PGA vs. PGA Tour: What's the Difference?

You say PGA, I say PGA Tour, someone else says PGA of America: Are we talking about the same thing? Just what are the PGA, the PGA Tour and the PGA of America? Do those terms refer to a single entity, or three different things?

Golfers know the difference, and many golf fans know the difference. But that leaves a lot of people out there who don't know the difference, including, alas, many non-sports journalists who sometimes conflate two different organizations. So let's break it down, and explain why the PGA of America and PGA Tour are not the same things, and what, if any, relationship they have with one another.

  • The PGA Tour is the organization that runs the series of golf tournaments (mostly in the United States) that comprise the world's pre-eminent golf tour for professional golfers who earn their living playing tournaments.

  • The PGA of America is the organization that sets standards for and certifies golf professionals who work as club pros, instructors, directors of golf and other such positions — golf pros who do not make their livings by playing tournaments but rather by working at golf courses, golf clubs, pro shops, driving ranges and so on.
  • And "the PGA" can refer to either organization, but those who are familiar with both the PGA Tour and PGA of America and understand they are two distinct outfits are likely to specify which they are speaking about. Those who use "the PGA" are, if they are knowledgeable about golf, probably referring to the PGA of America; if they are not knowledgeable about golf, they might be confusing or conflating the two organizations.

A shorthand way of keeping the two organizations straight: The PGA of America is an organization for club professionals, the PGA Tour is for tour pros and tournament golf.

What makes it easy for non-golfers to confuse or conflate the two organizations is, of course, the fact that both have "PGA" in their names. And there's a reason for that: Once upon a time, both clubs pros and tournament pros belonged to a single organization which was called ... the PGA.

The Professional Golfers Association of America, the PGA of America, often shorted to just "the PGA," was founded in 1916. At that time, and for decades to come, there wasn't enough money in tournament golf for golfers (even, the farther back you go, the biggest stars) to earn a living by playing tournaments alone. When the PGA of America was founded in 1916, if you wanted to make a living through golf you had to work as a club pro, even if you were also out there winning big tournaments.

Over the decades, as money in tournament golf grew, golf pros who were good enough could begin specializing in tournament golf. Their needs and wants had little to do with the club pro life, and they began to feel that the PGA of America did not well-represent their interests as tournament players.

By the late 1960s, the tournament pros began the process of breaking away from the PGA of America. And in 1975, the organization they created achieved full independence from the PGA of America and was named the "PGA Tour."

Today, the PGA of America and PGA Tour are completely different organizations, serving different types of membership, and having little to do with each other on a formal basis. They do cooperate, however, on certain scheduling issues, and as members of the International Golf Federation.

And the PGA of America does still run several events played by the golfers of the PGA Tour: The PGA of America, not the PGA Tour, runs the PGA Championship. The PGA of America also runs the Ryder Cup and the Women's PGA Championship, two other major events in professional tournament golf.

The PGA Tour runs almost all of the top-level men's professional golf tournaments, played on a weekly basis throughout most of the year, in the United States. The PGA Tour also owns and operates the Champions Tour (for 50+ tournament golfers), and several developmental circuits such as the Korn Ferry Tour that feeds into the PGA Tour.

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