Professional golf, one of the most lucrative jobs in sports for those at the top, is giving more young players the opportunity to earn a living while struggling to reach stardom and the million dollar contracts that go with it.
The Ben Hogan Tour, a series of thirty 54-hole tournaments for $100,000 each, will become part of the PGA Tour program next year. The inaugural event will be the Bakersfield Open, Feb. 2-4, preceded by a pro-am Feb. 1, at the Bakersfield Country Club.
What the Hogan tour does, essentially, is create 132 new jobs for professional golfers.
Keeping a player's card on the big tour has become so difficult--it means being one of the 125 top money winners--that the PGA and the Ben Hogan Co., recently purchased by Cosmo Sports of Japan, have put together a five-year program to sponsor 30 events a year.
How tough is it to remain among the top 125 money winners? This year, with only this week's Disney tournament in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., remaining, No. 125 is Pat McGowan at $99,453.
Among those with virtually no chance of retaining their cards--which means going back for another try at the players' school qualifying tournament--are such recognizable names as Tony Sills, Morris Hatalsky, Tim Norris, Barry Jaeckel, Lenny Clements, Rex Caldwell and Jeff Hart, plus three of the hottest collegiate players of the past decade---Sam Randolph of USC, Bobby Clampett of BYU and Scott Verplank of Oklahoma State.
The Hogan Tour will open spots for the second 50 school qualifiers, after the first 50 get their PGA Tour playing cards in December, plus another 25 from a special Hogan Tour qualifying school.
For the Bakersfield tournament, the host Southern California section of the PGA will receive 17 starting times for its members, and two exemptions they wish to select from the PGA or senior tour. Favorite candidates are Chi Chi Rodriguez and Billy Casper, who won a PGA tournament in Bakersfield.
Already in are Dave Barber, host professional from Bakersfield CC; Scott Bentley of Singing Hills, the section champion, and Shawn McEntee of La Quinta Hotel, the section stroke play champion. The remaining 14 will qualify in a tournament for local club pros and apprentices Jan. 22 at Glendora.
The PGA of America will receive five exemptions for its leading club professional players.
Then there are two other fascinating ways to become one of the 132.
One is to be a member of the PGA Tour between 40 and 50 years of age. Ten such golfers will be eligible. The category was designed to help players such as Rod Curl, Victor Regalado and Bob Lunn, who are hanging around, waiting for the day they reach 50 and can join the senior tour.
Eight Hogan other qualifiers will come out of an old-fashioned Monday qualifying round--the kind the PGA eliminated a few years ago when it went to the all-exempt tour of the 125 leading money winners and tournament winners. Monday qualifying will be open to anyone, amateurs included, with a handicap of two or better.
That leaves 15 remaining starting times at Bakersfield. They will be filled by exempt players who were not high enough on the pecking order to get into the AT&T; Pebble Beach National Pro-Am being played at the same time.
"The difference between the Hogan Tour and the second tours that were tried and failed in the past is that this time the purse money is guaranteed," said George Thompson, executive director of the Southern California section of the PGA. "Now the local PGA and the charity recipients can concentrate on making it a civic event without having to concern themselves with making purse money."
The Bakersfield tournament will benefit the Kern County Special Olympics and the PGA's junior golf scholarship program.
"The Hogan tour will affect us some because it will take some of our better golfers, but overall it is a good idea because it will create more jobs," said Doug Ives, founder-director of the Golden State Tours, one of two major mini-tours in the country. The other is run by J. C. Goosie in Florida.
"It will give young golfers a second stage, between our minis and the big tour, to prepare themselves. Look at what happened to Mike Miles and John McComish, our two biggest winners the past two seasons. They were head and shoulders the class of the Golden State, but they couldn't make it out on the tour, but they should benefit by playing on the Hogan.
"Of the 50 players who made it out of the PGA school last year, only 14 of them made enough money to keep their card. That means that 36 of the best young players in the country would be out of a job and face the prospect of another 108-hole qualifying school."
The big carrot being dangled in the 30 Hogan tournaments is that the five leading money winners will be exempt for the big tour in 1991.
Golf Digest, in its rating of America's 100 greatest courses, lists L. A. North No. 15, Riviera 39, La Quinta Hotel 49, Vintage Club at Indian Wells 92, and La Costa 100. The top six are 1. Pine Valley, N.J.; 2. Augusta (Ga.) National; 3. Shinnecock Hills, N.Y.; 4. Cypress Point; 5. Merion, Pa.; and 6. Pebble Beach.
Drag racing champions Ed (Ace) McCulloch and Butch Leal will be among players in the 15th annual National Hot Rod Assn.'s Winston Finals tournament Wednesday at Mountain Meadows GC in Pomona. . . . Sharon Onak defeated Lulu Howard, Donna Purcell and Karen Perkins for the Crystalaire CC women's championship. . . . A fund-raising tournament for the Bill Bryant Memorial Junior Golf Foundation will be played Nov. 14 at Industry Hills. . . . Former Laker Happy Hairston's celebrity event to benefit disadvantaged children is scheduled Oct. 30 at Braemar CC.
Glenn Chancellor has rejected a lucrative purchase bid from a Japanese group for his Sierra LaVerne CC course. . . . Why are the Japanese buying, or attempting to buy, so many Southern California courses? One reason may be that in Japan, the average cost of membership in a private club is $193,000 and a $153 fee for guests. Then there is Tokyo's Koganei CC where the membership fee is $2,344,000. That's right--2 million plus.
The 49er Hall of Fame tournament, which raises money for Cal State Long Beach athletic scholarships, will be played Monday at Old Ranch CC. . . . Bill Pickersgill's Pro-Am Golf Shows will put on a consumer golf show Nov. 4-5 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. . . . UCLA senior Rob Sullivan will represent the Bruins in the 15th John Hancock College All-American tournament starting Thursday in El Paso, Tex., and the U.S.-Japan collegiate tournament Dec. 5-7 in Tokyo.
The LPGA is getting into the Skins Game. J.C. Penney will sponsor the first women's Skins Game next Memorial Day weekend in Frisco, Tex., with Nancy Lopez, Jan Stephenson, JoAnne Carner and a player to be named. . . . The PGA version, matching Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd and Curtis Strange, is set for Nov. 24-26 at PGA West.
Col. Bill Carroll shot 73-75--148 in winning the Roland French Perpetual Trophy in the Retired Military Golfers Assn. tournament at Desert Falls CC and Indian Wells. The organization will hold its senior open Nov. 8-9 at Nellis AFB course in Las Vegas.
A new California-based tour for women professionals, Players West, will play a pro-am Oct. 30 at Upland Hills CC, followed by a 54-hole tournament Oct. 31-Nov. 2. The tour is open to pros and amateurs with a 6 or better handicap. . . . Senior Tour hopefuls will play their regional qualifying rounds starting Tuesday at Rancho California CC.