Ken Bentley still remembers when he was attempting to secure a nonprofit charter for the APGA Tour. The IRS agent questioned its validity and purpose asking, “Why should an organization that helps these really wealthy golfers be a nonprofit organization?”
While the agent mistakenly assumed Bentley was talking about the PGA Tour, he learned that the Advocates Professional Golf Association Tour was being established to support Black and other minority golfers to compete and win at the highest level on Tour and throughout the industry. Many of its seemingly unknown members didn’t have the same resources and opportunities that others could benefit from.
Twelve years after being established, more people will have the opportunity to learn about the APGA Tour and the stories behind its members who are grinding and striving to earn a spot on golf’s most prestigious platform: the PGA Tour.
The APGA Tour’s event at the Farmers Insurance Open on Sunday, January 30 will be broadcast nationally on Golf Channel—a first for the organization, which has gained more support, recognition and notoriety in recent years.
“For so long, we were just that tour out there that some people heard about—you had to really be a golfer to know about the APGA Tour,” Bentley says. “Then the last couple of years with the publicity we’ve gotten, more people have started to recognize the tour, but there’s nothing like being on national TV and seeing the guys playing live. It’s a big opportunity not only for us as a tour, but for the guys individually because they’ll be talked about on air, so it’s a chance for guys to get sponsorships.
“It’s just a great opportunity, and I think it’s going to be one of those watershed moments for diversity in golf.”
While getting national broadcast exposure has been a long-term goal for Bentley and the APGA Tour, the opportunity presented itself when CBS reached out to Farmers Insurance president and CEO Jeff Dailey to request moving the Farmers Insurance Open up a day so it wouldn’t conflict with the NFL’s Conference Championships; the NFL postseason was pushed back a week after the league extended its regular season to 18 games beginning in 2021.
Dailey was open to the tournament taking place Wednesday through Saturday, but wanted to touch base with Bentley first about the change which would also impact the APGA’s Farmers Insurance Invitational, while also offering an opportunity.
“I had to pinch myself,” Bentley says with a laugh.
Founded in 2010, the APGA Tour has grown from 10 events with a total purse of around $40,000 to 17 events in 2022 with a total purse of more than $500,000. Players including Kamaiu Johnson, Willie Mack III, Kevin Hall, Ryan Alford and Aaron Beverley who used to have to compete at local, inner-city courses will play at Torrey Pines, TPC Sawgrass, TPC Scottsdale, Valhalla, Baltusrol and Wilshire Country Club this year.
The APGA Tour also launched its Player Development Program this year designed to support select players with training programs, financial assistance with qualifying schools, entry and travel fees, PGA Tour-level instruction, equipment fittings and more.
“It’s amazing really if you think about where we were when we started in 2010 on inner-city golf courses largely playing in obscurity to now when our guys will be on national TV playing on a course that’s hosted two US Opens in the same conditions the PGA Tour experienced the day before,” Bentley says. “It’s a dream come true for our guys and for me and the guys who started the organization, and it’s probably more than what we could ever hope for.”
Damon Hack, co-host of Golf Channel’s Golf Today, four-time PGA Tour winner Notah Begay III, APGA Tour member and podcast host Doug Smith, and host/content creator Jacques Slade comprise the broadcast team for the event, airing on Golf Channel live from 5-7:30 p.m. ET.
Hack says the event and broadcast will be an opportunity for viewers to see different faces and hear from new voices within golf.
“I think it’s huge, it’s exciting, there’s a lot of buzz about it already,” says Hack, who joined Golf Channel in 2012. “The fact that this tour is trying to open pathways and opportunities for African-Americans and other minorities it’s wonderful to be in front of television cameras on a fantastic golf course that hosts a PGA Tour event annually and has hosted major championships like the US Open. I think it’s a phenomenal opportunity in this era that we’re living in trying to open up doors.
“Racial justice, equity, diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of the conversation around the country in many ways and this is a perfect example of that.”
For the APGA Tour, this isn’t a one-and-done-type situation, it’s the first step.
Bentley says it’s part of a five-year agreement with Farmers, which also sponsors the tour’s fall series, as long as they continue to host their PGA Tour event. The long-term agreement will continue to provide consistency and ensure the APGA Tour continues to exist, grow and thrive along with its three-year contract with the PGA Tour, a five-year agreement with World Wide Technology to sponsor the player development program, and a long-term deal with Cisco.
CBS has also been following the APGA Tour since November filming for a docuseries set to debut following The Masters, Bentley says.
Bentley and Hack both agree that whether it’s an article, interview, live TV broadcast or documentary, highlighting the stories of these up-and-coming golfers will help them secure more opportunities and resources including sponsorships and exemptions, while paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse golf game and industry.
“These stories, these lesser-known stories are just as powerful and just as important, and are very important to the fabric of the game,” Hack says. “I think as golf continues to make these important steps and diversify, it has to be a top-of-the-agenda item, not just for a couple of years or a weekend, but going forward.”