A 15-year-old plays the windswept Robert Trent Jones Sr. course at Port Royal Golf Course in the PGA Tour event, the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, this week. You may have seen the headlines last month when talented young player Oliver Betschart, honing his game in the junior ranks at Port Royal, finished with a 68 in the local 54-hole qualifier at Butterfield, punching his ticket to his first Tour Start secured; When Oliver sets off with Andy Zhang and Betschart’s Bermuda compatriot Michael Sims at 12:25 p.m. local time on Thursday, he will be the youngest player to take part in the tour since 2014.
“This has been my goal all year and now it’s finally true and it’s hard to accept it,” Oliver said after moving on.
But the teenager wasn’t the only qualifier in the event. He was joined by two other stars of the Bermuda golf scene: amateur Eric West, 39, who won the qualifier by four with a four-under 212, and professional Scott Roy, president of the Bermuda Professional Golfers Association, who tied Betschart by three points and edged out the fourth-placed team by one stroke. The trio of qualifiers beat 19 other Bermudians and got the opportunity to play alongside major winners such as Adam Scott and Lucas Glover this week.
If outplaying fewer than two dozen competitors – three of whom have either forfeited or been disqualified – sounds like a path of minimal opposition to a PGA Tour start, that’s because, barring sponsor exceptions, so is. This is no knock on the qualifiers who achieved commendable results in wet and windy conditions in the final round in Port Royal; Suffice to say, this week’s Bermuda event features one of the more unconventional and relatively “easier” paths to a tour start time: a locals-only qualifier.
It’s an incredible opportunity for the island’s best players, for which they can thank the Bermuda Tourism Authority, which co-founded the 2019 tournament.
“When the tourism board was hired to host this event, they really wanted to see opportunities for locals to participate and create a pathway for that to happen,” Craig Brown, the president of the Bermuda Golf Association, told me on a recent call. “Working with the Bermuda Professional Golf Association, the Bermuda Golf Association and also the tournament organizers, the BTA wanted to see and mandated that we get some locals involved in the event. So we all worked together and developed this process and it evolved into what it is now. It’s pretty stable now and a big, big part of our calendar – people are looking for it to fulfill their dreams.”
This is not just a marketing phrase. After qualifying last month, Roy told the local newspaper: “My dream has always been to compete in a PGA Tour event, so I feel really lucky to be able to compete in an event like this and represent Bermuda.”
Not every Bermudian with a set of pings can attempt to qualify. To participate in the qualifying tournament, participants must have Bermuda status, be a professional in good standing with the BGA and BPGA, or an amateur with a current handicap index of no more than 1.4. In a country with fewer than 70,000 inhabitants, these parameters limit the pool of potential participants to a small group. But for this group, their annual shot at PGA Tour glory is a big deal.
Brown said the qualifying tournament “captures the imagination of everyone involved” and added: “Every year the locals – the better amateurs and professionals – wait to see when this event is going to happen, when the date is set, to start rescheduling their games can.” and their preparations for this date. I would say it has been the most important date on many players’ calendars for the last four years. There’s not much greater than playing a PGA Tour event on home soil in your backyard.”
Only one other tour event, the Puerto Rico Open, features a local qualifying tournament, and historically the field has been even smaller than Bermuda’s. Only five Players from Puerto Rico competed in the 2023 Puerto Rico Open local qualifying tournament, with only first place finisher Robert Calvesbert advancing after rounds of 76-72-69. A spokesman for the Puerto Rico Golf Association, which manages the event, said amateur participants can only have a handicap of 7 or less and that another small field is expected for the 2024 qualifiers.
The aim of the local events is to shine a spotlight on the host country’s best players and give them access to a powerful stage they would otherwise be unlikely to step onto. But in terms of competitiveness, these qualifiers are undoubtedly a far cry from the tour’s traditional 18-hole Monday qualifiers. To even secure a spot in Monday’s tour qualifying events, most dreamers must first complete an 18-hole tournament Before-Qualifier. For the tour’s Bermuda event, for example, 93 players registered in the pre-qualification and 28 progressed. In Monday’s actual qualifying match, which are typically high-pressure birdie fests, 75 players vied for just four spots. The medalist shot 64, while five other players tied for second with 66 and had to play for the remaining three available spots.
When I asked Brown if the Tour ever suggested that reserving three spots for local qualifying tournaments was too generous, he replied: “There was absolutely no resistance from the PGA Tour. They have been extremely supportive from both the PGA Tour perspective and the tournament organizers perspective. This event is unique in its configuration, but in that uniqueness it has been fully embraced.”
The dream scenario for Brown and the rest of the Bermudian golf community would be for a Bermudian to make the cut, something that has never happened in the tournament’s short history. Michael Sims came closest, missing the weekend by two in 2019. (This week Sims is back in the field at the invitation of a sponsor.) The field will be one of the weakest of the tour season, but is still expected to be the most impressive competition the local players will ever face.
“For them,” Brown said, “this is their greatest championship.”
https://golf.com/news/easiest-path-pga-tour-start/ The “easiest” way to get a PGA Tour start? This week’s event offers one of those