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Why Are Golf Players Paid So Much?

With an estimated 26 million golfers in the United States of America, it is no wonder that the very best golfers in the world are rewarded with their raw talent and honed skills with significant prizes and salaries. But why are professional golfers paid so much?

Those who are involved in professional golf either as professional tour players or club professionals earn their money in the following ways:

  • Prize money from tournaments.
  • Endorsements.
  • Training, coaching, and salaries (usually for club pros).

You must bear in mind that while some professional tour golfers and club professionals do earn a substantial amount of money, this is entirely performance-driven and subject to various reasons.

A golf bag with clubs. Why Are Golfers Paid So Much?

Why Do Golfers Earn So Much Money?

Golf is an extremely expensive hobby for many golfers. Only a tiny percentage of those playing golf can ever earn money from the sport, let alone turn a profit in the tens of millions of dollars!

However, the very few world-class players rely on multiple sources of income through golf. Let’s explore them now:

Why Do Golf Tournaments Have Such Lucrative Prizes?

Prize money at golf tournaments, known as a golf purse, is the collective sum of money that a tournament acquires, which is distributed to golfers depending on their standing at the tournament.

The size of the golf purse is relative to its source, which is determined by numerous factors. These include the prestige of the tournament, the talent of the golfers competing, the number of golfers, and the revenue generated from the tournament.

Generally speaking, most golf purses at amateur tournaments are very small, as they are collected purely through the tournament revenue, golf membership fees, and entry fees.

They are also rarely paid in cash, usually in the form of vouchers for the pro shop or refreshments at the 19th hole, thus protecting the amateur status of the competition as no actual money changes hand.

However, once large sponsorships back tournaments, such as with international professional tournaments, then golf purses can increase exponentially, allowing for numerous participants to benefit from the distribution of a collective prize pool.

For example, it is estimated that PGA Tour events fund upwards of sixty percent of a golf purse from television broadcast rights alone, as these tournaments are shown globally via multiple broadcasters bidding for the right to distribute live footage.

Golf Course

The other forty percent of the prize money is provided by high-end sponsors that typically look to capitalize on the spending power of the middle to upper-class demographics that usually watch and frequent golf tournaments.

Initially, these tournaments brought in fairly moderate golf purses, with the PGA Tour seeing exponential growth in the size of its purses since the 1970s:

  • The 1970s: the PGA Tour paid approximately $5.5 million across 55 events (resulting in an average golf purse of $100,000 per event).
  • The 1980s: the PGA Tour paid approximately $46.3 million across 44 events (resulting in an average golf purse of over $1,000,000 per event).
  • The 2000s: the PGA Tour paid approximately $164.4 million across 44 events (resulting in an average golf purse of over $3,700,000 per event).
  • 2012: the PGA Tour paid approximately $257.5 million across 45 events (resulting in an average golf purse of $5,700,000 per event).
  • 2021/2022: the PGA Tour is expected to pay approximately $427 million across 47 events (resulting in an average golf purse of $9,100,000 per event).

The overall winner of PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour events will receive eighteen percent of the golf purse, while each successive place down the order to the ‘cut mark’ will receive a smaller percentage of the golf purse.

Players who do not ‘make the cut’ after two days of play, which means they already have too high a score to win the tournament, are withdrawn from the final two days and do not get paid.

But consistent ‘cut makers’ and even better ‘top 10 finishers’ make a very substantial living over a season.

Do you want to know which are the biggest golf tournaments? Check out this article, Biggest Golf Tournaments In The World.

Although the PGA Tour may be one of the most prestigious and lucrative tours to compete in, other tournaments across the globe offer similar prize pools and purse sharing. These include but are not limited to:

  • The Champions Tour: where the overall winner receives fifteen percent of the purse.
  • The LPGA: where the overall winner receives fifteen percent of the purse.
  • The European Tour: where the overall winner receives over sixteen percent of the purse.

To consider how much money professional tour golfers can earn from consistent tour performances, look no further than Chris Rodger’s earnings in the Asian Tour in 2011.

Despite finishing mid-table in the earnings of a moderately paying tour, coming 76th out of a pool of 151 golfers, Chris Rodgers still earned a respectable $47,000 throughout the tour from his share of the golf purse!

Why Do Professional Golfers Earn So Much For Endorsements?

While most professional tour golfers earn a substantial, consistent amount from sharing the golf purse at the end of each tour, the best golfers are often awarded even additional sources of income through endorsements.

These endorsements can range from actively advertising exclusively branded clothing and golf accessories during their game or off the course, such as advertising products, brands, services, etc.

For example, while Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson earned a respectable $3.3 million and $4.2 million from golf purses respectfully, they both topped the Sports Illustrated 2011 list of highest-earning American Athletes:

  • Tiger Woods: $63.3 million (indicating $60 million from endorsements).
  • Phil Mickelson: $61.2 million (indicating $57 million from endorsements).

Although both these athletes are outliers, having secured the number one and two spots of all American Athletes in 2011, it illustrates just how lucrative the profession can be for those at the top of their game.

Golf Putter and Golf Ball

Furthermore, the individual nature of the sport and brand association with excellence tied to golfers cannot be understated past retirement.

As was seen when Arnold Palmer (a retired golfer) managed to secure third place on the Golf Digest 2011 list of top earners, having secured $36 million through endorsements alone!

While there has been a notable increase in the amount of money earned by combat sports athletes, soccer players, and basketball players in recent years, the following golfers still made the top 50 list of the highest-paid sportsmen in the world in 2021:

  • Dustin Johnson: $40.8 million ($16 million in endorsements)
  • Phil Mickelson: $46.1 million ($42 million in endorsements)
  • Tiger Woods: $62.2 million ($60 million in endorsements)

How Do Professional Club Golfers Make Money?

Professional club golfers may also receive money from competing in events but seldom achieve the consistent purse success of their tour golfer counterparts. Consequently, professional club golfers typically rely on more consistent club duties.

While club duties may vary, they typically involve coaching, tournament assistance, and the managing of a professional shop; this means that along with a regular salary, many club professionals also earn commission from their club duties.

While club professionals may not earn lucrative purses and endorsement deals, they typically earn excellent, consistent salaries.

The following 2010 statistics illustrate these findings:  

  • Apprentices: A median of $28,000 a year (with a range of $18,000 to $43,000 a year).
  • Assistant full PGA professionals: A median of $37,000 a year (with a range of $22,000 to $59,000).
  • Full PGA professionals: A median of $68,000 a year (with a range of $40,000 to $140,000 a year).

While it is difficult to determine the growth of club professionals’ salaries into 2020 and beyond, it is estimated that entry-level salaries for apprentices have increased to a minimum of $22,000, with a median of $44,000!

This significant increase is likely to have been applied to both assistant and full PGA professionals toward the end of 2020 into 2021.

Final Thoughts

Yes, money at the top of the game is life-changing. Like other professional athletes, golfers have to be the absolute best to compete at a level whereby they can regularly succeed at tournaments to consistently secure prize money, endorsements, and other ventures.  

But remember, a professional golfer nearly always has to travel to a tournament and needs accommodation. They also usually employ at least a coach and a caddie, all of which have to be paid for out of the winnings.

Do you want to learn how to become a pro golfer? Check out this post, 7 Ways To Become a Pro Golfer.

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