Attending a tournament and watching your favorite golf professional or the next up-and-coming player is an exciting way for a golf enthusiast to spend a day. Few golf fans will forget Rory McIlroy's agonizing slide from first place at the 2011 Masters or his astounding victory just months later at the 2011 U.S. Open. While there are only a few major championship events such as the U.S. Open or the LPGA Championship, hundreds of professional tournaments take place throughout the year in the United States.
In terms of prestige, fan interest, quality of competition and television coverage, the PGA Tour is considered the premier golf tour. The very best players in the world aspire to compete on the PGA Tour, which is comprised of tournaments around the country. The tour opens in the first week of January and ends in November. Total prize money per tournament varies from $800,000 to as much as $9.5 million, with winners of each event typically receiving from $600,000 to more than $1.7 million, depending upon the overall purse. The tour is comprised of more than 40 tournaments, including four major championships: the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and the PGA Championship. Players must qualify for and hold a PGA Tour card to compete in most events. Some tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule are held outside the United States, including events in Great Britain, Mexico, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Known as the LPGA Tour, the top women's professional tour consists of 25 to 30 tournaments beginning in mid-February and ending in early December. Typically, more than 10 of the events take place outside of the United States – in such countries as France, Thailand, South Korea and Brazil – although they still count as part of the LPGA Tour. Competitors, who must qualify for an LPGA card each year, are from a wide range of countries in addition to the United States. Overall tournament purses range from $1 million to $3.25 million, with winners receiving a top prize of $200,000 for smaller events to more than $500,000 for the U.S. Women's Open.
Many male players start their professional careers by playing on the developmental Nationwide Tour and then earning their way to a PGA Tour card. The top 25 Nationwide Tour money-winners each year earn spots on the PGA Tour for the next season. The Nationwide Tour consists of approximately 25 tournaments held throughout the United States, with two events held outside the U.S., in Panama and Mexico. Tournament prize money is substantially smaller than the PGA Tour and ranges from $500,000 to $1 million per event, with each winner receiving $90,000 to $180,000 depending upon the overall purse.
Golfers must be at least 50 years old and male to participate in the Champions Tour, formerly called the Senior PGA Tour. If the player has not competed professionally before, they must be one of the top finishers in a qualifying tournament before earning a spot on the Champions Tour. The tour consists of approximately 25 events starting in late January and ending in early November. Purses range from $1.6 million to $2.7 million. Major championships include the U.S. Senior Open, the Senior British Open, the Senior Players Championship and the Senior PGA Championship.
In addition to the PGA Nationwide Tour, several other developmental tours – often called mini-tours – exist to give up-and-coming golfers the opportunity to win prize money, develop their competitive skills and start on the path to obtaining their PGA or LPGA tour card. Prize money is typically much lower than the top tours. Some of the top developmental tours for men include the National Golf Association Pro Golf Tour, the Gateway Pro Tour and the eGolf Professional Tour. Top female players have a chance to get a taste of the professional tour life, hone their competitive skills and earn an LPGA card by playing on the Futures Tour. It is the one of the oldest women's developmental tours, having begun in 1980.