Welcome one and all to another blog. I trust all is good wherever you are and that the golfing gods are treating you well and your game is in fine fettle.
Recently, I was lucky enough to have a place in the Jamega Tour pro-am played at my home course Royal Ascot Golf Club. So what is the Jamega Tour? In simple terms, it was set up in 2005 as a developmental tour to give a platform for professional golfers to experience life as a touring pro. Over the last 16 years it witnessed several Jamega Pro Golf Tour players progressing to European tour and Challenge tour status. This includes Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston and Tyrrell Hatton who are making a real impact on both the European Tour and the PGA circuit. As well as the pro-am event, there was also a 36 hole, two day "Royal Ascot Classic" event for the professionals and a number of amateur entrants with £10,000 in prize money available for the professionals to win.
Despite the difficult circumstances we have all had to endure, the Jamega Tour has worked hard and created two mini order of merits for the final part of this season with some excellent incentives for the winners including 2022 Jamega playing rights and place on the 2022 Portugal Tour which will give a real step up to the next level on the professional golfing ladder. Check the Jamega website here
I have been lucky enough over my golfing journey to have played in a number of pro-am events including some celebrity versions. As a humble club golfer, these can be intimidating, especially when playing with a well known celebrity but also when playing with professionals trying to earn a living. It is great if you arrive on the day with a vaguely competent game but if you are having a bad day you simply want to keep out of the way and not put off your playing partners or more importantly the professional you are paired with.
Royal Ascot Golf Club has been host to a number of Jamega Tour events in the past few years and the professionals are always very complimentary about the challenge the course presents but more importantly how well it looks and plays especially the greens. This event was no exception and with the greens staff led by Head Greenkeeper Ian Hockley working hard, the greens were mown and ironed and were running very nicely at around 10.5 on the stimp meter and so more than adequate to ask questions of the twenty six teams. These were made up of a professional and three club members, playing better ball stableford with the best two out of four scores counting and the professional also keeping teir own score and playing for their own individual prize pot. As always, a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes and so a massive thanks must go to Alison Hall, the club general manager, John Bray, club captain and the Jamega team lead by Patrick Blunt, Gary Harris and Sally Jones.
I was with my usual golfing partner, Dave Hurn and a previous club captain Martin "Bash" Davis and we were partnered by Steve Tooth, who hails from the Birmingham area, playing predominantly out of the Forest of Arden and Robin Hood golf clubs. He was also well aware of Nailcote Hall, home of the British Par 3 championship and we shared my experiences from the 2021 event I attended as the round progressed. If you haven't read the blog "We're back.. and it feels so good" for the event you can rectify that instantly by clicking here
You'll be relieved to read that I won't bore you with the nitty gritty of the round suffice to say it was a shotgun start and the team started slowly having started on the fifth hole at Royal Ascot, a dog legged par five, got better on the back nine and the first couple of holes on the front nine but fell away at the finish. It was all good enough for the team to finish tied 9th on 84 points, with the winners scoring a massive 92. Steve Tooth really couldn't buy a birdie for most of the round and then found three in a row and eventually finished tied 7th on -2. It was a fantastic event topped off with an excellent spread of food afterwards before the prizes and cheques were handed out.
I took away a number of things from both the pro-am and especially the professionals event the following two days. As per the title, the reality of being a professional golfer, even at this level is hard. Really hard. There were four prize cheques available for the pro-am and the £10,000 pot for the professional event only paid down to tied 12th (-2). Now I know this is the same for all professional tournaments, but as a development tour with entry fees to be paid (£250 for two day events and £175 for one day competitions - based on being a tour member, it's more if not) it shows you just how on your game you have to be each and every time you rock up to an event to stand any chance of making anything resembling a profit over the season.
The thing is, even at this level, the quality on display is really high and having watched Steve Tooth compile his score, it makes you acutely aware not only of your own golfing short comings but how even when not necessarily hitting it great or making putts they can still put a decent score together. Sadly come the main event Steve didn't have the first round he'd have hoped for. In the end the event was won by an amateur Habebul Islam with rounds of 65 and 67 (-8). First prize in the pro event was shared by Eion Leonard and Ryan Thomas on -7.
Further down the professional golf pyramid lies a number of mini tours enabling aspiring European Tour pros to regularly ply their trade or for established players to get some competitive action in before the more lucrative events. The UK has arguably one of the most healthy ‘Mini Tour’ circuits so what are these events?
Founded by European Tour player Chris Hanson and his caddy Adam Walker, the 2020protour has burst onto the scene in 2020 with great success. With an equitable policy that has seen a female winner, the 2020protour features plenty of big prizes for participating players including a race to 100 birdies £20,000 prize. Golfers such as Jamie Donaldson, Carly Booth, and Meghan Maclaren have all played on the Tour with its roots firmly based in Yorkshire.
Clutch Pro Tour
The Clutch Pro Tour is another Mini Tour that has really come into its own this year. With prize pots of £10,000 to the winner of Major events, its no surprise the tour has attracted the likes of European Tour regulars Andy Sullivan, Richard Bland, and Robert Rock. Big partnerships with the likes of Mizuno Golf and Modest Golf Management has really thrust the Clutch Pro Tour into the spotlight.
Boasting Challenge Tour starts, healthy prize pots and a raft of experience, the Jamega Tour is a place for pros to really get their eye in and test themselves to see if they have what it takes to take the next step in their careers. A packed calendar at truly fantastic venues is a real stand out feature for the Jamega developmental tour.
1836 Golf Tour
The 1836 Golf Tour is one of the more established Mini Tours having been around for a number of years now. Like most tours, it offers a comprehensive order of merit and plenty of incentives for players looking to make the step to bigger things. Created for professionals by professionals, 1836 packs in a strong annual calendar and season ending finale.
Professional golf is clearly enjoying a boom period, particularly the male game. As you rise from these mini tours, the Europro tour becomes the next target. The PGA EuroPro Tour is Europe’s leading development tour, and the European Tour’s satellite in the UK and Ireland. Offering direct access to the Challenge Tour through the final Order of Merit, PGA EuroPro Tour players will compete for over £900,000 of prize money in 2021, with the top five golfers at the end of the season awarded a category on the 2021 Challenge Tour. The PGA EuroPro Tour provides Europe’s best up-and-coming golfers the chance to gain the necessary experience of life on tour, and in particular in front of the TV cameras. A two-hour highlights package from each event is broadcast on Sky Sports, and on 98 networks around the world reaching 500 million homes.
The problem is simple. Having seen the quality of golf on display at this single Jamega Tour event, and speaking to some of the professionals afterwards, it is a very tough school. Several said it becomes very apparent, very early on whether you have the game to compete and very often a lot of very good young players with big aspirations, sometimes bank rolled by "bank of mum and dad" find while they may be a big fish in the relatively small pond of their club and local events, this tour will highlight the flaws and many work out quickly perhaps they haven't got what it takes after all. That of course can be said of all of these tours and the stark reality is that is what they are there to do. In any professional sporting environment, the best will rise to the top and many others will fall by the way side. That is the hard reality of professional golf and indeed professional sport.
That said, it is still a long way from the old days where a club professional would compete in the local PGA region at the odd event and club pro-ams and try to eek out some winnings to top up any club retainer or earnings from the club shop. It was far harder to get any sort of footing on the competitive ladder, play against better players and really find out if you had what it needed. This is where these mini tours play a huge part in finding and developing talent and how with hard work and dedication the players can begin to make a name and climb the ranks.
All in all the pro-am and professional event proved to me that it really is a hard road for these guys. The mini tours work so hard to provide as many events as possible but there are so many, very talented golfers all fighting for the limited spoils. It must take an awful lot of self-belief, dedication and hard work to be able to break out of these tours and take that step up to the next level, be that the Europro tour or wherever. Even if you make it to that level, the quality of the fields is a step up and so the cycle of learning to score, improve the game, travel to events and grind out performances starts once again. There are many tales from the upper echelon of the European Tour of players that worked so hard for so many years, got to the "promised land" and found that they simply couldn't compete and retain their tour card and status.
Golf is hard. As club golfers we know that only too well and how hard it can be to take a few quid off your mates at the weekend, to get your handicap down and to even win a club competition like the monthly medal. Even as a professional it is no different and while there is no handicap as such to worry about, winning still takes a huge effort, good play and perhaps a modicum of fortune. However dreams can come true and many of those aspiring for the big time can take heart at the recent win on the European Tour by Daniel Gavins.
While he arrived at the ISPS HANDA World Invitational in decent form and on the back of two top 10s on the Challenge Tour, two previous visits to the European Tour in 2016 and 2019 produced only frustration and speedy returns to the lower reaches of the professional game. Indeed, Gavins spent 2018 competing on the third-division EuroPro Tour. He managed to over turn a seven shot deficit going into the last round. It just goes to show, if you have a dream, are prepared to take the hits along the way and work hard, good things can happen.
The Jamega Tour circus has left town and will be rocking up to another venue soon. It definitely fulfils the brief of getting professionals ready for life as a touring professional and as we hopefully continue to come out of the mess of Covid, the 2022 season will be even bigger and better. Players will keep dreaming of making the next step and the likes of you and me may get a chance to see close up just how good these guys are and why it is all so hard to progress. They really do play a different game to the one I/we play.
I hope you enjoyed my Jamega experience and my take on what it's like for these guys at the start of their touring professional aspirations. A massive thanks once again for everyone at Royal Ascot and the Jamega Tour for their hard work in putting the event on. If you ever get the opportunity to see any of these events or take part in a pro-am then I strongly recommend it. It's a great experience.
Have you played in any of these type of events, either as a professional or part of a pro-am team. I'd love to hear your own experiences either in the comments section below or via my social media links (see the Three Off The Tee frontpage to go straight to them). I'd love you to share this blog and the site with as many people as possible. It makes a massive difference and helps get the word out about the site.
I still have plenty more coming up including some product reviews I think you'll be interested in, especially with Christmas on the horizon. Stay tuned for those and in the meantime thank you again for reading this and your continued support. Stay safe, golf well and I'll be back in the near future.