Slattery’s Smart Golf Solutions

Watching his older brother Lee, now a two-time European Tour winner, almost have to quit the game due to a lack of funding, inspired Craig Slattery to start an innovative business aimed at providing a financial ‘helping hand’ to European Tour players who have yet to fully establish themselves. 

Fifteen years ago Englishman Lee Slattery was forced to take a year out of the game and go to work in a High Street clothes store because, financially, he simply couldn’t afford to stay out on Tour.

He might have been lost to the game for good had it not been for the members at his local golf club in Formby, Lancashire, who took out share options against his future success which generated enough capital for him to have another crack at the big time.He’s gone on to make good on his promise and then some – topping the 2014 Challenge Tour Rankings and winning two European Tour titles, including last season’s M2M Russian Masters. But it could have turned out very differently had he not had a financial helping hand at that crucial stage in his career and Slattery’s story is by no means unique.

While the media spotlight is placed firmly on the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth – young superstars backed by big sponsors almost since childhood and with the financial security to seamlessly make the transition to the top echelons of the game – there are many more in the shadows who fall by the wayside.

Exceptional talents forced to quit the game simply because they lack the funding to pay for the season-long run of hotels, flights, caddies, meals, transport. Witnessing Lee’s early struggles at close hand inspired younger brother Craig, a talented golfer himself with a background in finance, to come up with a clever business idea aimed at providing funding for fledgling or fringe European Tour players in need of the ‘start up’ cash to sustain themselves until they are established on Tour.

“We launched Smart Golf Solutions (SGS) just over 18 months ago,” says Craig, who bears a striking resemblance to his brother. “We saw there was a gap in the market to help young professionals who were coming through the ranks via the feeder tours.

“We found that there were players who were qualifying for The European Tour every year but weren’t taking advantage of that qualification. They were passing up on their cards and it was purely down to the funding aspect, nothing else. We thought, ‘this shouldn’t be happening’ because some players were slipping through the net that shouldn’t be.” Craig Slattery

“I’d seen what Lee went through and I wanted to come up with something innovative to help these players out and get the best out of their careers as they are coming through. Smart Golf Solutions gives the players some funding and allows them to pay for expenses, hotels, flights etc.  All we wanted in return was a percentage of their on-course earnings.”

SGS have estimated that a European Tour player needs around £2,000 (AED 10,445) per week on average to get from tournament to tournament and pay for their meals and accommodation and the raft of other expenses that come with the territory.

Craig Numbers

“Once you have established yourself on the Tour, the costs go up,” says Craig. “To get you through on a yearly basis, playing around 25 tournaments or more, we average it out at about £2,000 a week. That’s enough if you budget correctly to get you through the season. You might get some club sponsorship as well which can top you up.”

The older Slattery brother has been out on Tour for well over a decade and paid his dues on the mini-tours prior to that so he has a personal insight into just how expensive the life of a touring golfer can be.

“You can pay £1,000 (AED 5,222) a week for a good caddie and hotels are never cheap because we’re usually playing at expensive venues” says Lee.

“Then there are long haul flights to pay for. You can comfortably rack up £100,000 (AED 522,288) a year, even as a young player coming out on Tour, and to raise that in sponsorship you need to be a serious talent.

“There are not many guys out here who could raise that kind of money. Therefore, any sort of backing is a huge help.  A golfer can go from being an average Tour player into a great Tour player by being financially secure and Craig’s company offers that chance.

“Financial pressure certainly has a huge impact on golfers,” he continues. “The young guys who start off on Tour can certainly struggle. When I was young, I stopped playing for a year because I didn’t have enough financial backing. Once I got that, my game evolved and I managed to get onto The European Tour.

“ It was great from there on but even the first couple of years on The European Tour were tricky as I struggled to keep my card. We spend a lot of money in competing so it’s a huge help if a company can fund these golfers like Craig’s new company is doing. I think this is something The Tour has needed for a long time.”

The service that SGS offers is not an entirely new concept but Craig believes that their business model is what sets them apart, as it has player welfare at its heart.

“What we did differently to most companies that have provided this kind of service in the past is to make it as fair as possible for the golfers,” Craig Slattery says. “We cap the returns and work it on a sliding scale so the more the golfer earns, the less they pay us back. This would be accumulative so we know exactly how much they owe at the end of the year.

“After six months of research that involved us speaking to players and golf management companies, we found a formula that made everybody happy.”

In order for SGS to make any money, they need players on the books who they believe to be good prospects, capable of delivering a ‘return on investment’ which is where Craig’s role becomes more of a talent scout.

“I spend most of my time looking at stats and examining trends from the last 10 years,” he says. “It’s a workable formula but there’s some risk as well. However, I feel like I have enough knowledge and experience in this field to see what the pattern is and how we can act according to the trends.

“For instance, we discovered that the percentage of Challenge Tour graduates who keep their European Tour card after their first year is slightly higher than players who qualify though Q-School. But we’ve also noticed the trend that many players who qualify through Q-School use the Challenge Tour category to play a full year on that tour instead of taking advantage of The European Tour card that they’ve got.  So there are a lot of elements to consider.

“I worked with Chris Lloyd, Daniel Brooks and Daniel Gaunt last year and I want to increase the number to 10 or12 this year and gradually go on from there. It’s important to have the right players and build the business slowly.”

Fellow Englishman Brooks, who won the rain- shortened Madeira Islands Open in 2014 and got the 2016 season off to a flyer with a third place finish at The BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni, believes that the peace of mind provided by SGS has been crucial in his development.

“Starting the 2014 season without a sponsor was a very worrying time for me as the costs of playing are so expensive,” he says. “SGS gave me the backing, removed the stress, and allowed me to play golf. It’s been a Godsend.”

With so many Tour golfers in need of some support to bridge the gap until their talents start reaping financial rewards, Craig Slattery’s company clearly offers a smart solution for many of golf’s emerging talent.

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