Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Evolution of the Nationwide Tour

We talked about this some last season with the announcements of the first $1 million purses this season on the Nationwide Tour. The venerable Brett Avery delves into the subject more on the eve of the first such event in West Virginia.

The 554th tournament in its existence, making its debut the summer before the tour's 20th season, is its version of the Players, christened the Nationwide Tour Players Cup. And finally—after four title sponsors, several thousand players through its fields and about 500,000 travel miles—the tour will pay a seven-figure purse.

"Getting to $1 million is a psychological threshold that makes an important impact," says Bill Calfee, the tour's president. "Everything just kind of fell into place. The tournament came to us and wanted to do something bigger, they had a financial plan to get them to where they needed to be, they had a good golf course, dates to support and good crowds."

That enthusiastic statement begs an observation: A majority of golfers and fans have little idea the Nationwide Tour has so many stars in alignment, especially next week at Pete Dye GC in Bridgeport, W.Va.
Then we get into a little bit of controversy:
Its challenge remains elevating itself from backwater to major tributary. And the way that occurs, some tour officials say openly, is for the Nationwide to become the sole avenue for gaining a PGA Tour card, superseding the romanticized hell of the annual Qualifying Tournament.
In recent years, the number of cards given out through the N'Wide Tour has gone from 5 (in 1989) to 15 to 20 and now to 25. It has reduced the number of cards available through Q-school. The argument is that players who qualify through a season of battle-testing on a Tour are more likely to last longer on the PGA Tour, and even win one day. So far, the results are tough to argue. But, do you ruin the fun of Q-school for the viewer by making it moot? Tough to answer.

Avery also presents a history of the N'Wide Tour and its four sponsors - with some nice charts to supplement. What appears to have worked for Nationwide and the PGA Tour, though, is something pretty simple:
Unlike the other sponsors, whose names fronted each title—the Ben Hogan Greater Greenville Classic, say, or Omaha Classic—Nationwide bought in without naming rights. That freed tournaments to peddle their titles to companies with big local footprints—the BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs in Greenville, S.C., or Cox Classic in Omaha.
From a business perspective, the Nationwide Tour is growing. You already are probably aware of many of the stats surrounding Nationwide Tour graduate successes, but here they are again:

• More than 220 PGA Tour victories and 11 majors, beginning with John Daly's win at the 1991 PGA Championship to Zach Johnson's Masters triumph in 2007.

• Two-thirds of current PGA Tour members have played on the Nationwide and nearly as high a percentage of Nationwide members have PGA Tour experience.

• Nationwide players who earn a PGA Tour card off the money list have, since 1991, kept those cards for a second season at a 41-percent clip, to 30 percent for Q school grads.

Finally, Avery discusses the future of the Tour - from eliminating Q school, to Fall Series "call ups" (which I advocate), and the dynamic of Nationwide players against journeymen on the PGA Tour that are not handed invites to WGCs and invitationals.

It's a good read.

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