SI Vault
Bob Drum
November 07, 1977
Here it is, gentlemen, your chance of a lifetime, your dream come true, a pro golf circuit where even you can win. Come on, gentlemen. Step right up
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November 07, 1977

Step Right Up And Take A Whirl

Here it is, gentlemen, your chance of a lifetime, your dream come true, a pro golf circuit where even you can win. Come on, gentlemen. Step right up

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If everyone 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.

Fleming's father 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 bogeys.

"I still 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.

"When a 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.

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