Getting to big paydays on the major tours can take more than talent, which is why Donnie Dotson, company founder and CEO, decided to update an age-old model of financially backing players
It’s a story and a business model as old as professional golf: Talented young golfers aspire to play the major tours. Yet, talent alone won’t achieve many high-level goals. Players need access, which means qualifying school, mini-tour and tournament entry fees, along with travel expense, which is not insignificant.
It all costs money, a commodity most people just out of college simply don’t have in abundance.
Wealthy parents can be one ticket to the tour but those are obviously rare. Others depend on members of the club where they practice and play to pool some resources — called a "syndicate" back in the day — to send the young player out with a credit card and/or some cash to try to make his or her way through the minor leagues of golf and hopefully, on to the promised land of the big time.
Donnie Dotson has created a different model, updated for the times. His firm, called Carry, is starting to funnel money from investors whose aim it is to help golfers who are trying to jump-start their careers. Carry currently has nine men and women under contract who are all playing at some level below the major tours.
Repayment is expected to provide investors a return but only if the player reaches the PGA Tour or LPGA Tour. Even then, it’s a predetermined percentage for what Dotson terms a relatively short period of time. If the player never reaches the major tours, no money is repaid.
Dotson, CEO of Carry, is a former Marine and CIA-trained operations officer who worked at Goldman Sachs and Sportradar, a sports data company that services sports leagues, media and sportsbooks. An avid recreational golfer, Dotson knew that golf is the only professional sport where players are only paid on performance and pay their own expenses. He saw a need that wasn’t being properly filled.
“There is a ton of talent out there playing in the minor leagues of their sports,” says Dotson. “From a technical expertise standpoint, from a talent potential standpoint, (players in the minor leagues) are often very close with very thin margins to the people who are top of their sports. But (also) from a personal financial situation as they're trying to get the careers going.
“They're competing with a different bank of resources, and probably none more evident than in the game of golf. You look at someone who's on the PGA Tour making millions of dollars a year on the course, and potentially multiples of that off the course, and someone who is trying to get there.
“They may be separated by course of a season. But in terms of their economic realities, and how they're going about training and competing, they're worlds apart.”
Dotson started mining information from his network he formed from his time at Goldman Sachs and Sportradar, many of them golfers. “It was interesting to see how quickly I went from never having spoken with a professional golfer to being able to connect with so many people who were from the industry, whether it was agents, coaches, people who had played professionally,” he said. From those contacts came Carry’s initial nine players, all of whom were referrals.
“I've never played a day of competitive golf in my life,” Dotson says. “But I've always been an enormous fan of the sport. And I think there's a business opportunity here to help some of these golfers that need some front-end capital and do something really cool.”
Where Carry is unique is that its model isn’t totally focused on return on investment. There is what Dotson calls “experiential engagement.” In other words, investors are, in essence, golf fans. Those who invest in Carry golfers will be able to meet and spend time with the players they’re backing at golf outings that includes the players and the Carry community.
“People are really starting to put a premium, not only certainly on potential financial returns, but the experience that comes with it,” Dotson says. “How great would it be to come up with a platform where you could invest in an up-and-coming golfer, share their journey and champion their cause and feel closer to the game?
“And if they make it to the top you get to participate in a small percentage of the upside for a period of time. But if not, you still get to enjoy the experience along the way.”
The goal for Carry is to attract any size investment in its players. But until the company clears some regulatory hurdles, it is currently only allowed to accept money from “accredited investors,” which are people and entities allowed to invest in securities not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Those investors must meet income and net worth guidelines established by the SEC.
Eventually, Dotson wants every investor to be able to meet the players, follow their careers and maybe one day share in their success — monetarily and emotionally. But to Dotson, one is no more important than the other.