eligible to compete in a PGA tournament showed up to play, it would look like
Times Square on New Year's Eve. There are 450 card-carrying eligibles who can
appear at any tournament. Yet most events provide for only 156 golfers. That is
bad enough, but with more players coming out of college each year and more
assistant professionals eager to try the tour, a second circuit (or even a
third and a fourth) may be needed to ease the crush.
From last January
until April, when it ran out of cash, the American Golf Tour, founded by Eddie
Susalla, gave the young pros hope. So anxious were they to compete that when
this "mini-tour" foundered, the players pooled their money to eke out
another month of play. The caravan stalled on a May afternoon in Missouri when
a tornado interrupted play, and the AGT died the following week in Indiana.
In contrast, J.
C. Goosie's Space Coast mini-tour has endured and been financially successful.
Instead of having pros waste money hopscotching across the country, Goosie, a
former PGA tour regular, decided in 1973 to schedule weekly events on the
public and private courses in and around Orlando, Fla. Goosie began his fifth
season on Oct. 24; his tournaments will run until mid-March. Goosie has
produced such a golden egg that another old pro, Doug Ford, plans to go into
the same business in the same area this month. Already well established in the
Southwest is the National Golfers of America, which is currently holding
tournaments in Scottsdale. Its tour concludes in February. Just getting
underway is the circuit sponsored by the PGA of America—not to be confused with
the PGA tour—which has announced that it is putting up $1 million in purse
money for 24 tournaments to be held nationwide for club pros and
"registered PGA apprentices."
These tours are
catering to the likes of Barry Fleming, who is 25, blond, tanned and confident
he can be a world-beater. He has financial backing. What he does not have is
enough experience to make it on the big tour.
managed a country club in Parkersburg, W. Va., and at seven Barry started
belting golf balls. He hasn't stopped. He was a good golfer in high school and
received a golf scholarship to his state university. Because he wanted to
pursue the sport in earnest, he transferred from West Virginia to Florida
State. "The Northern schools have a short schedule and a lot of rain,"
Fleming says. "You never get to play much. I had to sit out a year but got
a full scholarship at Tallahassee and played in my senior year. I got a degree
in hotel management, which will be a good fallback if I start making a lot of
wasn't good enough for the tour when I graduated from college," he says,
"so I chose the pro shop route. You give a few lessons, hit golf balls and
play every day without spending any money." Fleming worked at Hilton Head's
Palmetto Dunes and Harbour Town courses. After two years as an assistant pro he
wanted to play competitively. He has twice failed to win his PGA tour
credentials, but he remains undiscouraged. He looks at the ages of pros who are
still winning, men in their 40s, and is sure he has time to improve. When he
found a sponsor a year ago, he left Hilton Head and played on a now-defunct
Florida mini-tour. He won the first tournament he entered, taking home $800.
Then he picked up the American Golf Tour in February and played in 11 events.
Although he did not make enough to cover expenses, "I was right behind the
guys who were the leading money winners," he says. "You had to finish
in the top 10% each week to make expenses because the purses were so low. When
the AGT went bust, we played for the $150 entry fee each guy put up. You
weren't going to get rich, even if you won two or three tournaments, but I
became a better player traveling around and teeing it up in all kinds of
conditions. As an amateur, I would be nervous on the first tee. There's none of
that now. This is a job."
Fleming and 381
other aspirants for PGA tour cards failed last June's test at Pinehurst, N.C.,
and they make up the bulk of the group that has joined the Space Coast
mini-tour in Orlando. "If they want to play, they got to come see the
Goose," J.C. says. "I got the only place where they can win and get
paid immediately." He operates by collecting entry fees, taking a small
percentage and letting the pros play for the rest. The first 64 finishers earn
money, with the 64th collecting $300, which is his entry fee. Goosie rents the
courses on which the 36-hole tournaments are held. He has no trouble lining up
layouts; in fact, the events are held on some of the best courses in central
Florida. The reason is simple. The club is guaranteed between $20 and $24 for
each player competing, and Goosie pays for carts, practice range and clubhouse.
In a two-day tournament, a club can net from $4,500 to $6,000.
A pro must sign
up for a series of five tournaments and pay $1,500. Goosie runs off four series
(or 20 tournaments) and then pauses only long enough to gather a new group of
competitors. "I got to looking at the guys going to the tour qualifying
school," Goosie says. "Most of them didn't make it. I figured if we got
a small percentage of them, say 25, and added a few other players, we had a
cinch. We not only got the pros—and a lot more than we expected—but also high
school kids who came down to test themselves. Figure it out. If you had a son
18 years of age, you could send him to us, give him $4,000 to sleep and eat,
and send us his $6,000 entry fee. You could tell in 20 weeks if the boy could
play or not. Now you can decide, depending on the results, whether he should go
to college, get a job in a pro shop, practice his game or whatever. This is a
fine proving ground.
player gets out of here, he is not a finished product, but it gives him some
idea whether he's got it or not. We have had 42 or 43 pros who have played with
us and graduated to the PGA tour. We have had two or three winners on that tour
in each of the last few years, men like Gary Koch and Bruce Lietzke."
In the 1973-74
season, Goosie had trouble filling his fields, but by the second fall his
events were crowded. Now there is a waiting list until January.