It’s easy to see that golf is no longer a slow sport played by elderly men on the links of Scotland. Young professionals, increasing collegiate opportunities and entertainment venues like Topgolf have all contributed to the widespread popularity of golf among those who previously showed no interest. 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. 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.” said Stantchev.
“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 $3500 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 3% that will advance through all four stages this year, she’ll have to pay the same entry fee on 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. $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 $1500 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 $1400- 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. 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.” Stantchev said.
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. The patient guys are the ones that have the best chance at success in this game. 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.”