Amateur tours: What you need to know
As golfers across Alabama await the Deep South’s warm weather to arrive, it’s time to start planning tournament schedules for the year.
Of course, tournament golf doesn’t have to be played in charity scrambles or confined to Alabama Golf Association events.
Instead, there are ample opportunities for serious or weekend golfers to find stroke-play events on the numerous amateur tours operating in Alabama.
A person just needs to find the right tour to play on. Two of the most popular tours are the Golfweek Amateur Tour and the recently rebranded Southern Fairways Golf Tour. The Golfweek Amateur tour operates throughout the state, while the Southern Fairways Golf Tour is primarily along the Gulf Coast.
Amateur tours offer one- and two-day events
Other tours operating in Alabama include the Amateur Players Tour, the U.S. Am Tour, south Alabama’s Lite Scratch Tour and the Central Alabama Golf Association.
The tours offer one- and two-day events and lock in some of the state’s best courses.
According to Joey Johnson, who operates the Southern Fairways Golf Tour along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, and Scott Parker, who heads the popular Golfweek Amateur Tour and hosts events across the state, playing on these tours has never been more popular. Each has seen exponential growth since the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I would say probably the first two or three years our average was around 45 or 50 players in each event,” Johnson said recently. “I guess it would have been that fourth year we really experienced a bit of a boom. Golf was booming at the time, so we were fortunate in that.”
Johnson said that as the Southern Fairways Golf Tour gained more credibility, its numbers continued to rise.
Amateur tours enjoying post-pandemic growth
“What really helped grow our tour in addition to just the general boom was that we created some credibility,” he said. “Then really it was more of an organic growth through the players who had played with us for a couple of years, and then they really started to bring their buddies on and then in turn they brought their friends.”
Johnson said the past three years Southern Fairways Golf Tour events have averaged 90 players per tournament.
Parker tells a similar story about the Golfweek Amateur Tour. He said the tour had 27 members in 2013, the tour’s first year. In 2023, the tour boasted 157 members.
“Last year we had a couple of tournaments that were 100-player tournaments and we filled them up,” he said. “The majority of them I tried to book somewhere between 60 and 72 tee times and we usually don’t have a problem getting the players in.”
Parker said one advantage of playing the Golfweek Amateur Tour is that members can play in events across the country.
“Let’s say you miss one of our tournaments and you’re traveling somewhere on vacation and there’s a Golfweek Tour. More than likely there’s going to be a tournament there and you can play in that tournament and make up and earn points back for your local tour.”
Johnson said the biggest draws for his tour, and likely the others, is the competition and the camaraderie.
“We have so many players who did not know each other and have met through the tour and have gotten to be friends and now they play outside the tour,” Johnson said. “Probably the most rewarding thing is to see that a lot of friendships have been made.”
Johnson said he expects the tour to be fun and offer fair competition.
“The competitive integrity of the tour is very important to us,” he said. “We’re not playing for big money, but we’ve had a umber of skins winners win $800 or $900. I don’t think we’ve hit a $1,000 yet, but we’ve had a couple right around the $900 mark just for winning a skin. So, the competitive integrity is very important. At the same time, we want it to be sort of a blend of going out and playing with your buddies, but also keeping it somewhat serious and keeping that competition fair for everybody.”
The Southern Fairways Tour uses the Modified Stableford scoring system. Players get points for eagles, birdies, pars, etc. Safeguards in place ostensibly to stop players from sandbagging.
“We know most of our players or we know a player who knows the player,” Johnson said. “So, sandbagging really hasn’t been an issue in our events. I won’t say that it couldn’t have ever happened, but we’ve been very pleased with that part of it and the fact that guys have been pretty honest with us about their ability.”
The Golfweek Amateur features stroke play events and each tournament is divided into flights. Players accumulate points throughout the season and flight winners have their entry fee paid into the national tournament at Hilton Head, South Carolina.
According to the tour manual, prizes are awarded in the form of gift cards or pro shop credit.
No USGA handicaps required
A handicap is not required to play on the Golfweek Amateur Tour, but Parker tries to get new players to send in five or six of their most recent scores in an effort to place them in the proper flight.
While Johnson’s Southern Fairways Golf Tour extensively is played at venues across the Gulf Coast, Parker has turned the Golfweek Amateur Tour into a state tour with events ranging from Muscle Shoals and Huntsville to south Alabama, including Dothan and Mobile. Parker said he has seen steady growth on the tour from the Mobile and Dothan areas simply because the tour hosts events in those areas.
Another appeal of the Golfweek Amateur Tour is that Parker tries to utilize the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses as much as possible. He said they have good brand awareness and he knows those facilities will run first-class events.
“You always know what you are going to get,” he said. “They are good courses and they post their maintenance schedules so you know when they are going to punch their greens.”
Each tour offers on average one tournament per month. The Southern Fairways Golf Tour (southernfairwaysgolf.com) opens its season Feb. 18 at the Peninsula Club and has other stops at Craft Farms, Windance, Hidden Creek, Lost Key, Glen Lakes, Tiger Point and Gulf Shores Golf Club.
The Golfweek Amateur Tour (amateurgolftour.net) stops at RTJ Golf Trail’s Capitol Hill, Hampton Cove, Magnolia Grove, Highland Oaks, Grand National, The Shoals, Silver Lakes, Cambrian Ridge and Oxmoor Valley. It also stops at Cider Ridge and Horse Creek in Alabama and Dancing Rabbit in Mississippi.
Other tours in Alabama include: Amateur Players Tour (amateurplayerstour.com), usamtour.com), Lite Scratch Tour (litescratchtour.com) and the North Alabama Golf League.
So, keep playing in those charity scrambles to help worthy causes. But, remember, there is opportunity to feed your competitive side, too.
Featured image courtesy of the Peninsula Club