The Georgia-based Hopkins Peach State Golf Tour ended its 2014 season with the largest fields in its history and some of the largest purses.
But after a dispute between the tour’s owners and an Atlanta golf course owner who became financially involved with the tour, none of the players who finished in the money in the final three events of the 2014 season were paid, and the future of the tour is in doubt.
The story was reported by Jason Sobel on the Golf Channel’s web site in early November, and is the latest piece of distressing news for mini-tour players in Georgia and outside the state.
Hooters ended its long-time sponsorship of its mini-tour a few years ago, and that tour struggled to attract players last year before being sold to a former mini-tour player/entrepreneur, and is now known as the SwingThought.com Tour.
The North Carolina-based eGolf Tour, which has emerged as the strongest of the regional mini-tours, merged with the top Western mini-tour (the Gateway Tour) and appears to be the only remaining reliable mini-tour.
The Peach State Tour became a competitive mini-tour about five years ago, and was enjoying perhaps its best year in 2014 before it ran into financial problems.
Tour founder Karl Diewock of Fayetteville and co-owner Greg Hendrix, both former mini-tour players, reportedly had problems paying players early in the 2014 season, and met with Ben Kenny, who made his money in the oil business and owns Horseshoe Bend and Golf Club of Georgia.
Kenny’s stepson had competed on the Peach State Tour and Kenny agreed to help Diewock and Hendrix, who offered Kenny the opportunity to purchase a one-third stake in the tour. Kenny paid all the players owed money by the tour, and according to Sobel’s story, took over sole ownership of the tour in early September.
The agreement between Kenny and the two former owners reportedly fell apart almost immediately, and Diewock and Hendrix were unable to pay the players for the final three events of 2014, played at Stonebridge in Rome, Crystal Lake in Hampton and the Georgia Club outside Athens.
According to Sobel’s article, Kenny sent Diewock and Hendrix a letter declaring his ownership agreement “null and void” and demanded a return of over $140,000 “or I will commence legal action for collection.”
Efforts by Diewock, Hendrix, their legal representatives, other players and the Golf Channel to contact Kenny were unsuccessful, with his personal assistant telling everyone Kenny was out of town and would deal with the situation when he returned.
Veteran mini-tour player Jay McLuen of Forsyth is among the players owed money by the Hopkins Peach State Tour. McLuen won the Georgia Open in 2011 and ’14 and has limited experience on both the Web.com and PGA Tours, recording a top 20 finish in the PGA Tour event in Mexico in 2013 after playing his way into the tournament in a Monday qualifier.
“It’s a completely different world for guys like us than guys on the PGA Tour,” McLuen told Sobel. “On the PGA Tour there’s no entry fee (for members). We have to pay between $700 and $1200 depending on the tournament.
“Factor in travel expenses and it can be $1000-$1800 just to play, with no guarantee of making money. If you make a cut, you’re barely breaking even.”