Golf: Budget reveals struggles of aspiring pros
Debts of up to £50,000, young mouths to feed and nappies to buy. This could easily have been a post-Budget debate but it actually took place among a group of Scotland’s most decorated amateur golfers over the past decade or so, as they faced up to the reality of life at the coalface in the professional ranks.
Jack Doherty, Andrew McArthur, Jamie McLeary, George Murray and Lloyd Saltman are the “Fab Five” in this year’s Team Scottish Hydro, the Challenge Tour players receiving financial support and advice, along with two Ladies European Tour card holders, Kylie Walker and Pamela Pretswell.
A huge succcess so far – Craig Lee earned his European Tour card in the first year before Chris Doak and Callum Macaulay emulated that feat last season – the programme is aimed at helping players at a crucial phase in their career and simply listening to the likes of McArthur, a former Scottish Amateur champion, should set alarm bells ringing for aspiring Tour professionals.
A member of the paid ranks since 2005, he won on the Challenge Tour three years later but, after an unsuccessful season on the main Tour three years ago, the 33-year-old is back on the second-tier circuit. From the end of April until October, it will provide plenty of competitive opportunities but, at the same time, no-one on the Challenge Tour is there to become rich.
When McArthur finished second in the opening event of the 2013 season – in India at the beginning of last month – he picked up a cheque for just over £18,500. For finishing second behind Stephen Gallacher in Dubai on the European Tour the same week, South African Richard Sterne pocketed around £175,000. Expenses aren’t so disproportionate. While the average on the main Tour is £2,500 per event, it’s £1,500 on the Challenge circuit, where around 90 per cent of players don’t employ caddies.
“I’ve been on Tour since the start of the 2006 season – too long!” declared McArthur in Glasgow yesterday. “When you turn pro, you think you’ll be on the main Tour in a year but it’s not that easy. It’s like living on the breadline. After a bad year on the Challenge Tour a lot of people just disappear because you can run up a lot of debt very quickly. A lot of guys have racked up credit cards to fund travel and it puts too much pressure on you. A lot of guys think they’ve got that wee carrott to chase, one good week could dig you out of the hole – but it doesn’t really work like that. The pressure just mounts and mounts and, before you know it, good players just can’t perform.”
McLeary, a former Scottish Challenge winner, said he knew of players who ran up debts of “£40-£50,000” pursuing their dream. While the Team Scottish Hydro support is a fraction of those sort of figures, the male members for 2013 admitted that every penny can count and both Walker and Pretswell would have said the same if they hadn’t been otherwise engaged due to LET commitments.
“I’m the sole bread winner in my house and have a young family to provide for, so this support helps a great deal,” acknowledged McLeary, who, entering year three, is the longest-serving Team Scottish Hydro member.Doherty, a recipient for the second year in a row, added: “I’ve got a little one on the way so will have nappies to pay for. I’m going to have to play some good golf.”
Like Murray, who lost his European Tour card at the end of last season, and rookie Pretswell, Saltman is a newcomer to the programme and admitted the support had been a nice surprise. “All of us here are not out to make money on the Challenge Tour; we’re there to either get on the main Tour for the first time or get back there,” said the two-times Walker Cup player. “So it is massive to have backing like this.”
Iain Stoddart, the driving force behind the initiative, described its success so far as “pretty spectacular”, with Colin Banks, sponsorship manager of Scottish Hydro, insisting the company “had no plans to walk away” from it in the near future.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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