Grand Strand-based pro tour trying to find way in developmental golf landscape

As the Swing Thought Tour, which has its administrative offices in the Longs area, continues to search for a sustainable model in an increasingly challenging developmental pro golf tour landscape, it has created a new points race with late season payouts in 2018.

The tour is offering more than $193,000 in cash sponsorships and related free entries into events through The 44 Series and Race, in which up to 44 players will be playing in eight “44 Series” designated events for free and earning a $4,400 cash sponsorship at the end of the season.

The Swing Thought competes for players with the Adams Pro Golf Tour, which is based and features tournaments in the Southwest, smaller regional tours such as the GPro Tour based in North Carolina, and perhaps most importantly the PGA Tour’s system of feeder international tours.

PGA Tour China, PGA Tour LatinoAmerica and the Mackenzie Tour–PGA Tour Canada draw players away from the domestic tours to play internationally.

The Swing Thought Tour national series has events largely in the Southeast and has state series, including one in the Carolinas area.

The Swing Thought is the combined former NGA Hooters Tour that was based on the Strand and eGolf Tour that was based in Charlotte, N.C.

The tour founder and chief executive officer is Michael Rush, who created its parent company Golf Interact in 2009 as a senior at Sam Houston State and acquired the NGA Tour in 2014. Golf Interact LLC, a company looking to make a splash in the golf world with new ideas, products and marketing, and Swing Thought is the company’s first brand brought to market.

Jason Dores of Myrtle Beach, who is the local director of the Golfweek Amateur and Golfweek Senior Amateur tours, was hired as the director of tour operations early this year but has already resigned.

Dores gave the tour more of a local presence, moving the Swing Thought Tour Championship to the TPC Myrtle Beach and several Carolinas Series to the Grand Strand.

“We had differences of opinion on some things so I decided to resign,” Dores said. “You have to find the right niche with pro golf. Now with purses being based on player fields instead of having a sponsor put up a large purse, the players go where the largest fields are.”

“I really enjoyed it. The players definitely weren’t the reason I left.”

The tour says it will offer first place guarantees of $14,400 in majors with a minimum of 35 pros in the field, $12,000 in 72-hole events and $10,000 in 54-hole events in its national series with a minimum of 25 pros, and $5,000 in 54-hole events, $4,000 in 36-hole events and $1,000 in 18-hole events in state series tournaments with a minimum of 10 pros.

The tour cut its announced 2018 membership fee from $3,400 to $1,700 – it is $1,500 for returning 2015 or 2016 members.

The tour also offers host housing, paid pro-ams and tournament locations near the sites of PGA Tour and Tour tournament qualifiers among its benefits.

The tour is in the midst of a four-event series on the Strand through Dec. 21 called the Holiday Race.

A 72-hole event with a cut after 36 holes at the TPC Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet begins Wednesday and has entry fees of $975 for members, $1,175 for non-members and $700 for amateurs, and a 54-hole event with a 36-hole cut from Dec. 19-21 at the Barefoot Resort Dye Club has entry fees of $700 for members and $800 for non-members.

For Holiday events that draw up to 29 players, the tour will add $100 per entrant to the normal purse. If an event draws more than 30 players, it will have a minimum $7,000 first place prize. The events give tour points toward the 2018 season and opportunities for 2018 free tour membership.

The opening national tournament is the Swing Thought School from Jan. 3-6 at RedTail Golf Club in Sorrento, Fla., and has a $1,000 entry fee. The event has no cut and the winner will earn free entry into at least 13 events in 2018.

Like father, like son

The son of two-time major champion and fan favorite John Daly appears to have some game himself.

John Daly II earned his first win of the year on the International Junior Golf Tour in a South Carolina event this past weekend.

Daly II, a student of Bishops Gate Golf Academy in Florida, prevailed in a five-player playoff at 152 in the IJGA Invitational after shooting a final-round 73 to go with his opening-round 79 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

The winner of each division Sunday earned a spot into the prestigious Junior Heritage Tournament in February.

Daly II will be joining his father this week in the PNC Father Son Challenge pro-am in Orlando.

The event concluded the IJGT fall schedule that consisted of 12 tournaments in S.C., Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Grigg rallies at Tilghman

Coastal Carolina commitment Holden Grigg of Myrtle Beach made a late run that ultimately came up a shot shy of a playoff Sunday in the 28th Charles Tilghman Carolinas PGA Junior Championship at the Surf Golf and Beach Club in North Myrtle Beach.

Grigg closed with a 4-under 32 on the back nine Sunday that featured five birdies, including successive birdies on holes 15-17, to finish at 3-over 147 and a shot out of a playoff with Cole Sutherland of Charlotte, N.C., and Ian Faulconer of Simpsonville.

Sutherland prevailed with a par on the second playoff hole.

Matthew Griego of North Myrtle Beach made five birdies in the final round for a 72 and tie for ninth at 11-over 155, Charlie Wike of Surfside Beach made five birdies in a 75 in the first round and tied for 24th at 10-over 154, and Walker Isley of Oak Island, N.C., made four back-nine birdies Sunday to tie for fifth at 4-over 148.

The final round featured cold temperatures and a frost delay.

Savannah Hylton of Hilton Head Island won the girls competition by six shots with a 3-over 147 that included an opening-round 71.

The Charles Tilghman is run by the Carolinas PGA section and is named after one of the Surfs Club’s founding members and the grandfather of The Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman.

It is the second of two tournaments in two weeks that bring top junior golfers to the Grand Strand, following the 49-year George Holliday Memorial Junior at Myrtle Beach National on Thanksgiving weekend.

Byrd misses cut

Coastal Carolina alumnus Zack Byrd of Murrells Inlet missed the cut in the European Tour’s Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg, South Africa, which concluded Monday.

Byrd opened with a 69 but shot a 74 in the second round to miss the cut by four strokes at even-par 143 and finish outside the money in the $1.2 million event.

Byrd gained entry in the event, which awarded three spots into the British Open at Carnoustie from July 19-22 to top 10 players not already exempt into the major championship, based on his finishes this past season on the Sunshine Tour based in South Africa.

He believes he'll also get into the tour's $1.1 million BMW South African Open from Jan. 11-14, where he is an alternate.

Byrd anticipates playing on the Sunshine Tour and in some European Challenge Tour events in 2018. The Challenge Tour is Europe's equivalent to the Tour in the U.S.

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin