The European Tour is the most diverse and globe-trotting tour in professional golf, but how do you qualify to play on it?
How To Earn A European Tour Card
It’s often easy to forget when viewing European Tour events that those in the coverage represent a minuscule percentage of professional golfers around the world.
For the vast majority, reaching either circuit is a seminal moment and the realisation of a significant career goal.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that most players who set out on the journey fall short.
It’s a voyage akin to a salmon swimming up stream, with numerous hurdles to overcome and absolutely no guarantee of reaching the end destination.
The pathway you choose depends on a host of different circumstances. Are you a risk-taker looking for immediate gratification, or willing to be more patient?
Are you prepared to travel and do you want to hone your game in different countries and conditions? Who is funding the venture, and how long will you have backing for?
If you’ve ever been curious as to how someone ends up on the European Tour, or the various ways to get there, read on…
How To Earn A European Tour Card
The European Tour is the most global circuit in the world, with professionals coming from far and wide to compete for ever-growing prize pools, an increasing number of world ranking points and potential entry into the game’s biggest events.
Structurally, the second-tier Challenge Tour sits below the European Tour, with four further third-tier circuits feeding into it. The first step for most players will be the annual Q-School, though.
European Tour Q-School generally starts in September with first stage and finishes in November with final stage.
The competition is open to all professionals and amateurs with a handicap of scratch or better, and the cost to enter is £1,550.
The first stage is split into five sections, with a number of players from each venue making it through to second stage (the number varies and is determined at the time of each event).
Second stage comprises four 72-hole tournaments at four venues in Spain with some 85 players coming through to qualify for final stage.
Everyone who makes it to final stage gains at least Category 15 Membership of the Challenge Tour.
All those who compete in any part of European Tour Q-School are eligible for Associate 1 Membership, from where you can expect to get at least a couple of Challenge Tour starts the following season.
Many players are able to bypass stage one, though, including the top-five finishers from the four satellite third-tier tours: the Nordic Golf League, the EuroPro Tour, the Pro Golf Tour and the Alps Tour.
These players also automatically earn Challenge Tour cards.
Many are also able to bypass the first two stages, including those who have finished between 101st and 145th on the Race to Dubai and between 16th and 45th on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit the previous season.
The top 25 and ties from final stage receive Category 17 membership of the European Tour – which generally provides between ten and 18 starts for the following season – and full Challenge Tour membership.
Those finishing between 26th and the cut are eligible for Category 22 Membership of the European Tour and Category 9 Membership of the Challenge Tour.
There are some individuals who don’t have to undertake the tortuous Q-School, however.
Martin Kaymer played full-time on the Pro Golf Tour in 2006, winning five times to top the Money List.
As a result of his performances, he was handed an invite to the Challenge Tour’s Vodafone Challenge in August.
He won the event in his native Germany, triumphed again at the Open des Volcans in France and finished the season fourth on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit, despite playing in just eight events.
As such, he received a European Tour card for the 2007 season.
Why? The top 15 on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit earn European Tour cards for the following season.
Jordan Smith, winner of the 2017 European Open, topped the EuroPro Tour Order of Merit in 2015 and the Challenge Tour Order of Merit in 2016.
Anyone who wins three times on the Challenge Tour, meanwhile, gets an automatic ‘battlefield promotion’ to the European Tour.
The current World No.1, Brooks Koepka, achieved this in 2013.
If you don’t mind taking your time and playing outside Europe, there are also other indirect routes to the European Tour.
Each year, numerous professionals venture south and east to take part in Sunshine Tour and Asian Tour Q-School respectively.
The prize pools of those circuits compare favourably to the Challenge Tour and both tours co-sanction numerous events each season with the European Tour.
So, good performances in those tournaments could lead to a top-100 berth on the Race to Dubai.
Scott Hend and Kiradech Aphibarnrat both earned European Tour cards by winning co-sanctioned events.
If you’re looking for another reason, the leading five players on the Asian Tour Order of Merit and the leading three players on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit – as well as the top three from the PGA Tour of Australasia and the Japan Golf Tour – proceed directly to European Tour Q-School final stage.
Other tours also exist around the world and provide various pathways.
For example, Jamie Elson, the former Walker Cup star, won the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Tour Order of Merit in 2017.
As such, he received a 2018 Sunshine Tour card, entry into the final stage of Asian Tour Q-School, starts in the European Tour’s Maybank Championship and Dubai Desert Classic and a spot in the PGA Tour’s Dean & DeLuca Invitational.
A strong showing in any of those three events could have lead to full membership of the respective tour.
Related: How to become a PGA Professional
For all the latest golf news, check the Golf Monthly website and follow our social media channels @golfmonthlymagazine on Facebook and @golfmonthly on Twitter and Instagram