The majority of professional golfers work as club or teaching professionals (pros), and only compete in local competitions. A small elite of professional golfers are “tournament pros” who compete full time on international “tours”. Many club and teaching professionals working in the golf industry start as caddies or a general interest in the game, finding employment at golf courses and eventually moving on to certifications in their chosen profession. These programs include independent institutions and universities, and those that eventually lead to a Class A golf professional certification.
There are at least twenty professional golf tours, each run by a PGA or an independent tour organization, which is responsible for arranging events, finding sponsors, and regulating the tour. Typically a tour has “members” who are entitled to compete in most of its events, and also invites non-members to compete in some of them. Gaining membership of an elite tour is highly competitive, and most professional golfers never achieve it.
The most widely known tour is the PGA Tour, which tends to attract the strongest fields, outside the four Majors and the three World Golf Championships events. This is due mostly to the fact that most PGA Tour events have a first prize of at least USD 800,000. The European Tour, which attracts a substantial number of top golfers from outside North America, ranks second to the PGA Tour in worldwide prestige. Some top professionals from outside North America play enough tournaments to maintain membership on both the PGA Tour and European Tour.
The other leading men’s tours include the Japan Golf Tour, the Asian Tour (Asia outside Japan), the PGA Tour of Australasia, and the Sunshine Tour (for Southern Africa, primarily South Africa). These four tours, along with the PGA and European Tours, are full members of the trade body of the world’s main tours, the International Federation of PGA Tours. Two other tours, the Canadian Tour and the Tour de las Américas (Latin America), are associate members of the Federation. All of these tours, except for the Tour de las Américas, offer points in the Official World Golf Rankings to golfers who make the cut in their events.
Golf is unique in having lucrative competition for older players. There are several senior tours for men 50 and older, the best known of which is the U.S.-based Champions Tour.
There are six principal tours for women, each based in a different country or continent. The most prestigious of these is the United States based LPGA Tour.
All of the leading professional tours for under-50 players have an official developmental tour, in which the leading players at the end of the season will earn a tour card on the main tour for the following season. Examples include the Nationwide Tour, which feeds to the PGA Tour, and the Challenge Tour, which is the developmental tour of the European Tour. The Nationwide and Challenge Tours also offer Official World Golf Rankings points.
Men’s major championships
The major championships are the four most prestigious men’s tournaments of the year. In chronological order they are: The Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open Championship (referred to in North America as the British Open) and the PGA Championship.
The fields for these events include the top several dozen golfers from all over the world. The Masters has been played at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia since its inception in 1934. It is the only major championship that is played at the same course each year. The U.S. Open and PGA Championship are played at courses around the United States, while The Open Championship is played at courses in the UK.
The number of major championships a player accumulates in his career has an impact on his stature in the sport. Jack Nicklaus is considered to be the greatest golfer of all time, largely because he has won a record 18 professional majors, or 20 majors in total if his two U.S. Amateurs are included. Tiger Woods, who may be the only golfer in the foreseeable future likely to challenge Nicklaus’s record, has won 14 professional majors (17 total if his three U.S. Amateurs are included), all before the age of 33. (To put this total in perspective, Nicklaus had won 11 professional majors and two U.S. Amateurs by his 33rd birthday, and did not win his 15th professional major until he was 35.) Woods also came closest to winning all four current majors in one season (known as a Grand Slam completed first by Bobby Jones) when he won them consecutively across two seasons: the 2000 U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship; and the 2001 Masters. This feat has been frequently called the Tiger Slam.
Prior to the advent of the PGA Championship and The Masters, the four Majors were the U.S. Open, the U.S. Amateur, the Open Championship, and the British Amateur. These are the four that Bobby Jones won in 1930 to become the only player ever to have earned a Grand Slam.
Women’s major championships
Women’s golf does not have a globally agreed set of majors. The list of majors recognised by the dominant women’s tour, the LPGA Tour in the U.S., has changed several times over the years, with the last change in 2001. Like the PGA Tour, the (U.S.) LPGA has four majors: the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open and the Women’s British Open. Only the last of these is also recognised by the Ladies European Tour. The other event that it recognises as a major is the Evian Masters, which is not considered a major by the LPGA (but is co-sanctioned as a regular LPGA event). However, the significance of this is limited, as the LPGA is far more dominant in women’s golf than the PGA Tour is in mainstream men’s golf. For example, the BBC has been known to use the U.S. definition of “women’s majors” without qualifying it. Also, the Ladies’ Golf Union, the governing body for women’s golf in the UK and Republic of Ireland, states on its official website that the Women’s British Open is “the only Women’s Major to be played outside the U.S.” For many years, the Ladies European Tour tacitly acknowledged the dominance of the LPGA Tour by not scheduling any of its own events to conflict with the three LPGA majors played in the U.S., but that changed in 2008, with the LET scheduling an event opposite the LPGA Championship. The second-richest women’s tour, the LPGA of Japan Tour, does not recognise any of the U.S. LPGA or European majors as it has its own set of three majors. However, these events attract little notice outside Japan.
Senior major championships
Like women’s golf, senior (50-and-over) men’s golf does not have a globally agreed set of majors. The list of senior majors on the U.S.-based Champions Tour has changed over the years, but always by expansion; unlike the situation with the LPGA, no senior major has lost its status. The Champions Tour now recognises five majors: the Senior PGA Championship, the U.S. Senior Open, the Senior British Open, The Tradition and the Senior Players Championship.
Of the five events, the Senior PGA is by far the oldest, having been founded in 1937. The other events all date from the 1980s, when senior golf became a commercial success as the first golf stars of the television era, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, reached the relevant age. The Senior British Open was not recognised as a major by the Champions Tour until 2003. The European Seniors Tour recognises only the Senior PGA and the two Senior Opens as majors. However, the Champions Tour is arguably more dominant in global senior golf than the U.S. LPGA is in global women’s golf.
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