The parent company of the Grand Strand-based Swing Thought Tour has acquired the eGolf Tour based in Charlotte, N.C., and is consolidating the two into the largest developmental golf tour in the U.S.
Golf Interact LLC, which is run by 30-year-old touring pro and entrepreneur Michael Rush of Houston, purchased what was then the Strand-headquartered NGA Tour last September and is integrating the two tours’ events and membership under the Swing Thought Tour umbrella.
“We put this plan together of how we wanted to enter into the tour market as the platform for our business to grow its wings,” Rush said. “The NGA Tour was always the first goal, with its rich history and model and success … and second was the eGolf Tour. We knew if we could consolidate the two biggest tours it would give us tremendous headway into what we wanted to do.”
In a time of struggle for developmental and mini-tours in the U.S., Rush believes the two acquisitions in less than a year are the first steps toward national expansion and becoming the go-to place for all aspiring tour pros in the U.S.
“We plan to be the premier middle market of professional golf,” Rush said.
The tour model in 2016 consists of several regional tours that are all ancillary to a more national tour, which is the Swing Thought Pro Series. Planned regional tours next year are in Florida, the Carolinas, Atlanta, Texas, Arizona and Southern California, and possibly more locations. Rush hopes to eventually have international locations.
Most of the eGolf Tour’s events are in North Carolina, and Rush plans to offer a similar schedule in 2016. “We look forward to servicing all those players in that area,” he said.
The new model is really exciting, to be able to create a model that supports the regional play that feeds into a larger national tour. We’re going to launch our tour along several markets, and players will be able to compete on the regional level and every three to five weeks we’ll have a larger tournament with a large purse with a Web.com Tour exemption tied into it.
The Swing Thought Tour currently has that model on a smaller scale with four series – the primary Pro Series that offers exemptions into a handful of Web.com Tour events as well as a Winter Series in Florida, Carolina Series and Carolina Winter Series predominantly on the Strand.
The model was set up by Robin Waters of Longs, the longtime NGA/Hooters Tour president who remains the tour president and is an equity partner in Golf Interact. The Swing Thought Tour is headquartered in Little River.
The Adams Tour in Texas and Gateway Tour in Arizona are the two largest remaining domestic developmental tours that will be in competition with the Swing Thought’s regional tours. “Early on we gave them an opportunity to participate in what we’re trying to do,” Rush said.
Swing Thought memberships will be player-friendly, lasting 12 months regardless of when a player joins.
The Swing Thought Tour dates back to the late 1980s when it was called the TC Jordan Tour and it thrived under an 18-year sponsorship by Hooters that ended at the conclusion of the 2011 season. The tour existed for three years without a title sponsor as the National Golf Association (NGA) Tour until Swing Thought acquired it.
The Tarheel Tour was founded in 2002 by David Siegel and he has been president of its predecessor, the eGolf Tour, since 2008.
Both tours have an impressive list of alumni.
Past Swing Thought Tour members include major champions Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Keegan Bradley, David Toms, Ben Curtis, Stewart Cink, Tom Lehman, Jim Furyk, Lee Janzen, Lucas Glover and John Daly.
Brian Harman, Chesson Hadley and Jason Kokrak are among the players who have used the eGolf Tour to help them reach the PGA Tour.
The Swing Thought and eGolf tours have a history of consolidation. In 2007, the NGA Hooters Tour paid to title the then Tarheel Tour’s events. After the purchase of the Tarheel Tour by eGolf, the tours often found themselves competing for the same professionals and conducting competing events in nearby markets.
Both tours have lost members in the past few years as the PGA Tour's increased involvement in developmental golf has changed the playing field.
The PGA Tour took over the Tour de las Americas late in 2012 and the Canadian Tour in 2012 – they’ve been renamed the LatinoAmerica NEC Series and Mackenzie Tour (PGA Tour Canada) – and created PGA Tour China in 2014.
The three tours have purses similar to those offered by the NGA Tour, and because they now feed the Web.com Tour through the top finishers on their money lists, U.S. players have been chasing those international feeders, leaving them with less time and less money for domestic developmental and mini-tours.
In 14 events this year, the eGolf Tour has averaged 90 players, with a high of 120 for a guaranteed $200,000 purse in late May at Albemarle Plantation in Hertford, N.C. Its purses have been as low as $74,000.
In 11 events, the Swing Thought Tour has averaged 95 players for guaranteed $140,000 purses.
The tours have competing 54-hole events this week, though the SwingThought.com Tour’s Palmetto State Open at River Hills Golf & Country Club in Little River is officially part of the Carolina Series rather than the Pro Series, which is off this week so its players can participate.
The 54-hole Palmetto State Open has 36 players, including Rush, and a purse of $17,350, while the eGolf’s 72-hole tournament at River Hills Country Club in Lake Wylie, S.C., has 74 players and a purse of approximately $74,000.
All eGolf memberships have been transferred to the Swing Thought Tour.
eGolf’s final summer event from Aug. 19-21 at Sapona Country Club in Lexington, N.C., has been cancelled due to a scheduling conflict with the Swing Thought Tour’s event at The River Club in North Augusta, and three announced $200,000 fall events that weren’t assigned courses have been canceled.
The Swing Thought Tour has three $140,000 events remaining, including Aug. 12-15 at Three Ridges Golf Course in Knoxville, Tenn., and Aug. 26-29 at The Members Club at Woodcreek in Elgin.
Golf Interact is a relatively new company looking to make an impact in the golf world with new ideas, products and marketing, and Swing Thought – including the tour and SwingThought.com website – is the first brand brought to market by the company.
Rush is the chief operating officer and founded the company in 2009 while a student at Sam Houston State. The company has several investors and a developing product line dedicated to simplifying the game for players.