There are many different golf institutions that have an impact on the professional game. If you are new fan to golf all these different tours and governing bodies may confuse you.
You may see references to many different institutions, such as:
- USGA (governing body)
- R&A (governing body)
- PGA (tour)
- European PGA (tour)
- LPGA (tour)
- Web.com (tour)
These institutions fall into two basic categories:
- Associations that run the professional tours, or
- Governing bodies that set the rules that govern golf
The USGA and R&A are the two governing bodies that set all the rules for golf, while the PGA, European PGA, LPGA, and Web.Com tour are professional tours that golfers play on.
In this article we will compare and contrast these golf governing bodies and tours.
Governing Bodies: R&A vs USGA
The two governing bodies (R&A, USGA) are the rule-setters that govern not just the professional level, but all levels of golf. This allows the tours to focus more on organizing tournaments and events instead of creating and governing rules.
The R&A (which stands for Royal and Ancient) is the governing body for most of the world outside the United States. The USGA (which stands for United States Golfers Association) is the governing body for the United States and Mexico. While these organizations are independent of each other, they work together so that golf has consistent rules throughout the world.
These bodies of golf not only govern the rules of play, but also govern over the equipment (deciding what types of equipment is legal to use). The intent of these governing bodies is to grow and protect the health of the sport while also making sure to protect the integrity of the sport.
The rules they set forth will be used by the vast majority of tours and golf courses. Occasionally some course have unique local rules or slight changes to the rules depending on what makes sense for that particular course.
By having the two governing bodies work together, there are consistent rules set across the world. But again, even though these two bodies work together, they are still independent of each other and each have their own annual flagship golf tournament. The USGA runs the United States Open and the R&A runs The Open (also known as the British Open).
The USGA is known for making the United States Open the “toughest test in golf”. They choose golf courses that they can make play really long, with heavy rough, and extremely fast and hard greens. Often times the winning score will be around par, which for professional golfers means the course has to be extremely tough.
The R&A doesn’t try to make their tournaments harder than any other professional tournament. They have always played The Open on links courses that, depending on the weather, can play really tough or very easy.
These links courses are usually much different than the majority of courses that professional golfers play on, especially on the US tours. I detail these differences in my Links Golf vs American Golf article.
Both of these flagship tournaments (US Open and British Open) are known as majors, which are considered one of the four most prestigious golf tournaments for a professional golfer to win. They are considered more prestigious to win than the playoffs.
Tours: PGA, European PGA, LPGA and Web.com Tours
Professional tours give golfers the chance to compete to earn money. Although the tours all organize events, there are major differences between competition, prestige, and payout.
The PGA, or Professional Golfers Association, is the premier tour in the United States. This tour offers players to play with some of the best players in the world every week.
The PGA Tour has the largest prize purses from week to week, so players on the PGA Tour have the opportunity to make the most money playing the game of golf. This is also the most prestigious tour in the world and if you win consistently on this tour you will have a great chance at making the world golf hall of fame.
The PGA Tour consists of approximately 45 tournaments every year. The season ends with a 4-tournament playoff to declare an end of the year champion. The playoffs are known as the FedEx Cup.
During each tournament throughout the season the players will earn points for their finishes. The higher the finish the more points a golfer will receive. At the end of the regular season, the top 125 golfers (based off these points) will make the playoffs.
During each of the first three playoff events, the field will be cut down to where only the top 30 will qualify for the final tournament. The fields reduce from 125 to 100 to 70 to 30.
In the final tournament (called the Tour Championship) the top-ranking golfer (in points) will start with a lower score to par while the bottom-ranking golfer will start with a higher score to par for the final tournament (as a way to weight the finale in favor of those in the lead heading into the event). Whoever then wins the tournament, wins the FedEx cup.
For many new golf fans, one of the easiest things to misunderstand is the USGA vs PGA. These two are associated with so many US tournaments, that some people are left confused trying to understand the difference.
But again, as we have said, when you are wondering about the USGA vs PGA and how they differ, just remember PGA is a golf tour and the USGA is the governing body that oversees the PGA tour, ensuring that proper rules are in place to protect the integrity of the sport.
European PGA Tour
The European PGA tournament is the equivalent of the PGA tour only in Europe. This is the second most prestigious tour in the world.
There are a lot of top European players that come over and play on the PGA Tour (because it is the most prestigious), but the competition on the European Tour is still some of the highest quality golf in the world.
The European Tour’s end of the year playoffs are known as the Race to Dubai. The format is pretty similar to the FedEx cup. There are 3 events that cut the fields down. Instead of having the last tournament with players starting with certain scores to par, the winner of the Race to Dubai is strictly based on points made up from the regular season and points gained from the 3 playoff events.
The golfer with the most points after the 3 events wins the Race to Dubai. All of these tournaments can be seen on the Golf Channel every weekend (though only the PGA Tour will be on national TV in the United States).
The PGA and European PGA will share the 4 major championships played every year. These four major tournaments are The Masters, the US Open, The Open, and the PGA Championship.
These tournaments also are key to gaining world ranking points and to gain status for the Ryder Cup. Golfers around the world want to become the number one player in the world, which means they will need to play on either the European PGA or PGA Tour to accomplish this.
Also, to qualify for the Ryder Cup golfers will be given points based on their performances on these two tours (PGA and Euro PGA). The Ryder Cup is a 3-day competition that puts the best players from the United States vs the best players from Europe (based on citizenship). The Ryder Cup is the most prestigious and sought after team event in the entire golfing world.
As we have discussed, the PGA Tour is the highest and most prestigious tour in the world for men. The Web.Com tour is the development tour under the PGA tour. This is a tour for players to refine their skills to hopefully qualify eventually for competition on the PGA Tour.
Players on the Web.Com Tour will gain PGA Tour cards if they perform well. Just like with other tours, the Web.Com tour consists of approximately 30 events every year. The top 25 players during the regular season will earn a PGA Tour card, allowing them to play on the PGA Tour the following season.
Just like the other tours, the Web.com will have an end of the season playoffs consisting of 4 events. The top 25 players in the finals that haven’t already previously qualified for the PGA Tour will earn their PGA Tour playing cards.
The Web.Com Tour is still very competitive and the top players earn millions of dollars each year. The Web.Com Tour is essentially a minor league for the PGA Tour for players to prove their ability. Pro’s that are on the PGA Tour but lose their cards will drop down to the Web.Com until they are able to earn back their PGA Tour cards.
The LPGA Tour, known as the Ladies Professional Golfers Association, is the top ladies professional Tour in the United States. Like the PGA, this tour attracts the best players in the world to play each week.
This tour has the highest purses for ladies to play for in the world. The courses for women will be a bit shorter compared to the course setup for men, but regardless they play on very tough courses. The level of golf is highly competitive.
There have been a few women over the years that have crossed over and played in a PGA event. There are around 33 tournaments every year and the top players will win millions of dollars. The vast majority of these events will take place in the United States, but the Tour does branch out to countries like Mexico, Canada, France, and parts of Asia.
As with all the other golf tours, the LPGA has an end of the year playoff called the Race for the CME Globe. The top 60 players qualify for the tournament based on the points each golfer receives throughout the year.
The unique part of this playoff event is the players qualify for the tournament and then it is winner takes all. Instead of having a score advantage like the PGA Tour FedEx cup or a point’s advantage like the European PGA Tour, once you qualify for the Race to the CME Globe you are on equal footing to all qualifiers.
The LPGA tour is also different from the PGA Tour because it has 5 majors instead of 4. The five major tournaments on the LPA Tour are the ANA Inspiration, the US Women’s Open, The Women’s Open, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and the Evian Championship. These tournaments are aired on the Golf Channel and some of the major events will be on national TV in the United States.