For those that get involved with golf at a younger age, whether it be through junior golf programs or parent-daughter outings, a good golf swing can mean a ticket to the college of their choice. “A lot of young girls are getting serious about golf, especially now that there are so many college scholarships available,” comments Turner, who played her collegiate golf at Furman University.
Mary Fossum has seen a great deal of change in women’s collegiate golf during her 17 years as head coach of the Michigan State Spartans. “When we first started back in 1973, there were no scholarships,” Fossum recalls. “Now, just about all the schools offer some out of scholarship money and many of them give full four-year rides. As a result, the caliber of play has really improved. There are more good players and more good teams.”
“Girls are coming out on tour now right out of college and they’re ready to win tournaments,” Turner notes. That has not always been the case. “Fifteen years ago, there were very few kids going on to play after college,” Fossum said. “It just wasn’t that lucrative a venture.”
Today’s talented female golfer has a choice of ventures that are quite lucrative. Obviously, the biggest payoff would be graduating to the LPGA tour. Since the LPGA was officially chartered in 1950, it has produced 17 millionaires. In fact, six of the all-time top-money winners have surpassed the two million mark. But getting aboard is the real trick.
“Back in 1959, all I had to do to join the tour was fill out a form and send in a check for dues,” comments Whitworth, who is closing in on that two-million mark herself. “Today there are 300 to 400 girls trying to go through qualifying school, and only the cream of the crop make it. I probably couldn’t cut it if I had to do it all over again,” she laughs. “I do think it’s imperative now that women compete in college if they have any aspirations of playing professional golf.”
The LPGA isn’t the only avenue open to talented players. From its birth as the Tampa Bay Mini-Tour in 1981, when founder Eloise Trainor capitalized the venture with $10 and players competed for a share of their own entry fees, the Futures Tour has blossomed phenomenally. In 1982, the average field consisted of 22 players competing for an average of $2,000 in purse money. Today, the Futures Tour averages 125 players per tournament, competing for an average purse of over $30,000.
Perhaps even more impressive is the success rate of Futures players who have gone on to the LPGA. Over 80 percent of new LPGA cardholders are former Futures players, including five of the LPGA’s last seven rookies-of-the-year.
While golf is certainly growing at the professional level, it is also mushrooming at the recreational end. And there lies its true beauty. For whether you’re a touring pro or a weekend duffer, whether you’re aspiring to be the best in the sport, or just better than you were last time out, golf will always challenge you and keep you coming back for more.