When the Advocates Professional Golf Association (APGA) Tour began in 2010 as a pathway for Black and minority golfers to further their game with the goal of reaching the PGA Tour, golfers competed in just three events with a total purse of $40,000, which included a $10,000 donation from Farmers Insurance and $5,000 out of the pocket of the non-profit organization’s founder Ken Bentley.
Today, the APGA Tour reached $1 million in total prize money and bonuses, thanks to an additional $25,000 in prize and bonus money from Farmers for the APGA Tour Farmers Insurance Fall Series Finale taking place November 9-10 at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in California.
“It is amazing being involved from the start to see the growth and acceptance from where we couldn’t get any sponsors to now having great sponsors and long-time sponsors,” Bentley says. “It is really gratifying.”
“I truly believe in Ken’s vision,” Farmers Insurance president and CEO Jeff Dailey says. “The goal is to funnel guys through with the right resources to help them achieve their dreams on the (PGA) Tour, and I think we’ve been able to play a small part in that. … For us, it’s never been about the publicity, it’s been about making a difference.”
The 2022 APGA Tour season featured 18 events at PGA Tour-caliber courses including Torrey Pines, TPC Sawgrass, Valhalla and Baltusrol with four events boasting a total purse of more than $100,000.
While the sums pale in comparison to the seemingly endless amount of millions being shelled out by the Saudi-backed LIV Golf as it battles the PGA Tour, the money offered by the APGA Tour and its corporate partners is life-changing for many golfers who not only overcame a slew of personal obstacles on their journeys to this point, but weren’t afforded the same support, resources and opportunities other golfers were.
“The money is really good, but at the end of the day it’s the bigger picture of what the money can do for players on the tour when it comes to opportunities like Monday qualifiers and everything like that,” says Kamaiu Johnson, who won this year’s APGA Tour Championship. “It goes a long way. It creates more opportunity.”
Thanks to support, funding and resources from a growing list of partners and sponsors including Farmers Insurance, Cisco, Mastercard, Lexus, World Wide Technology and the PGA Tour, the APGA Tour is becoming a more viable option for Black and minority golfers to take the next step towards their dreams of the PGA Tour.
It’s helping golfers like Willie Mack III, Aaron Beverly, Tim O’Neil and Johnson transform their earnings into much-needed resources and opportunities they were unable to obtain in the past in order to further their careers. Mack is playing on the Korn Ferry Tour, Beverly is a PGA Tour Canada member, O’Neil is on the Champions Tour, and Johnson begins play on PGA Tour Latinoamérica later this month.
Farmers signed Mack and Johnson in 2019 after hearing their harrowing stories. Bentley said today, 15 APGA Tour players have brand sponsorships.
The increased support and opportunities, including having an event earlier this year broadcast on national TV for the first time ever, is also inspiring former players like Christian Heavens to return to the APGA Tour and players like Montrele Wells to keep fighting.
“It’s extremely inspiring with what I’m seeing change-wise,” says Wells, 40, who began playing golf at Benedict College after an issue with his track scholarship. “It inspires me to keep going because of the amount of opportunities that are opening up. The only way I won’t get one is if I throw in the towel.
“This has been hands down the most challenging year I’ve had but it’s only made me stronger and it’s only made me want it more.”
While the value of the $1 million of prize money and bonuses is exactly that, every single cent holds more significance to each and every APGA Tour player who earns his share.
Johnson, an eighth-grade dropout, has utilized his success and corresponding sponsorships from major corporations including Farmers to not only further his professional career, but to leverage his platform to help the next generation of aspiring golfers via his foundation.
He’s also used his winnings to hire a support staff including a psychologist and mental coach to “tackle my childhood traumas,” while dealing with the pressures of helping change the face of golf.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs—more downs than ups for sure—but at the end of the day it’s bigger than me,” Johnson, 29, says. “It’s about showing kids in my community you can be somebody no matter where you come from.”
With the million-dollar mark achieved, what’s the next goal for the APGA Tour?
Surprisingly, it isn’t to hit or eclipse $5 or $10 million in total prize money and bonuses as the organization aspires to have golfers on the PGA Tour within the next 3-5 years.
“If we had $5 million in prize money and guys were making $500,000 or $600,000, they would want to stay on the APGA Tour because it’s comfortable and they’re playing with their friends, but we don’t want that,” Bentley says. “We want guys to look at the APGA as a stepping stone, as a pathway. It’s kind of a catch-22. I like having the money and the million dollars is great, but the focus now has to be on development funds to really get these guys to develop and then leave the APGA Tour.
“We don’t want the APGA to be a destination.”