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PGA Creates a Pathway to Pro Golf - But Only for Division I Students

5 Jun, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

More than 18 months ago, Golfweek reported that a program was under development and that if all went well, it could provide elite college golfers with access to the events on the PGA TOUR.

Last week, the program, PGA TOUR University, was unveiled and as a result, rights holders putting on collegiate golf tournaments may find their events gaining a whole new level of importance.

PGA TOUR University, designed to create the pipeline that had been lacking between collegiate golf and the pro level, offers berths to the Korn Ferry Tour, Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica and PGA TOUR Series – China.

According to materials from the organization, PGA TOUR University will reward elite collegiate play with varying levels of playing access to events operated under the PGA TOUR umbrella, “while upholding the principles and virtues of collegiate athletics.”

Currently, the only players eligible for the PGA TOUR University Ranking List will be NCAA Division I golfers who complete a minimum of four years in college. However, that fails to create an all-access path since college golf is also played at the NCAA level in Divisions II and III as well as at the NJCAANCCAA and NAIA levels (as well as others) and at the intramural and club level, where organizations such as the National Collegiate Club Golf Association are offering tournaments throughout the school year.

SDM asked the PGA TOUR whether the scope of PGA TOUR University would be opened to other schools. PGA TOUR responded, “We are trying to create a pathway from collegiate golf to the PGA TOUR for the top college players – the best of the best.”

Despite its present lack of access to all collegiate golfers, the new system does have distinct benefits. One of these is not forcing promising amateurs to make the choice between finishing their education and turning pro. According to GolfWorld, while this is not necessarily an issue in men's golf, a number of women players have had to choose between beginning their professional careers in the middle of the college seasons due to the dates of LPGA Q school, now known as LPGA Q Series. The frequency became amplified to the point the LPGA now allows deferred status to those who qualify.

In addition, the combination of being able to compete at the highest level and to continue one’s education can be a lure to promising high school athletes to continue in the game and to seek out schools with golf teams – albeit only at the DI level.

Event owners and rights holders of collegiate tournaments will surely find more marketability and value inherent in their competitions, just as schools may see more interest in their golf programs.

The PGA TOUR has noted that it will partner with the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR®), which is administered by The R&A and the USGA, to create the PGA TOUR University Ranking List. The WAGR system ranks the top amateurs on the basis of their average performance in counting events on a rolling cycle over the previous 104 weeks. The list will be filtered to include those players and results meeting the PGA TOUR University eligibility criteria.

Events which will count towards the Official PGA TOUR University Ranking List include NCAA Division I Men’s Golf events and official PGA TOUR events, including the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The top 15 finishers from the final Official PGA TOUR University Ranking List at the conclusion of each NCAA collegiate spring season (defined by the conclusion of the NCAA Men’s Division I Golf Championship) will be awarded exempt status to the Korn Ferry Tour, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada and PGA TOUR Series – China, based on their respective finish.

The top five finishers from the final Official PGA TOUR University Ranking List will receive Korn Ferry Tour membership and will be exempt into all open, full-field events beginning the week following the conclusion of the NCAA Division I Men’s National Championship through the conclusion of the Korn Ferry Tour regular season. The top five finishers will also be exempt into the Final Stage of that year’s Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament.

Finishers Nos. 6-15 will secure membership on one of the International Tours for the current season and a spot in the Second Stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament (if necessary). At that point, these players will have their choice of which International Tour their exempt status applies to.

The eligibility for each respective Tour will begin the week following the conclusion of the NCAA Men’s Division I Golf Championship. The 2021 NCAA Men’s Championship is scheduled to be held at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, from May 28 – June 2. (The 2020 championship event was not held because of COVID-19).

And it’s obvious the PGA TOUR intends to try to market the event and build interest. The GOLF Channel will provide coverage of NCAA Division I golf to showcase the race to the top 15 - something else that should interest event owners and destinations.

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