Professional golf tours
There are at least twenty professional golf tours, each run by a PGA or an independent tour organization, which is responsible for arranging events, finding sponsors, and regulating the tour. Typically a tour has “members” who are entitled to compete in most of its events, and also invites non-members to compete in some of them. Gaining membership of an elite tour is highly competitive, and most professional golfers never achieve it.
The most widely known tour is the PGA Tour, which tends to attract the strongest fields, outside the four Majors and the four World Golf Championships events. This is due mostly to the fact that most PGA Tour events have a first prize of at least US $800,000. The PGA European Tour, which attracts a substantial number of top golfers from outside North America, ranks second to the PGA Tour in worldwide prestige. Some top professionals from outside North America play enough tournaments to maintain membership on both the PGA Tour and European Tour.
The other leading men’s tours include the Japan Golf Tour, the Asian Tour (Asia outside Japan), the PGA Tour of Australasia, and the Sunshine Tour (for Southern Africa, primarily South Africa). The Japan, Australasian, Sunshine, PGA, and European Tours are the charter members of the trade body of the world’s main tours, the International Federation of PGA Tours, founded in 1996. The Asian Tour became a full member in 1999. The Canadian Tour became an associate member of the Federation in 2000, and the Tour de las Américas (Latin America) became an associate member of the Federation in 2007. The Federation underwent a major expansion in 2009 which saw 11 new tours become full members—the Canadian Tour, Tour de las Américas, China Golf Association, the Korea Professional Golfers’ Association, Professional Golf Tour of India, and the operators of all six major women’s tours worldwide. The OneAsia Tour, founded in 2009, is not a member of the Federation, but was founded as a joint venture of the Australasia, China, Japan, and Korean tours. The charter members of the Federation, as well as the Asian, Canadian and OneAsia Tours, offer points in the Official World Golf Rankings to players who place sufficiently high in their events.
Golf is unique in having lucrative competition for older players. There are several senior tours for men 50 and older, the best known of which is the U.S.-based Champions Tour.
There are six principal tours for women, each based in a different country or continent. The most prestigious of these is the United States based LPGA Tour. All of the principal tours offer points in the Women’s World Golf Rankings for high finishers in their events.
All of the leading professional tours for under-50 players have an official developmental tour, in which the leading players at the end of the season will earn a tour card on the main tour for the following season. Examples include the Nationwide Tour, which feeds to the PGA Tour, and the Challenge Tour, which is the developmental tour of the European Tour. The Nationwide and Challenge Tours also offer Official World Golf Rankings points.
Men’s major golf championships
The major championships are the four most prestigious men’s tournaments of the year. In chronological order they are: The Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open Championship (referred to in North America as the British Open) and the PGA Championship.
The fields for these events include the top several dozen golfers from all over the world. The Masters has been played at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia since its inception in 1934. It is the only major championship that is played at the same course each year. The U.S. Open and PGA Championship are played at courses around the United States, while The Open Championship is played at courses in the UK.
Prior to the advent of the PGA Championship and The Masters, the four Majors were the U.S. Open, the U.S. Amateur, the Open Championship, and the British Amateur.
Women’s major golf championships
Women’s golf does not have a globally agreed set of majors. The list of majors recognised by the dominant women’s tour, the LPGA Tour in the U.S., has changed several times over the years, with the last change in 2001. Like the PGA Tour, the (U.S.) LPGA has four majors: the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open and the Women’s British Open. Only the last of these is also recognised by the Ladies European Tour. The other event that it recognises as a major is the Evian Masters, which is not considered a major by the LPGA (but is co-sanctioned as a regular LPGA event). However, the significance of this is limited, as the LPGA is far more dominant in women’s golf than the PGA Tour is in mainstream men’s golf. For example, the BBC has been known to use the U.S. definition of “women’s majors” without qualifying it. Also, the Ladies’ Golf Union, the governing body for women’s golf in the UK and Republic of Ireland, states on its official website that the Women’s British Open is “the only Women’s Major to be played outside the U.S.” For many years, the Ladies European Tour tacitly acknowledged the dominance of the LPGA Tour by not scheduling any of its own events to conflict with the three LPGA majors played in the U.S., but that changed in 2008, with the LET scheduling an event opposite the LPGA Championship. The second-richest women’s tour, the LPGA of Japan Tour, does not recognise any of the U.S. LPGA or European majors as it has its own set of majors (historically three, since 2008 four). However, these events attract little notice outside Japan.
Senior major championships
Senior (50-and-over) men’s golf does not have a globally agreed upon set of majors. The list of senior majors on the U.S.-based Champions Tour has changed over the years, but always by expansion. The Champions Tour now recognises five majors: the Senior PGA Championship, the United States Senior Open, the Senior British Open Championship, The Tradition and the Senior Players Championship. Of the five events, the Senior PGA is by far the oldest, having been founded in 1937. The other events all date from the 1980s, when senior golf became a commercial success as the first golf stars of the television era, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, reached the relevant age. The Senior British Open was not recognised as a major by the Champions Tour until 2003. The European Seniors Tour recognises only the Senior PGA and the two Senior Opens as majors. However, the Champions Tour is arguably more dominant in global senior golf than the U.S. LPGA is in global women’s golf.