April 25, 2014 11:23 am

The hefty cost of chasing a golf dream

Andrew Parr in action during the fourth round of the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club on January 15, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Warren Little/Getty Images

Mike Weir was once so broke that in Australia, while chasing his goal of playing on the PGA Tour, he couldn’t afford a caddie. And Graham DeLaet, from Weyburn, Sask., once stood on the putting green of a Canadian Open qualifier wondering whether he had enough money to make it through to the end of the year.

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“My goal was just to get a PGA Tour card,” Weir told me a few years ago. “Let’s be honest, I struggled for five years on the Canadian Tour and the Asian Tour. I struggled all over the world. And I was thinking about how I could get good enough to get on the PGA Tour and compete against those guys. That was all I was thinking about.”

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Finding the way to the PGA Tour takes more than just talent, something that separates golf from most other professional sports that have a minor league system.

The next generation of PGA Tour stars spends their own money – or the cash they can raise – to support the costs of trying to play professional golf.

Unlike a star like Jordan Spieth, who broke through onto the PGA Tour at the age of 19, most golfers struggle for years before establishing themselves on the PGA Tour. And like Weir and DeLaet, those struggles aren’t just with their golf swings, but their wallets as well.

That’s why the route Andrew Parr is taking to support himself in his quest for the PGA Tour is so unique.

Parr, a 31-year old from London, Ont., has chased his dream of playing professional golf all over the world. He’s been close, holding status on the European Tour, a step away from the courtesy cars and private jets on the PGA Tour.

But his dream comes with a price tag, and Parr found himself out of cash heading into the year.

While hanging out with his swing coach, Canadian Sean Foley, who also looks after the likes of Tiger Woods and U.S. Open winner Justin Rose, Parr started talking about his circumstance. Foley suggested Parr try crowdsourcing to raise the $75,000 needed for a full season of golf.

With that, Parr leaned on some friends to create an elaborate video that detailed his story.

Once one of Canada’s most promising young golfers, Parr suffered a stroke soon after turning pro. He recovered and played well, but never managed to find that elusive success that is so rare in professional golf.

But at 31, Parr is only nearing his peak as a golfer and wasn’t willing to stop. So he launched his crowdsourcing site and this week broke through his target, helped by exposure from reporters interested in his story.

He’s not the first to lean on Internet supporters to raise cash. Last year B.C. resident Mitch Gillis, who once had status on the Web.com Tour, a step away from the PGA Tour, tried something similar.

Traditionally golfers will find sponsors, often family friends, and wear company logos on their shirts in exchange for cash. It is a piecemeal way of raising the money needed to pay expenses while struggling on golf’s numerous mini-tours.

Even prominent names have to find ways to raise cash. Last year rising star and two-time Canadian Amateur champ Mackenzie Hughes from Dundas, Ont., qualified to the U.S. Open only to find himself nearly out of money.

The Score, a sports television channel, stepped up at the last minute and gave Hughes cash in exchange for a logo on the golfer’s shirt.

What’s the cost of pursuing the PGA Tour?

These days it comes with a big price tag, with golfers needing access to swing and physical coaches, money for travel and accommodations, and other amenities.

Most peg the cost of a year of professional golf, which includes entry fees into tournaments, at upwards of $50,000, while it isn’t surprising to hear those on the Web.com Tour spend twice that for basic expenses to play golf.

When he first turned pro, Parr raised $300,000 for three years through a network of friends. People who put up money to back a pro golfer typically get a return on their investment if the golfer is successful. But more often than not, the money just goes to helping the golfer develop.

PGA Tour wins—if they ever happen—usually happen long after initial sponsorship deals are done.

Parr found the process of crowdsourcing the money required a lot of time and effort.

“It’s been a fun project and a lot of work,” he says.

He offered all sorts of incentives to raise the cash, including a day of instruction with his coach, Sean Foley, likely the best-known swing doctor on the PGA Tour. That sold for $30,000 – pushing Parr past his goal.

What’s next for Parr now that he’s landed his cash?

He’ll try to Monday qualify for PGA Tour and Web.com events, a long difficult road where he’ll compete against hundreds of other promising young hopefuls, and is considering tournaments on the European Challenge Tour, where he has conditional status.

“I’m really at a loss for words,” Parr said when contacted after he’d completed his funding goal. “So humbled by the amount of people and the support in which they’ve shown.”

Will we see more Canadian PGA Tour hopefuls crowdfunding to support their dream?

There’s no doubt about it. As long as there are young Canadians trying to play professional golf for a living, you’ll see inventive ways of conjuring up ways to fund that dream.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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