Chat with NGA President Robin Waters and you will realize why the NGA Tour is so successful. In the end, it comes down to experience and the model the tour uses to run its events.
“If you put all of our five staff members together, our golf experience would be over 100 years,” Waters said.
Experience is what has allowed the NGA Tour — formerly the NGA Hooters Tour — to thrive in shaky economic times and solidify its position as the third most successful professional golf tour in the United States behind the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour. The model the NGA Tour uses is successful but also simple: They run it as similarly to the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour as possible.
The United States is teeming with minor golf tours that are known as “mini tours” or developmental tours. These mini tours exist to help aspiring professional golfers get experience under their belt so they can be more successful at the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School and be more competitive on the upper tours. Most feature one, two or three round events and are often played on several different courses.
So how has the NGA Tour separated itself from the mini tour pack? They have made a devotion to making their events run just like PGA Tour events. Events on the NGA Tour are played over four rounds on the same course and feature a cut at the 36-hole mark, just like the PGA Tour.
“The model that we operate on, we deliver the pro experience,” Waters said. “If your goal was to run a marathon, would you practice sprints? If you want to be on the PGA Tour then you need to practice playing like they do. There is a reason the Nationwide Tour doesn’t play 54 hole events.”
Getting competitive reps in with PGA Tour style conditions helps players transition to PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour events more easily than some of the other mini tours. Most mini tours allow the use of golf carts and electronic range finders for perfect yardage. The NGA Tour doesn’t allow either of these competitive crutches, which Waters says benefits the players in the long run.
“If you asked a lot of our players, they would not consider our Pro Series a mini tour,” Waters said.
Another important difference between the NGA Tour and many other developmental tours is their commitment to guaranteed purses. What this means is that the payout at each tournament is not contingent upon the entry fees as they are on so many other tours. This helps the NGA Tour attract many of the top developmental tour players, because the guaranteed purses provide a level of security.
Guaranteed purses can be a problem from time to time if not enough players register for events. The NGA Tour subsidizes the purses if not enough players pay entry fees, which can put a financial strain on the organization, but Waters says they have plans to deal with these problems that he calls “exposure factors.”
Waters also attributes much of the NGA Tour’s success to the involvement of its players in the planning process.
“We like to talk to our players, and we listen,” Waters said. “Last year guys were having a hard time getting to Q-school, so we looked at our structure. We took the feedback from the players’ board and came up with a new plan.”
That plan involved reducing purses but also reducing entry fees. Last year it cost players about $23,000 to play a 20-event schedule. This year players can play 18 events for just $17,500. This allows players to have a little more money to put towards Q-School at the end of the season.
The NGA Tour also provides Q-School subsidies for its top finishing players on the money list. The amount of Q-School entry fees they can pay depends on how much money the tour has on hand at the end of the season. Last year they were able to pay for 33 players to enter Q-School. With the Q-School subsidies up for grabs for the top money winners, the NGA Tour has more of a Nationwide Tour feel than a mini tour feel.
Waters also discussed how the proposed Q-School changes on the PGA and Nationwide Tours could help the NGA Tour in the long run. The changes would make it impossible to move directly from Q-School to the PGA Tour. The only way to the PGA Tour would be through the Nationwide Tour. This would make the NGA Tour basically a feeder tour for the Nationwide Tour, giving it even more credibility and stability.
“The PGA Tour may have to expand an entire level of competitors to get them ready for the Nationwide Tour,” Waters said. “Whether this means them being a partner with our tour like they are with the Canadian Tour, I don’t know.”
The NGA Tour has a long-term goal of diversifying and growing its brand. Waters says they want to create a new type of golf organization that focuses on the business side of courses. They want pros that play with on the NGA Tour for 10 years and then work for a golf course as a professional.
Waters said the NGA Tour is not just a training ground for prospective players, but also for officials and employees. “We have the same product as the PGA Tour, so it is a good way to train tournament directors and officials as well as players.”
The future is clearly bright for the NGA Tour. Waters believes its longevity and the stable of players that were once full members prove the long-term success of the tour. Players like Keegan Bradley, Jim Furyk, John Daly and Zach Johnson were all former full members on the NGA Tour and stay in contact with the tour to this day.
“We stay in contact with the former players and call them for advice and quotes,” Waters said. “It is kind of like your high school or college. I have been out here 14 years and there are people that I will never forget.”
With possible rule changes to Q-School and the growing importance of developmental tours, the NGA Tour looks poised to continue growing in credibility and prominence in the scope of professional golf. Add the experience of the team running its operations and the successful model it utilizes, and you have a winning formula.
Waters put it simply. “If you want to be the best in the world and make history in the game of golf, you need to play against the best and progress with the best”