What Is A Sponsor Exemption In Golf?

For aspiring and established golfers alike, sponsor exemptions are a crucial part of the sport which offers a pathway to participate in tournaments on tours such as the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.

So what is a sponsor exemption and how do they work in professional golf? Let’s take a look.

What Is A Sponsor Exemption In Golf?

Ed Welton

Founder, Editor

Ed is the founder and editor at EEE Golf. He’s been playing golf for over 20 years, competing in many top amateur events. He’s played courses all over the world and played with some of the best players in the game. His aim is to help educate people about the game of golf and give insights into the sport he loves most.

What Is Sponsor Exemption In Golf?

A sponsor exemption is a special invitation extended by the tournament directors or sponsors of a golf tournament, allowing a player to compete in the event without having to qualify through the usual channels.

These exemptions are a staple in both PGA Tour events and LPGA Tour events, as well as just about every other professional golf tournament and serve various strategic and promotional purposes.

It means that players who are perhaps incredibly talented but without tour status can get a start in an event and prove their worth.

The Purpose of Sponsor Invites

There’s many reasons why a tour will offer sponsor exemptions to players, benefiting not just the players but the tournaments and their sponsors as well.

Opportunity for Emerging Talent

For new talent, a sponsor exemption can be a real platform for their growth and development.

They provide a platform for young, up-and-coming golfers to showcase their skills on a larger stage, potentially kickstarting their professional careers.

Comeback Avenue for Veterans

Injured or slumping players who have lost their tour cards can receive exemptions as a chance to regain their status within the professional ranks.

Players who might have struggled with an injury can be given a few opportunities to get back to the level they were at before the injury.

Promotional Tool

A tournament sponsor often can use an exemption to invite players who can draw crowds or enhance the event’s appeal.

These can include local favourites, celebrities, or players with good stories and help drive ticket sales and viewership figures.

How Do Sponsor Exemptions Work?

The allocation of sponsor exemptions is subject to the rules and guidelines set by the governing bodies of the respective tours.

Typically, each tournament has a designated number of exemption spots available, which the sponsors can distribute at their discretion.

The PGA Tour usually allows up to eight sponsor exemptions per tournament, with PGA Tour members not otherwise exempt can accept unlimited sponsor exemptions, while non PGA Tour members can accept seven in a season.

The criteria for selection vary widely, with considerations including player potential, marketability, past performances, and personal narratives.

Of course, you’ve got the likes of Tiger Woods who will forever be invited to play in any tournament that he wishes.

Sponsors and tournament hosts want him to play in their event because he’ll drive so much interest and a huge viewership.

But then on the other end of the scale, you’ve got the young players who have either recently turned professional or are still one of the top amateur players in the world.

These emerging players are exciting to watch and are set to have a big future playing on that tour, so it makes perfect sense to give them a few runouts to see how they can cope.

As well as those players, sponsor exemptions can often go to golfers from other tours, like the time Lexi Thompson got an exemption into a PGA Tour event.

Or local golfers who are from the same region or course as the tournament, so having them play will bring a lot of local interest.

Then you’ve also got the celebrity sponsor invitations such as Steph Curry playing in a Korn Ferry tour event.

There’s plenty of different hows and why a golfer might get an invite to play a tour event and it helps to bring a diverse range of golfers to compete in events, without having them qualify through the standard process.

The Impact of Sponsor Exemptions

For those lucky enough to get one, a sponsor exemption can have a big impact on the golfing landscape:

Career Development

For many players, an exemption can be a breakthrough opportunity to prove themselves against the world’s best, often leading to significant career advancements.

If you’ve got what it takes to succeed and can do it under the most intense pressure of a tournament like that on the PGA Tour, then a sponsor invite can be life-changing for a golfer.

Tournament Diversity and Excitement

Exemptions add an element of surprise and diversity to tournament fields, introducing fresh talent and stories that add drama to the event for fans and participants alike.

When Lexi Thompson got an invite to play in the Shriners Children’s Open on the PGA Tour, a lot of the talk was about whether or not she’d make the cut which added great suspense to the event.

As a fan of Lexi Thompson, I tuned in to watch and see if she was able to compete with the best players from the men’s game.

Strategic Decisions for Sponsors

For tournament sponsors, choosing whom to grant exemptions is a strategic decision that balances competitive integrity, audience engagement, and promotional goals.

Some exemptions have been criticised in the past, so it’s important that exemptions have a purpose and are not given without merit.

Sponsor Exemption Success Stories

The history of golf is dotted with stories of players who leveraged sponsor exemptions to launch or rejuvenate their careers.

Perhaps the biggest story in recent years was PGA sponsor exemption Nick Dunlap who won his first PGA Tour event as an amateur.

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Clearly a super-talented golfer, he managed to pick up a win at The Amex in only his fourth start on the PGA Tour.

This win gained him a full PGA Tour card, plus invites into most of the major championships.

While some people might doubt the effectiveness of sponsor exemptions, I’m pretty sure Nick Dunlap didn’t mind getting the invite to play.

Other notable players have used these opportunities to secure their first wins, earn tour cards, or make a dramatic return to form, underscoring the exemptions’ potential to alter the trajectory of a golfer’s career.

Final Thoughts

Sponsor exemptions are a vital component of professional golf, serving as a bridge between emerging talent and the game’s highest levels.

For players, receiving a sponsor exemption is an invitation to step into the arena with the best and provides an opportunity to transform their careers in a single week.

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