Think it's easy running your own golf tour? Think again
For all the talk of the Rolex Series, Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup, the nuts and bolts of professional golf sit a long way away from big-name sponsors and superstar players.
The 1836 Tour, a series of one or two-day events in the north of England, offers players the chance to pick up a very tidy pay cheque. In the first event of the season at West Lancashire, Sam Connor earned himself £1,200 for his 67 from a field of 64.
At the front and centre of the tour is Jon Cheetham. His playing career is a decorated one – most notably he played in The Open at Troon in 2004 as well as two PGA Championships at Wentworth – but these days he is busy running his tour which is now a third of its way through the season as well as still harbouring hopes of playing on the Senior Tour.
He tells NCG the story of how he got here…
“I turned pro at 21 and played on the Challenge and Safari Tours for the next few years as well as a few European Tour events and a couple of Q Schools.
Then I worked as a driver for a friend and also as an order picker in a warehouse for Adidas. I would work for a few weeks and then play a Challenge Tour event. If I earned any money I would play again, if not back I was back in the warehouse.
On the Safari Tour I played alongside Vijay Singh, Mark Mouland, Mark Roe and Pete Cowen. Nick Price played the odd event.
I once led the Bell’s Cup in Cape Town and played with Price and Ernie Els in the penultimate threeball. That was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Price had just won the PGA in August and Els was coming through.
At 29 I did my PGA, qualified a few years later and then played full-time when I had a good spell. I won the North Order of Merit in 2003, a load of pro-ams and tournaments, and then I got my card on the Asian Tour from 2004.
I double-bogeyed the last in Hong Kong to finish 62nd on Order of Merit, a par would have kept my card in 60th. There were setbacks when my clubs or clothes didn’t turn up until the night before but I still look back and think if I had just parred the 18th in Hong Kong then things might have been different. Miguel Angel Jimenez won that week.
I then spent four years as a club pro and then I started running events and trying to provide a platform for players to progress and go on to the big time. Marcus Armitage, Tom Murray and Chris Hanson (pictured below) have played on the 1836 and are now doing well. You need competitive golf and we’ve got some very good players.
I’m a one-man band and I do everything apart from the starting. A friend who I’ve known for many years does that for me.
He will also update the leaderboard but I will take all the money, do the draw, and everyone will be paid by BACS the same day of the tournament.
It’s bums on seats. The hardest challenge is being big enough to have a closing date two weeks before. You are never going to turn people away but I would like to get it where players are ringing me rather than the other way round. The clubs need to know how many tee times to put aside but you always want 56 players rather than 55.
The more people the bigger the prize money. There are times when I have to think what is a reasonable amount for me to take out and what is a reasonable amount for the players to play for. I have to keep a lot of people happy.
I’m trying to text 70-odd members asking if they are playing and a handful will reply saying yes, others will wait to see how they’re playing so I’ll generally be there the night before having to juggle the draw so we don’t have any one-balls.
I start printing things off at midnight as I’ll only know then what the field is going to be.
I know the other schedules inside out and where qualifying is for this and that but I have done all this as a player so it’s nothing new.
This is my eighth year doing it on my own. The 1836 is a good name, we think, it’s quite catchy.
It’s very difficult to get sponsorship. Chubby Chandler is in the background with ISM and I can always ring him up for any advice.
And Callaway have been involved for the last three years and they support the Order of Merit – the winner will get a full year’s supply of equipment, David Booth won that last year. Players from 2nd 5th get a year’s supply of balls and gloves, a lot of our lads do have to pay for their own balls so that is a good prize.
I’ve looked at getting some sponsorship with an airline. With golfers going all over the place it would be a good fit, but these things all take time.
I’ll do a £250 lowest aggregate for any back-to-back events and a £2,000 bonus if anyone wins back-to-back events. Jevann Parmar came very close last year, he won at Wychwood and the following day he shot 67 at Northenden which led for most of the day, before Max Penney came in with a 66. To be honest I wanted him to win it as it would have been great publicity for the tour.
The members have a Tour Championship where the top 24 play free of charge. It’s a full-time job, no question.”