Sponsor exemptions are a term used to describe places in the field for a professional golf tournament that is set aside and filled at the discretion of its sponsor. At the discretion of the tournament's sponsor, exemptions" are places in a field that can be filled.
A sponsor may request an exemption for a golfer to get their company name in the title of the golf tournament (e.g., asking that they be allowed into The Honda Classic or Walmart NW Arkansas Championship). Such exemptions are one of the things included when spending money on sponsorship with these tournaments - but it's not easy getting them approved.
Tournaments fill up their fields based on criteria including players' position on the money list, past champion status, career earnings, etc. But what if there is someone who wants to participate in this event despite failing any qualification requirements? A certain sponsor might ask for an exemption so that they can include a player from their team and have him/her play at such events.
The skill level difference between professional golfers and even scratch handicaps is so great that it's difficult to quantify. This makes sponsor exemptions a target for criticism-- suddenly, athletes are invited by the PGA Tour to take up spots in events usually reserved for professionals who have never seen such high-level play before.
For example, in this year’s WGC-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec outside Mexico City, the tournament will include two members from a controversial private club.
Lee Trevino and Tom Watson are going to be playing in the PGA Tour's biggest non-major of 2018--the World Gold Championships (WGC)-Mexican Open on March 2nd! This is special because even though they're both Hall of Famers with over 100 wins between them—they do not normally get invited to compete since they don't have their tour card or aren't active players that would participate otherwise. They got an invite thanks to how well some companies' sponsorship deals went for last season's UBS Cup which took place.
The regular golfers registered with the club are sometimes compromised by the sponsors. As sad as this sounds, this ruins opportunities for a lot of good athletes. But as the sponsors are investing in the tournament they are allowed to put in their players which makes the tournament biased, and difficult to handle.
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