Amateur Golf Tournaments

Amateur Golf Tournaments: How to Compete at Any Level

I’ve played in more than 200 days of amateur golf tournaments since 2017. It’s safe to say I’m a little obsessed with competition and want to share everything I’ve learned to help you navigate amateur golf tournaments. 

First off, if you want to play in competition, good for you! It takes a lot of courage to test your game under pressure and play by the rules of golf

Key Takeaways

  • Amateur golf is thriving and there are tons of ways to compete at all levels (even if you’re a mid to high handicap golfer). 
  • To play in most tournaments you’ll need an established USGA handicap for flights and playing the right tee boxes. 
  • When getting started with golf tournaments it’s best to start with smaller, one day events. Then, work your way up to multi-day events and more expensive competitions. 

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about playing in amateur golf tournaments. 

Amateur Golf Tournaments  

Before getting into finding and competing in events, it’s important that you have an official USGA handicap. This is needed to start in amateur golf events for a few reasons.

  • If you’re playing in flighted events (gross and net), your handicap will put you in the correct flight. 
  • To play in certain events, you will need a specific handicap. For example, if you want to try and qualify for the US Open (which is open to amateurs), men will need a .4 handicap or less. 

Once you have an established handicap, the next step is finding your events, here’s how… 

Amateur Golf Tournaments

Local Events 

When beginning your quest to amateur golf I suggest starting at a local level instead of going straight to big events. Why?

A few reasons… 

First, you can try out competition to make sure you actually like playing in tournaments before spending hundreds of dollars on bigger events. Second, you don’t have to travel which usually makes it a lot cheaper. As you know, flying with golf clubs is always sketchy (especially with connecting flights).

When I first got started back into competition I found some small events in Arizona. This included one-day scrambles, one day stroke play events, and member-guest events. Check with your local golf courses to see if there are any events or a calendar of events to play ahead. 

Or, you can check national tours if you live in bigger cities. Here are some good examples of ones I’ve played in the past:

These tours are great because they have flighted events so even if you’re a mid to high handicapper, you can play with similar golfers. This will help with any intimidation you might have about getting in tournament golf. Plus, they have a good mix of single day, two-day, and season long points races. 

Member Guest Golf Tournament

Men’s and Women’s Leagues 

Additionally, if you want something that is more informal but still requires you to abide by the rules of golf, find a local men or women’s league. Most golf courses and country clubs have some sort of league to sign up for that has 1–2 tournaments each month. 

Like the amateur golf tours mentioned above, they typically have a season-long points race too. This can help you connect with like-minded people, establish a regular playing schedule, and get into regular competition.

With most leagues you have to pay an annual fee to join (typically less than $100) and your annual handicap with the USGA is included. 

City Championships 

The next type of amateur golf tournament to consider is a city championship. These are slightly “bigger” events but still great for avid golfers and typically pretty cost-efficient.

For example, in Arizona we have a Phoenix City Championship and smaller city championships like the Chandler City or Tucson City. The Phoenix City is one of my favorite tournaments as it’s 3-days (no cut) at three different city courses.  

You can also travel to other cities to play in these events too. For example, each year I fly out to San Diego to compete in their city championship as it’s held at Torrey Pines. It’s pretty awesome to play a golf course where the US Open was held and play a bucket list golf course in a tournament.

Overall, city championships are a good mix of golfers and a perfect way to start playing in multi-day events. But make sure to sign up early as they tend to fill up quickly as they’re usually a great deal. 

State Events 

The next type of events to consider are state events which are usually very competitive. For example, I play in tons of events that are put together by the Arizona Golf Association. Each year they have tournaments with a season-long points race. 

You can play in one or two events if you’re just getting into it. Or sign up for all of them like myself. 

When I first started I would play 2-3 a year and now I’m at the point where I sign up for everyone when the schedule is released. Most of these tournaments average out to about $125/per day (assuming you make the cut, if there is one). 

What’s great about playing in state tournaments is that you get to know a lot of players and meet like-minded golfers. Plus, tend to play the same courses each year which can help you get more comfortable with the golf course. 

Golf Match Play

Each state is different in terms of pricing, number of events, and type of events. Most of the ones in Arizona are stroke play, but there are a few match play tournaments as well (including the Arizona State Championship). 

USGA Qualifiers  

Another type of events amateurs should consider are USGA qualifiers. These are the most expensive and by far the most competitive tournaments. 

Here are the big ones put on by the United States Golf Association: 

  • U.S. Men’s and Women’s Open Qualifying: That’s right, even as an amateur you can compete to play in the US Open championship. It’s extremely competitive and a two stage process but something I do each year to test my game under extreme conditions. 
  • U.S. Men’s and Women’s Amateur: This is the pinnacle of amateur golf – for context, Tiger Woods won this event three years in a row. You’ll need to go through qualifying to make it to the big event then play 36 holes of stroke play to get seeded into match play. 
  • U.S. Men’s and Women’s Mid-Amateur: This is very similar to the amateur championship but reserved for “mid-ams” which are golfers over 25 years of age. This makes it slightly less competitive since you don’t have young college golfers but trust me, it’s still extremely competitive. 
  • U.S. Men’s and Women’s Four Ball:  This is a fun type of format that is a 2-person team event using the best ball format. Like the others, you’ll need to make it through a local qualifying event to make it to the big show. 

Playing in USGA events is exciting and nerve wracking as you’re going against the best of the best. But if you’re an avid golfer and looking to showcase your skills, it’s a great goal to compete in the biggest stages of amateur golf. 

Mini Tours and Q-School 

For 90% of amateur golfers, USGA events are the pinnacle of competition. However, there are some other options for non-professionals that I’ve done and wanted to share as well. 

State Opens 

A lot of states have a professional event each year that does allow amateur golfers to compete alongside the pros. The Arizona Open has been held since 1937 and has open qualifying that both pros and amateurs can enter.

This was one I wanted to qualify for years. I started this quest in 2018 and didn’t even get close in the first four attempts. I remember one year making a horrible triple bogey on the first hole but grinded back and only ended up one shot away.

But the Golf Gods helped me out in 2023. In an 18 hole open qualifier I shot a 70 (with a blistering hot 32 on the front nine) to get T-5th and make the event. A few weeks later I got to tee it up with the pros at the 2023 Arizona Open.

This was a huge goal of mine and was so cool to play with pros from all over Arizona and other states. While I didn’t make the cut (ours is 54 holes with a cut after the first two days) it was a great learning experience. 

This qualifier is about $230 and then another entry fee if you qualify for the event. Not a cheap few days but definitely worth the experience. 

Mini Tours 

Some states also have mini-tours where professionals play to earn money on the road to the Korn Ferry Tour. But some of these mini-tours do allow 20-30% of the field to be amateurs as well. While the pros are competing for money (some first place checks are $20,000 or more), amateurs can play for future certificates.

I started playing in these types of events in 2020 and love the challenge. You’re playing against golfers who can shoot incredibly low scores even when the course is fully tipped out. These are typically 54 hole events and sometimes the winning score is nearly -20! 

In one mini tour event I played in, a guy shot 61 on the first day and the course was 7,200 yards. Needless to say, they’re incredible players and a great way to test your game with tucked pins and difficult course conditions. 

These are pretty costly and typically about $400 for a 3-day event for amateurs. Since pros are competing for purses, it’s closer to $1,000 for them so it’s still a good deal. 

Monday Qualifier

Monday-Qualifying 

Another high level version of amateur golf is pre-qualifying for PGA Tour or Korn Ferry events. For example, each year I typically try my luck at qualifying for the WM Open (the crazy event called “the greatest show on grass”).

There are about seven sites where you and 80+ other guys play to get a spot in the Monday qualifying. If you make it through Monday – they typically allow 2-3 spots – then you make it into a professional event. This is insanely competitive but also a ton of fun. 

These types of events are pretty spendy – typically more than $200 a day. Not to mention an extra cost for practice rounds too. 

Click here to learn more about Monday qualifying for professional events here. 

Q-School 

The final tournament I’ve tried out and had to mention was Q-School which is the formal process to make it to professional golf. I tested my luck at the 2019 Korn Ferry pre-qualifying Q-school as an amateur and it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Although it wasn’t cheap ($3,000 to enter), not to mention hotel, airfare, etc. But it was a bucket list experience for me and only missed going to the next stage by three shots. It was a huge confidence booster and something I’ll remember forever. 

Other Amateur Golf Tournament Tips

Here are my biggest tips if you’re serious about getting into tournament golf.

  • Get a custom fitting. If you’re considering amateur golf tournaments, you need clubs that match your swing. Spend the money on a good fitting to make sure your clubs are helping your game. A professional putter fitting is a must as well.
  • Play practice rounds. To play your best in competition you need to understand the course layout and greens. Play at least one practice round to show up prepared.
  • Get plenty of rest. Your swing won’t change much the week of an event so don’t cram like it’s a college exam. Make sure to rest up so your mind and body are ready for the competition. 
  • Practice strategically. The week of an event is not a great time to make any big swing changes or spend a lot of time on YouTube University. Instead, spend time on your routines, short game, and mental game. 

FAQs About Playing in Amateur Events

Keep reading if you have more questions about competing as an amateur in golf events.

Walk Golf

Do you have to walk in amateur golf tournaments?

Most of the time no, you can ride in a golf cart. It’s actually usually suggested that you ride in a cart to keep up the pace of play

However, some events are walking only events like USGA qualifiers. But they typically allow you to have a caddy that can either walk and carry or push your bag. Or, sometimes the caddy can drive your clubs on a cart as long as you do not ride with them.

If you plan on walking more, make sure to check out our guide for the best golf push carts

Do I have to be a certain handicap to play in competition?

Each tour and league has their own requirements. Make sure to check if a tournament is gross or net to see if they’ll have flights based on handicap. 

How much do amateur golf tournaments cost?

Prices vary greatly depending on the city, number of holes included, prizes, and more. Most single day events range from $100 to $200. While multi-day events are $250 to $450 depending on the tournament. Plus, some tours require you to pay an annual membership fee as well. 

Can amateur golfers earn money?

Yes and no. If your plan is to get rich as an amateur golfer, think again. You can win for your performance on the links but in the form of gift cards and certificates (not cash). 

Here is the full description of this by the USGA. “An amateur golfer may accept prize money up to the limit when playing in a scratch competition only. The $1000 limit applies to non-cash prizes in a handicap competition.”

Further stating, “A non-monetary prize is distinguished from prize money (see Meaning of Prize Money), and consists of vouchers, gift certificates and gift cards that can be exchanged for products and services in retail outlets, including a golf course or club.

This type of prize may also be credited to a course or club account and used for items such as a bar bill, club dues, payment of entry fees, and other goods and services at the Club.”

How does Skins work in Golf

Do skins count as winning money?

Skins won’t hurt your amateur status as long as the skins portion of the competition is optional, it’s considered “gambling.” Which, funny enough, is allowed. 

My Experience

As mentioned throughout this amateur golf guide, there are tons of tournaments. I’m convinced playing in competition helped me become a scratch golfer and now a plus handicap. 

While there are tons of benefits, playing amateur golf is a ton of fun but not cheap. To help pay for some of the entry fees and other tournament associated costs, make sure to read our guide on how to sell old golf clubs now. 

Final Thoughts 

Amateur golf is doing better than ever and highly suggest finding a tournament if you love the game. It’s a great way to test yourself, play by the rules, and hopefully help you spot weaknesses so you can practice more strategically. If you’re anything like me, chances are you’ll be addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes with competition. 

Now that you’re familiar with amateur golf, read these articles to crush it in competition:

Picture of Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard

Michael is an avid golfer of 25 years who played in high school, college, and now competes in Arizona amateur events. He is a full-time writer, podcast host of Wicked Smart Golf, and mental golf coach.

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