There’s no denying it. Golf is an expensive sport.
As much as we all love this game, it’s hard to ignore the final bill as we unwillingly return home after the 19th hole. However, if you think golf puts a dent in your back pocket, would you believe me if I told you it costs even more to be a professional golfer?
Contrary to popular belief, the financial obligations of a professional golfer can be extremely burdensome.
For anyone who decides to pursue this profession, it’s a long and costly journey–especially those fortunate enough to walk off the 18th green on Sunday with a trophy and check in hand.
In this article, we will explain most of a professional golfer’s primary expenses ranging from travel to their caddie’s cut, and in turn, illustrate how much cash winnings a PGA Tour player actually takes home.
So, how much does it cost to be a professional golfer? Let’s find out!
Table of Contents
- Do Professional Golfers Pay Their Own Expenses?
- What Types of Expenses Do They Pay?
- How Much Money Do Professional Golfers Actually Take Home?
- The Takeaway – How Much Does it Cost to Be a Professional Golfer?
Do Professional Golfers Pay Their Own Expenses?
Unlike typical professions where the employer will either front the bill or charge the expenses back to the company itself, professional golfers have to pay their own way.
No matter the tour or circuit one plays on, all professional golfers must pay for the bulk, if not all, of their own expenses. However, not all expenses are created equally.
Although quite counterintuitive, the general rule on how much a professional should expect to pay is as follows: the lower the level of circuit, the higher the fees/expenses will be.
In the United States, the highest level of professional golf is the PGA Tour. One swing away lays the Korn Ferry Tour. Here, players can still make a decent living playing golf but haven’t quite achieved elite status.
Next down you have your early developmental tours. After completing Q-School, players may earn the right to play these circuits such as the Canadian or Latin American Tour. At the bottom of the professional golf totem pole sits the mini-tours and state opens.
These “pay-to-play” tournaments are usually situated within a particular region of the country and are extremely hard to make a living off of.
For purposes of getting a better understanding of how much it costs to be a professional golfer, we will keep the meat of our discussion within the realm of the PGA Tour.
What Types of Expenses Do They Pay?
These expenses can differ depending on where the tournament is located, how far away a player lives from that city and how much luxury the player can afford to travel in.
However, usually, the money always flows to the same places week-in and week-out: airfare, hotels, cars, and food.
Tournament Entry Fees
Anyone planning to play in a professional golf tournament must pay an entry fee, unless otherwise exempt.
A tournament’s entry fee is primarily dependent upon the tier of the professional circuit.
Most of the PGA Tour’s household names have their entry fees covered by either sponsor or the various television networks broadcasting the individual tournaments. The only real upfront payment is a mandatory $50 locker room fee.
As for the mini-tour players yearning to climb the ladder, their entry fees typically start around $800 and can even reach north of $1,000.
Keep in mind that entry fees for these smaller regional tournaments create the event’s purse which is why they are usually more expensive to enter.
Annual Dues & Initiation Fees
All players on the Tour are required to pay annual dues and initiation fees. Each is $100, which is a nominal amount in comparison to an average player’s salary (we will touch on this later).
In order to compete in pre-qualifying tournaments, the majority of Tour pros cough up $400 as a qualifying fee. For those playing on the Korn Ferry or Champions Tours, this fee is set at $100.
This is a category we are all familiar with. It’s common knowledge that almost all Tour pros have their equipment sponsors pay for their clubs, golf balls, etcetera.
But, just in case you equip your bag in the same manner, let’s break down the fair market value of Tiger’s bag for the 2020 season:
Driver: TaylorMade SIM ($499.99)
3-Wood: TaylorMade M5 ($299.99)
5-Wood: TaylorMade M3 ($299.99)
2-Iron: TaylorMade P790 UI ($229.99)
3-Iron to PW: TaylorMade P7TW Prototype blades ($1,999.99/set)
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind 2 ($124/each)
Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport 2 Timeless Prototype (Unknown)
Ball: Bridgestone Tour B XS ($44.99)
(*all prices according to Amazon.com)
Excluding his custom-made putter, Tiger’s equipment costs amount to a whopping $3,622.94, pre-tax.
According to SportEKZ and Forbes Magazine, Tour caddies generally receive a weekly base pay of $2,000 plus a fixed percentage of their player’s prize money (anywhere from 5%-10%).
For the game’s bigger names, caddies can earn bonus money on their player’s endorsements.
For the 2020 season, Justin Thomas, who was the overall money leader on tour, paid his caddie, Jimmy Johnson, $502,851.
During the course of his storied career, which has primarily consisted of carrying Tiger’s bag, Steve Williams amassed a net worth of over $20 million!
Travel (Flights & Transportation)
We all know flying anywhere isn’t cheap, especially if your profession forces you to travel 25-30 weeks out of the year. That’s why one of the biggest hits to every professional golfer’s checkbook is the cost of airfare and rental cars.
Although it’s difficult to estimate an exact figure, a big factor in ascertaining the costs associated with flying is the city where the tournament is located.
For instance, Bay Hill in Orlando, which is the home of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, is a much easier and inexpensive destination for most of the players to reach, given that the majority of them live in Florida.
On the flip side, the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii is highly regarded as one of the most financially burdensome tournaments to travel to.
Another factor to consider is the relative distance between the course’s exact location and a major metropolitan airport.
Players planning to play in next season’s 3M Open hosted at TPC Twin Cities will need to rent a car from Minneapolis and drive 45 minutes north to Blaine, Minnesota.
Sure, it may be a relaxing and mind-clearing trip, but gas and daily rental car fees add up and are entirely the players’ responsibility.
Lodging (Hotels & Rental Homes)
Another considerable factor of a professional golfer’s expense report is the cost of lodging.
It’s understood that players’ are responsible for putting up their caddies.
But, players also have to take into consideration the other people in their camp when computing these costs such as their families, coaches, or buddies who want to travel and stay with them.
Luckily, since the inception of companies like Airbnb and VRBO, today’s players now have greater flexibility and more options when it comes to where and how close to the course they can stay.
State Income Taxes
The two things that are guaranteed in every working American’s life are death and taxes.
Therefore, I’ll skip over discussing the obligation of paying federal income tax and outline paying taxes at the state level.
An often overlooked expense a professional golfer would be remiss to ignore is the state income tax. Like every other vocation, professional golfers are required to pay income taxes on prize money in any state with a state income tax rate.
I, thankfully, live in Texas where there is no such thing. So, players competing in the Valero Texas Open or those who qualify for the Dell Technologies Match Play don’t have anything to worry about.
On the other hand, every Tour pro who makes the cut at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am is obliged to pay a portion of their winnings to the state of California.
An additional aspect of a player’s tax return hinges on where they permanently reside. Depending on the particular state’s tax code combined with the professional golfer’s yearly earnings, this expense could easily exceed all others and be the biggest blow to a player’s paycheck.
Health & Wellness
In the current state of today’s Tour, what was once considered a luxury is now a staple in every player’s routine.
Like every professional athlete, maintaining peak physical shape and keeping injuries at bay are crucial aspects of every professional golfer’s daily life. Therefore, following a golf strength training routine has many benefits.
Also, almost all of them prioritize eating a healthy diet.
Thus, given that they are on the road almost half the year, some will fly their personal trainers out to the course to continue working out with them.
And too, others will even demand their personal chef travel with them as well. Let’s not forget though, all of a personal trainer’s and/or private chef’s expenses are all on the player’s dime too.
How Much Money Do Professional Golfers Actually Take Home?
According to the PGA Tour, during the 2020 season, the average Tour pro went home with a little over $1 million in cash winnings.
If you have stopped reading this article and are already on your way to the driving range, I don’t blame you.
Not a terrible industry to be “average” in. For those of you still with me and curious as to who finished in last and with what, it was the veteran Carlos Franco who only took home $6,390.
To gain a better idea of how to break down a professional golfer’s expenses, let’s assume it was you that made the cut but finished in last at this past year’s Northern Trust tournament. Congrats! Your cash winnings totaled $19,475. Not bad for a weekend on the course.
Assuming you have your entry fee and equipment taken care of by sponsors and are current on your annual dues and initiation fees, let’s see how much of the almost 20 large will get deposited into your account on Wednesday (that’s the Tour’s “payday”):
- Locker Room = $50
- Caddie = $2,950 (weekly base + 10% of prize money)
- Travel = $1,000 (flights, car)
- Lodging = $600
- Family/Friends = $300
- State Income Tax = $950 (roughly 10% of prize money)
- Miscellaneous = $1,000 (personal trainer, food, living expenses)
Total Prize Winnings = $19,475
Total Expenses = ($6,850)
Total Payout = $12,625
Even though these are ballpark figures, about a third of your prize winnings will be reduced by obligatory expenses. A bit surprising, isn’t it?
The Takeaway – How Much Does it Cost to Be a Professional Golfer?
As with most professional athletes, professional golfers make a lot of money. One weekend may change the course of their entire lives.
However, the figure written in bold on the highly coveted check on Sunday isn’t exactly what it purports to be. The weekly expenses associated with playing professionally often go unseen and unrealized.
By now, I hope you have a little bit better of an idea of how much it truly costs to be a professional golfer. Like I said before, it’s certainly not cheap!