Meet Luke: a 40-year-old accountant living in Florida with his husband and three kids. He’s always been a casual golfer, but since moving to Florida last year, Luke has made it a priority to get out to a local course three or four times a week, whether with friends or on his own. He’s spent a good chunk of time at the range on his own working out the kinks of his game, but for a while now he’s been wanting more. More competition, more of a challenge, and — with the constantly looming expenses that come with three kids — the chance to bring home more money.

Enter the Minor League Golf Tour (MLGT). Based in Jupiter, Florida, the MLGT was founded in 2004 with the goal of providing “an affordable training ground for aspiring players to hone their game.” Founder Jay Slazinski’s concept for the tour was — and still is — that “you can work and still have the opportunity to play 10-12 competitive rounds per month.”

Similar to minor league baseball, MLGT provides a place for those, like Luke, who want more chances to chase that dream or the possibility of bringing in some cash from competing in a game they enjoy. Since 2004, more than 3,500 players have joined the MLGT. More than 1,500 tournaments have been held, and according to MLGT numbers, more than $10 million has been paid out to winners of their events.

Most MLGT tournaments are held within 90 miles of Jupiter, which makes it a bit more difficult for those who live outside of the Sunshine State and don’t have a private plane (or enough free airline miles) to travel to and from competitions. 

But, non-Floridians, fear not: MLGT runs a 46-week, year-round event schedule made up of a combination of one-day, two-day and three-day tournament formats. The goal is to provide players plenty of training and competition opportunities necessary to advance to the next level in professional golf. 

Joining the tour

Not just anyone can join the MLGT; you do have to have some skill. Any professional golfer or skilled amateur with a USGA handicap of 6.0 or less is eligible. Annual membership will run you $300 per year, but there are also options for a six-month membership ($200), one-month membership ($100), or single-event membership ($50).

In addition to the membership fee, playing in an MLGT event will run you $125-$250 per day, with daily costs often being higher for majors and special multi-day events. 

Let’s take these numbers back to Luke: He’s ready to commit, so he signs on for an annual membership, with the goal of competing in 10 standard, single-day events. In this scenario, one year of MLGT will cost him $1,550-$2,800. The total will increase if he decides to play in more events, tournaments that span multiple days, or major contests, but this is his baseline. 

But just maybe he could go big someday. 

Minors to majors: What are the chances?

Better than your chances of making it from minor league baseball into the majors. 

In 2019-2020, 64 golfers who had played on the MLGT earned playing privileges on the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour — the golf equivalent to baseball’s Triple-A league — while 24 golfers earned playing privileges directly on the PGA Tour.

If you don’t make it straight to the PGA, there’s still hope: Once you’ve made it to the KFT, there’s a nearly 20% chance of going on to compete on the PGA Tour. 

Even so, putting in your time in golf’s minor leagues isn’t as necessary as in other pro sports. Take baseball, where skipping the minor league is extremely rare. In fact, only two players have done so in the last 20 years, Mike Leake in 2010 and Xavier Nady in 2000. And in professional basketball, minor league experience is growing more common: In the 2018–19 season, an all-time high 40% of players on NBA start-of-season rosters had NBA G League experience — 198 of the league’s 494 players.

But one of the biggest selling points of playing the MLGT before rushing into the PGA Tour or other major is that it allows you to live, work, play, practice and train while determining if your skill can handle top-level competition. MLGT alumni who have played in the majors include Brooks Koepka and Marc Turnesa. 

Why not try for the PGA Tour if you’re good enough to compete?

Some players want to make it to the PGA Tour, but others simply want the opportunity to make a little extra cash. According to MLGT, The economics of professional golf are very harsh. Almost every player without major tour status will need to be subsidized to continue chasing the dream.” 

They aren’t wrong. Here are some costs of PGA Tour-owned tournaments:

  • Q-School entry: $4,500-$5,200
  • PGA Tour LatinoAmerica Q-School entry: $2,700 each attempt
  • PGA Tour Canada (Mackenzie) Q-School entry: $2,700 each attempt
  • Monday Qualifiers PGA/Web: ~$450
  • Travel expenses: $1,000+ per week

On top of that, the majors are highly competitive, and it can take years to determine if your game can handle world-class competition. If your tournament scoring average is not under par, and you have to pay travel and lodging expenses on top of entry fees, you’re stuck paying a huge sum for very little earning potential. 

MLGT, on the other hand, allows players to have a lower initial buy-in while still gaining experience on a tour that historically sends players onto the majors and provides the opportunity to bring in income while doing it. 

Is the earnings potential worth the buy-in?

MLGT data shows the top earner is Sunny Kim, who has brought in nearly $295,000 in his career. The top 12 earners have made more than $100,000 each throughout their MLGT careers. 

Breaking it down into yearly earnings, the top earner in 2019, Eric Cole, brought in $37,000. The top 22 earners each made more than $10,000, and the top six each brought home more than $20,000. 

In MLGT events, last place in the top quarter of the field in an event earns at least their entry fee (anywhere from $150 and up, depending on the structure of the event). So, let’s return to Luke: It’s his first year, so he does okay, finishing in at least last place in the top quarter in all 10 events he played in, and finishing in the top 15 for five of them — nearly $3,000 in total.

These earnings potentials are similar, or better, to those seen in baseball. The first contract season of minor league baseball players allows for a $1,100 maximum per month, or just over $13,000 per year, prior to taxes. Once in Triple-A, players are making $2,000-$2,500 per month, or $24,000-$30,000 per year, pre-tax. 

And what if I’m Laura instead of Luke?

Women are welcome in the MLGT. They play no less than 90% of the yardage on each hole, and they compete in the same events as the men. A notable MLGT alumna is Lexi Thompson, three-time winner of the LPGA. 

The verdict: It’s worth it

Are you a better-than-average golfer living in Florida? Do you want the chance to make some cash from your golf prowess? Even if you’re not pro-level, or you don’t care about making it to the PGA Tour, playing the MLGT ups the ante — especially for sticks, or hacks with a little extra cash who dream of one day being sticks.

For those who are interested in using it as a route to going pro, it’s certainly doable and has been done before. Why can’t it be done by you?

And so, we finish as we began, with Luke — focused on his earnings potential and getting the chance to compete at a higher level. He spent $2,000 on his membership and entry fees. By finishing in at least the top quarter of each event, he made back all his entry fees ($1,700), and with finishing in the top 15 of five of those events, he managed to bring home some extra cash to help pay for those three adorable monsters sucking their bank account dry. 

Not bad for a year’s worth of competitive golf, and certainly enough to convince him to do it again next year. What more could a golfer want?

Kaitlin Schuler

Kaitlin is a contributing writer for Stick and Hack. Her dad is a lover of the game, so she's always owned a set of clubs—despite only occasionally making it out to a course. Kaitlin may not be a golf fanatic, but she loves writing, reporting, and spending hours searching for the answers to strange questions. (Got some odd questions related to golf or its history? Send a message her way!)