The Nationwide Tour has become a clearinghouse for the world's best players. While not every player who plies his trade on the Nationwide Tour makes it to the big time, many of them go on to successful careers on the PGA Tour.
Excellent events in their own right, purses have gotten bigger and the level of competition better in recent years. Many PGA Tour professionals would tell you that the talent gap between the PGA and Nationwide Tours has shrunk dramatically, making the Nationwide Tour the best place to hone your skills for the PGA Tour.
The Nationwide Tour began in 1990 with 30 events and $3 million in total prize money. While this was a humble beginning, it proved to be an important jump start for many PGA Tour professionals.
Originally created to provide a place for aspiring PGA Tour players and players needing to prepare for the Champions Tour, the Nationwide Tour has become a clearing-house for successful players. Special exemptions are given to former PGA Tour winners who are 48 or 49 years old to play on the Nationwide Tour so that they may prepare for the Champions Tour.
The first Nationwide Tour event was won by Mike Springer and the leading money winner was Jeff Maggert ($108,644). Springer went on to win three more Nationwide events. He won two PGA Tour events in 1994 and is currently struggling to play his way back onto the PGA Tour. Maggert won the Ben Hogan Knoxville Open and the Ben Hogan Buffalo Open and captured player of the year honors before taking his game to the PGA Tour.
Players have been highly successful crossing over from the Nationwide to PGA Tour. Graduates from the Nationwide Tour have won over 150 PGA Tour events.
Notable money list winners include Zach Johnson in 2003 ($494,882), Chad Campbell in 2001 ($394,552), Chris Smith in 1997 ($225,201), Stewart Cink in 1996 ($251,699), and Tom Lehman in 1991 ($141,934).
First called the Hogan Tour, it was renamed the Nike Tour in 1993, the Buy.com Tour in 2000, and received its current name when Nationwide Insurance purchased naming rights in 2003.
Currently purses range from $450,000 to $750,000, or roughly one tenth of those paid out on the PGA Tour.
Unlike the PGA Tour where the cut is for the top 70 and ties, the Nationwide Tour cut comes at the top 60 and ties. Just like the PGA Tour, Nationwide events are based on a four-day 72-hole tournament.
The Nationwide Tour is an excellent proving ground for aspiring PGA Tour players. Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, David Duval, David Toms, Stuart Appleby, and John Daly all arrived on the PGA Tour through the Nationwide Tour.
Photo Credit: © Andy Lyons/Getty Images.