HAVE CLUBS WILL TRAVEL
As a successful young amateur, Dale Brandt-Richards heard the stories of the riches awaiting touring pros making it onto one of the world’s big tours. That dream remains alive as he grinds out a week-to-week existence playing Australia’s Pro-am circuits.
In the fledgling days of the US PGA Tour, the likes of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead travelled by car from city to city playing for small change and working as a club pro in their time away from competition to subsidise their playing careers. In the modern age, private jets have taken the places of cars on the world’s biggest tour, and a player fortunate enough to win on the PGA Tour is now an instant millionaire. And while the PGA Tour may have come a long way, there remains many professional golfers around the world travelling, some still mostly by car, from tournament to tournament hoping to make enough money to be able to a ord to tee it up the following week and perhaps be one of the fortunate ones to forge a career playing the game they love.
The various Pro-am circuits around Australia o er one of the greatest illustrations of this other side of professional golf, with tournaments held far and wide across the nation. Players willing to travel and play golf in remote places where you might not expect to find a golf course, let alone a professional tournament, can eke out a living playing a mix of between one- and four-day events. In most cases, they are often partnered with club members and sponsors rather than
Dale Brandt-Richards is one such player. He was a Pro-am circuit rookie in 2016 and he set out to traverse Australia, and the world, with a willingness to tee it up anywhere there was prizemoney on oer.
After a disappointing result at qualifying school earned him limited status for 2016, Brandt-Richards was determined to earn full playing rights on the main Australasian Tour for this year. His mindset was he was willing to go wherever he had to in his bid to earn a crust.
“If I saw an envelope and it had cash in it I’d go to the opening of it so I could get a little piece of it,” joked Brandt-Richards of his schedule and planning in 2016. The 27-year-old New South Welshman spent eight months of the calendar year away from home in 2016, travelling 80,000km by plane and more than 13,000km by car to compete in six Australian states and territories as well as six dierent countries for a total prize pool of $6 million. After eight months of toil, Brandt-Richards won about 0.88 percent of the booty, which equates to $53,000.
And he doesn’t regret one moment.
Brandt-Richards, known as ‘DBR’ amongst his fellow pros, certainly doesn’t bemoan his life of travelling far and wide playing golf for a living, but admits there were times during his 82 Proam rounds and 38 tournament rounds where he couldn’t help but feel envious of his fellow Australians playing in bigger events abroad. One such time was during the Western Australian Pro-am swing, which had arrived at Port Headland Golf Club, renowned for its sand greens. The US Open was taking place at the storied Oakmont course in Pennsylvania the same week. The Port Hedland tournament was the first-time Brandt-Richards had seen, let alone played, on the unique and tricky sand putting surfaces. The young Aussie recalls thinking at the time, “I’m in the outback playing for $30,000 for three days and the US Open is on in Oakmont, playing for $10 million.”
By his calculations, a 65th place at Oakmont earned a player the entirety of the prizemoney available at Port Hedland, but Brandt-Richards was quick to complement the event and course, where he finished fifth.
“I’m at a level and they’re (US Open players) at another level, so you have to accept where you are, but I will never forget that,” Brandt-Richards said of the extreme juxtaposition of the two tournaments.
The rookie’s acceptance of where he was in golf’s pecking order, and adaptability to travel and play dierent courses, held him in good stead throughout the year. Brandt-Richards finished the year in fourth place on the 2016 Pro-Am Order Of Merit and earned a nomination for the PGA’s Rookie of the Year for both Queensland and NSW/ACT. He was successful in taking out the Queensland section’s honour.
Brandt-Richards found the sunshine state to his liking, finishing in a tie for third at the 2016 Queensland Open, which proved to be his best finish of the year in a four-round event. The 27-year-old’s willingness to travel also saw him grab a top-10 finish in New Caledonia, while he gained valuable big event experience playing two events on South Africa’s Sunshine Tour.
He acknowledges the travel he experienced playing junior tournaments while growing up at South West Rocks on the New South Wales
mid-north coast, helped prepare him for life on the road as a touring pro. “My mum used to drive me down to Bathurst every year from South West Rocks, which is eight hours down eight hours back,” he said. “…we used to do that over a weekend so I guess you get used to travelling long distances.”
His comfort with travel saw him enjoy and begin to thrive in the most remote places, becoming something of an outback specialist in places like regional Western Australia and the Top End.
Now based in Sydney, Brandt-Richards saw more of the country than he ever did as a state representative playing amateur golf for New South Wales, but admits there are similarities in playing for money and pro-shop vouchers.
“At the end of the day you’re still playing golf, the golf courses haven’t changed, it’s just how you perceive it,” said Brandt-Richards of the dierence between professional and amateur golf.
“But if you can keep your focus on just playing good golf, doing what you need to do on and o the golf course, the money side will take care of itself and at the end of the day whatever money you make or don’t make it’s not going to change your life.”
While some would struggle spending hours on end in small hire cars packed with golf clubs or travelling to remote parts of the world like Papua New Guinea, Brandt-Richards embraced sharing accommodation and time spent in billet housing.
He stresses the importance of friendships on Tour as a key to his success in his first year in the play-for-pay ranks, singling out fellow pro and close friend Callan O’Reilly, who helped show him the Pro-am ropes. Brandt-Richards jokingly refers to him as the other half of a “golfing couple”, with both player’s girlfriends apparently in full agreement.
Both O’Reilly and Brandt-Richards are passionate fisherman and never leave home without their portable fishing setups, which include collapsible rods that fit into golf bags, reels and lures to help them relax in between tournaments.
Through their travels, the pair managed to drop a line in WA, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea in spending quality time away from the ‘oce’, which isn’t the only benefit.
“If you catch yourself dinner you save yourself 10 bucks,” Brandt-Richards laughed.
While successful in improving his category through his play in 2016, everything didn’t quite go to plan for the first-year pro. An unsuccessful trip to Asian Tour qualifying school at the end of last year meant another year playing Pro-ams and smaller four-round tournaments in Australasia. Again, his resolve has seen him overcome a disappointing start to 2017 and begin to make plans to head back to Asia and potentially Europe to attempt to earn playing rights for 2018.
Brandt-Richards’ love of golf and outstanding attitude towards playing the game for a living hold him in great stead as he continues to forge his playing career. His positive attitude and willingness to travel in his rookie year opened his eyes to some of the most unique places and golf experiences in Australia and around the world. He is the epitome of the other side of professional golf where players grind out a living, following in the footsteps of previous generations of Australian golfers who cut their competitive teeth playing golf in almost every corner of the country.
“It didn’t worry me if I was playing on sand greens or I was playing island golf courses or I was playing some of the best golf courses in the world, if they put up some prizemoney and you can play for it then I’ll play for it,” Brandt-Richards said.
... IF THEY PUT UP SOME PRIZEMONEY AND YOU CAN PLAY FOR IT THEN I’LL PLAY FOR IT.
Scenes from a life on the road ... from fishing for dinner to taking home big cheques, Happy Gilmore-style.