is a pipe dream.

  3. leo vincent

    Mar 26, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    The expenses in the article were for a 15 tournament schedule.Not really enough to be fully prepared.Fought this grind for many years back when the Hooter’s tour was big.Throw in some monday tour and Web.com qualifiers and expenses $5000 a month bare minimum living with 3 other guys in a cheap house.A lot of fun and adventure but no fortunes were being made.There is still Champions tour q school to look forward to. Some dreams never die they just run out of time

  4. Ben

    Mar 23, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    I need to know where this guy is living in California if he’s getting living expenses etc for $1k

  5. Michael

    Mar 22, 2018 at 6:17 am

    In my job, I meet guys from mini tours once in a while trying to help them with their equipment. Most of the time, it takes just one session to know, if they can make it or not. In Europe, the expenses for playing the Pro Tour (Mini Tour compareable to e.g. Latina America Tour) are already pretty high, since travel cost will kill you. You have to fly to different countries, get used to different food, and you make next to nothing, even if you make the cut. Only top 5 finishers make a reasonable amount and only top 2 will have enough to cover their expenses for the tournament week.

    It’s a tough life and you better be prepared to go that route. It can be rewarding in the end, but you need talent, mental sanity and money to cover you.

    Best of luck to all of those who give it a shot.

  6. Todd Richards

    Mar 19, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    Who’s getting rent, food and living expenses for $1,000 a month? lol Not in California for sure…and not even in the sticks of central Florida I can vouch for that!!

  7. stephenf

    Mar 10, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    I wasn’t aware that anybody really did this without a sponsor or group of sponsors. Without that, and without a good player-sponsor agreement to allow for significant time out there — how could that be less than at least two or three years? — I don’t know how anybody does this.

  8. ual to airfare estimated.

    Mar 10, 2018 at 11:52 am

    First off, you left out the cost for a caddy throughout the timeframe you based the costs on. Also, the estimated costs for travel and travelre=lated expenses are very low. I would guess the real number is close to double even being conservative. Even if a person drives to events during the off week there would be expenses much higher than your low airfare estimate.

  9. Gary

    Mar 10, 2018 at 8:46 am

    Money isn’t what stops dreams of PGA Tour level golf, it’s skill. What is the lowest score you ever posted on a course without a clown’s mouth? If it isn’t in the low 60s you must get better. Golf becomes your job so your enjoyment of it will go down and the frustration it causes will explode. Add in the financial pressures and there better be some success just to keep your sanity. Playing in the best amateur events you can will help you see where the top talent is. I’m too old now but 20-25-30 years ago my handicap was low single digit and about once a year I entered one of those serious amateur events and got my butt kicked. It’s the guy who wins the state amateur tournament who has a shot. It’s the guy who shoots 66 on a course set up for tough tournament golf who has a shot. My opinion, chase the dream when you’re young and work at it but be realistic about your chances. You will need to win events, not just be top 10, win. Every sport tells players if they can make it as a pro. Golf is no exception.

    • stephenf

      Mar 12, 2018 at 10:30 pm

      You’re right in most cases, but to see this as absolute would’ve kept Tom Kite off the tour, and at one point he was the leading money-winner in history.

      It has to do with type of game as much as how many times you’ve shot in the low 60s. Some, like Kite, didn’t shoot a lot of mega-low scores but had the kind of 69s and 68s that would travel. And boy, did they.

      But your overall point about it having to do with skill rather than money is mostly true. It’s hard to find examples of guys who were legitimately good enough but who never got a chance because the money wasn’t there. It’s all about sponsors. I don’t think anybody really does it even at minor-league level for any amount of time without sponsors.

    • Craig

      Mar 18, 2018 at 7:41 pm

      While the ability to shoot low/mid 60’s is a prerequisite, there are a lot of players who could do that and have been chewed up and spat out. There are so many factors, from opportunity, luck, work ethic, mental toughness.

  10. tim

    Mar 9, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    knew an instructor in Florida that spent 70k a year on the mini tours and after 2 years had to call it quits with 140k in debt.

  11. Axel

    Mar 9, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    You’re unfortunately way conservative in your estimates. I had to make 60 grand per year to cover myself. I never had a sponsor, but if I did, I would have needed much more than 50 grand per year. You don’t need this pile of money at once, but you’ll spend that much by December. If you want to live with your parents forever, then maybe a bit less. Meek some cuts and build up that bankroll.

  12. GolfCodeWeekly.com

    Mar 9, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    It must be seriously hard to give up

    I play golf still and think tomorrow I will play just a little better, for these guys just a little better could mean their lives taking a totally different trajectory if they can build on it. Fact is most cannot, there is simply not enough room at the top.

    I am glad I have never been good enough to be as close to the PGA Tour as peope who you are writing about, their lives must suck telling people no i am not rich each time they say they play golf for a living

    Please let me know what you think of our blog (30 days old~)

  13. Jon

    Mar 9, 2018 at 11:18 am

    Also, many of those mini tour players are playing in many Web.com Monday qualifyiers at $500 a pop

  14. Jon

    Mar 9, 2018 at 11:16 am

    Most mini tour events (that you are making $1400 if you make the cut) are $1000 to $1600 entry fees. I think your numbers are way off

  15. JM

    Mar 9, 2018 at 6:01 am

    You also forgetting the additional $2,500 after you make it past pre-qualifying. You can’t go to first stage without paying the other half of Q-school.

  16. Zac

    Mar 8, 2018 at 4:15 pm

    Adams tour events are $1,000. And $1,300 if you’re not a member of that tour. I think $850 for winter series events.

  17. baddomes

    Mar 8, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Where is Rent/Food/Gym membership only $1,000/month?

    • Rick

      Mar 8, 2018 at 11:56 pm

      if you dont have to commute locally for work you can get a cheap one bedroom apartment way out in a suburb or just a standalone small town for very cheap. There is also no requirement to live in an expensive state if, again, your “job” is all over the place. $1000 is easily doable, but you won’t be living in a luxury loft on main street.

  18. emil

    Mar 8, 2018 at 8:16 am

    Playing the game of golf full time stunts one’s intelligence. It is not an activity that will grow your brain for a real job. We see all the successes earning million$$$, but not the many who have failed and remain childish and empty.

    • Axel

      Mar 9, 2018 at 7:01 pm

      Sounds like someone’s jealous of others. If you have the balls, tee one of them up. You never know what’s on the other side.

  19. James T

    Mar 7, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    Way to ruin the dream Hannah! Actually a good, realistic article. You’d better be dam good and mentally mature at the same time to even consider a pro tour golf career. When I was a kid in St. Louis and the #1 player on my high school golf team I had this same dream. After graduation I picked up and moved to Miami so I could play year ’round. I played or practiced every day, hooked up with some very good players, lost some bets. Discovered my limitations. But at least I can say, when I become old, that I gave it a shot. Nobody can take that away from me. Nevertheless I went on to play college golf on a full athletic scholarship and am now an amateur with a 2.8 handicap. Life is good.

    • kevin

      Mar 9, 2018 at 9:38 am

      i think a large majority of guys trying to make it know deep down they’ll never make it and it doesn’t take long for them to figure it out, but they simply want to be able to say they gave it a shot. no regrets.

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As reported, in September 2018 the NCAA made major changes to the rules by introducing new legislation which allowed players to transfer without a release and be signed up for a website which provided their information for all coaches. The idea was to make the process of transferring easier on the student athlete. three months into the process, we wanted to look at the numbers and see what, if anything we could learn from transfers so far…

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