Industry News

Sebring to host professional women’s golf tournament

East Coast Women’s Pro Golf Tour to launch its first season at Sun n’ Lake Golf Course

(Ponte Vedra Beach, FL) – The East Coast Women’s Professional Golf Tour will open its inaugural season in Sebring, Florida at Sun n’ Lake Golf Course from May 11-13.  The ECWPGT is a women’s professional developmental tour whose goal is to create more and better playing opportunities for players aspiring to the LPGA Tour and shine a light on women’s golf in general.

Mark D. Berman, operator of the ECWPGT said he chose Sebring to launch the ECWPGT because of its history of warmly welcoming women’s golf as the home of the Harder Hall Women’s Amateur Championship.  “One of our site criteria is to host events in markets and on courses that truly want to support women’s golf and women’s initiatives in general, and from the first phone call to Casey (Hartt, of Visit Sebring) and Andy (Kesling, Director of Golf at Sun n’ Lake Golf Course) the answer to every question was, “yes.’”   Berman continued, “Many of our players actually played in the Harder Hall Women’s Amateur Championship and we thought it would be fun for them and for the community to see them again as professionals, still chasing their dream and their passion.”

“This is a big deal for the Sebring area.  These are professional athletes, and this is an elevated tour experience for female golfers chasing a dream and playing for a paycheck,” Hartt said.  For the ECWPGT to be launching its entire tour here says a lot about the reputation of our community as a golf destination and as a community receptive to women golfers, who now make up more than 25% of the leisure and travel market.  We invite everyone to come watch.” 

The ECWPGT is one of only three women’s developmental tours in the U.S..  Based in Florida, the ECWPGT is designed to serve the eastern part of the country, but also hosts events in California.  Fields are open to players from anywhere and has players from 26 states and more than a dozen countries.  Seeing through his own daughter’s eyes the limited opportunity for women to chase their professional dreams, particularly in comparison to their male peers who have more than 30 “mini tours” leading to the PGA TOUR, Berman, with more than 25 years of golf industry marketing experience, launched the Tour in January to provide more playing and earning opportunities for professional female golfers.  The other two tours are based in and play primarily in Arizona (Cactus Tour) and Texas (WAPT).

Travel costs eat up budgets for developmental tour players who also pay their own entry fees.  Most U.S. professional players below the LPGA level are self-funded and do not have sponsor contracts like their male peers nor a national program behind them like many international players.  The ECWPGT creates a regionalized approach narrowing the gap between the high cost of playing and the low earnings potential.

A recent Golfweek article pointed out that 10 years ago there were 1,200 girls ranked on the National Junior Golf Scoreboard and there are now nearly 5,000 – a 400% growth.  The American Junior Golf Association has seen its girl’s membership double to 2,000 members over that time frame.  Where ten years ago a common refrain in the golf world was that 10% of college golf scholarships were going unused, now there are more than 700 college programs and not an open seat at the table.  “The industry spent a lot of energy 12 or so years ago to attract kids to the game,” Berman muses.  His daughter, Hannah, is one of those players, a 2016 high school graduate who played college golf at Jacksonville University, played in the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the British Amateur.  In fact, it was her desire to play professionally that opened Berman’s eyes.  “We started to plan her professional schedule and realized that the closest events were 12 hours away.  It didn’t happen overnight, but her experience led us to buying this tour, not for her but because of her.  We are excited to have even a small part in growing the women’s professional game.”

Berman noted that fans are not going to see many names they recognize, but they will see these players on TV soon enough.  The East Coast Women’s Professional Golf Tour prepares players for the Epson Tour which feeds directly into the LPGA Tour.  “With literally hundreds of women working toward the LPGA Tour level and there only being so many spots for them to play, we are creating a viable platform for them to earn a living and further develop and a pathway toward their dream.”  The ECWPGT has a dual mission to create opportunities outside the ropes for women athletes and has aligned with women’s organizations Generation W, a women’s mentoring and coaching organization, and Forehire, which creates connection for women golfers and industry companies looking to hire.

The ECWPGT has also established the Access Golf Fund to provide financial support for its players.  The Access Golf Fund will help ensure each tournament purse reflects the value and importance these women bring to the game, making it worth their while to invest their time and money into pursuing their LPGA careers.  The Access Golf Fund will also provide micro-scholarship dollars to assist players with entry fees and travel costs, the two biggest prohibitors to their success.  While the Tour itself seeks sponsors to cover operating costs and purses, the Access Golf Fund is an opportunity for the public to support women’s professional golf in smaller increments rather than in the bright lights of sponsorship.

The ECWPGT is open to developmental professional players including those on the Epson Tour and Ladies European Tours and is also open to elite level amateurs and college players.  The tour will accept amateur players ages 15 and over on a waitlist basis as space permits.  Registration is currently open on the Tour’s website  Follow at @ecwpgt.