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What Is A Sponsor Exemption In The PGA Tour?

Many may think that sponsor exemptions in golf have to do with Monday qualifiers or even tour players trying to get on the field. However, that isn’t the case, as sponsor exemptions don’t take a spot from other players. So, what are sponsor exemptions in golf?

A sponsor exemption in golf is when an unqualified player or players are asked to compete in a professional golf tournament by the competition’s official sponsor. The tournament officials usually provide guidance on potential candidates.

Sponsor exemption is often referred to, but not many know just what it means or why it exists in the first place. We discuss all there is to know about what a sponsor’s exemption is in golf, what it is in PGA, and how golfers get a sponsor’s exemption.

What is a Sponsor Exemption in Golf?

What Is A Sponsor Exemption In Golf?

In a professional golf competition, spots available in the field are referred to as sponsor exemptions. They are reserved spots that the tournament’s sponsor may fill with whichever golfer they would like. Furthermore, a sponsor’s exemption varies from tour to tour.

A player must either qualify by virtue of prior performance or through a qualifying tournament to participate in a specific tournament. However, suppose a business or group financially supports or sponsors a tournament.

In that case, they are permitted to sponsor a certain number of golfers who might not otherwise be eligible to participate. Those players are admitted even though they do not otherwise meet the tournament’s qualification requirements.

To put it another way, the event sponsor has the right to declare that they want to offer one or more than one player a sponsor exemption, so they play in their tournament.

The main professional golf tours use a variety of qualification requirements to form their fields, often based on players’ standings on the money list, status as past champions, career earnings, etc.

However, a sponsor might desire to enter a golfer who didn’t meet those qualifications. For whatever rationale, the sponsor desires that specific player or players to participate in the tournament, and sponsor exemptions give the sponsor the power to add players to the field.

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Golf is a demanding sport, and often those that don’t play well will find themselves not qualifying, and this is a helping hand.

The event director often chooses who receives a sponsor exemption. However, such exemptions will go to players who the tournament director considers will help the tournament by increasing interest in the sport and media attention, for instance. This then benefits the sponsor.

Any non-eligible players may get an exemption from the sponsors into the field of play. They frequently go to a local golfer, a novice, a person supported by the tournament’s sponsor, an unrecognized veteran, etc.

Interestingly, there are different sponsor exemptions among different tours. The rules for sponsor exemptions differ from golf tour to golf tour, including the number of exemptions a tournament is allowed to grant, which players are qualified to obtain one, and more.

Depending on whether a tournament is invitational or open, the requirements vary. As the name implies, invitationals select their own criteria and invite the field in whatever way they see fit. These tournaments are rarer, more prestigious, and frequently give out greater sums of money.

“The Arnold Palmer Invitational which I attended in 2013 actually gives out 18 sponsors exemptions.”

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I would certainly put this high number down to Palmer’s wish to grow the game and give players not seen as superstars a shot at the ‘big time.’

Photo of the 16th green I took at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Bay Hill, Florida

What Is A Sponsor Exemption In The PGA Tour?

Players typically need to be eligible PGA Tour members to participate in a major tournament. However, businesses that sponsor golf tournaments occasionally invite competitors who wouldn’t usually be permitted to participate.

Alternatively, if you’re playing in an open tournament, you can get an entry by winning a preliminary qualifying competition.

According to status, opens are accessible to everyone with a PGA Tour card. Not every PGA Tour card holder enjoys the same degree of privileges or exemption. A PGA Tour event entry is known as an exemption.

Sponsor exemptions are granted to players with PGA Tour cards for a predetermined time, usually a couple of years. Individual event sponsors may provide a certain number of one-time exemptions, which they can distribute as they see suitable. These sponsor exemptions enable golfers who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible to compete.

Assume that Dell Computers is supporting a major competition. They invest substantial money to host this competition, so they are entitled to several benefits. One of those benefits is allowing a few players to compete despite the fact they aren’t eligible to do so in a PGA event.

If a player ever gets the chance to play a PGA Tour event without Tour status, they must make the most of the chance as in the recent case of Turk Pettit. The Korn Ferry pro earned a sponsor exemption to play in the 2022 Wells Fargo Championship where his spectacular clutch finish led to him making the cut.

Golfers are often only allowed to accept a certain amount of sponsor exemptions each year. However, this varies by tour. Members of the PGA Tour are permitted an endless amount of sponsor exemptions; non-members are permitted only seven.

St Andrews Old Course, Scotland. View of course in front of clubhouse.
St Andrews Old Course, Scotland.

How Do Golfers Get Sponsor Exemptions?

Players requiring sponsor exemptions generally ask tournament administrators for them in writing and then wait and cross their fingers.

The leading 125 players on tour, those who advance to the playoffs, are given full exemptions to the PGA Tour the following year. They can make their own timetables and choose which tournaments to participate in and which ones to skip.

Conditional status on the PGA Tour and complete status on the Korn Ferry Tour are given to the 25 golfers who place 126 – 150 on the season’s final money list. This indicates that they are eligible to participate in PGA Tour competitions if there is room.

There is a cap of eight sponsor exemptions per tournament. Amateurs are allowed as long as their handicaps are zero or lower. The field must be evaluated based on the players who placed 2 – 25 overall on the Tour. This is the total regular season and final money list from the previous year.

A minimum of two PGA Tour members who are not otherwise competing must also use sponsor exemptions. You’ll notice that PGA Tour events cannot use their exemptions at their discretion. Some rules must be adhered to.

Also, players returning from long injury layoffs ask to be considered for sponsor exemptions. They may well have fallen outside the top 125 in the world during their layoff and are looking for a helping hand to get back to full fitness.

Golf Green Next to Lake With a Fountain

Let’s Wrap This Up!

A sponsor exemption in golf is a perk for companies that sponsor the golfing event. It also allows players that don’t qualify to play in tours like the PGA.

However, only certain types of people would be given a sponsor exemption as sponsors do not take advantage of being given this leeway. Furthermore, a sponsor exemption brings a lot of attention to the sport.

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