On the Champions Tour, where a 50-year-old is a rookie, golf is not just a source of retirement income for those once on the PGA Tour.
The level of play remains high. Consider that the average driving distance drops only 11 yards between the regular and senior tours.
And in the Champions Tour's five majors, including the U.S. Senior Open that comes to Omaha from July 8 to 14, a pro had better be on his game.
Tournaments are four rounds (72 holes), same as the regular tour, instead of three as they are at most stops on the senior tour. There's a 36-hole cut. No carts for the pros. And for the U.S. and British Senior Opens, no pro-am events during tournament week.
“Majors are like real tournaments,” Champions Tour pro Willie Wood said. “Champions Tour (typical) events are more like an exhibition with competition on the side.
“We're a little bit more entertaining at those events. (A Senior Open) is more down-to-business for us because there's more at stake.”
The Senior Open winner receives a spot in the next year's U.S. Open, along with a minimum 10-year entry (or through age 65) into future Senior Opens. He also receives the largest first-place check of the season, $500,000 in 2012.
Two of this year's senior-tour majors already have been played. Kohki Idoki from Japan won the Senior PGA Championship in late May. Two weeks ago, David Frost of South Africa won the Regions Tradition.
The Senior Players Championship is next week at Fox Chapel in Pittsburgh. Two weeks after the Senior Open in Omaha, the last major is the Senior British Open at Royal Birkdale.
Only the Senior PGA, which dates to 1937, existed before the PGA Tour started a 50-and-over circuit in 1980.
The genesis of the senior tour was the Legends of Golf two-man tournament that began in 1978. Two years later, with the inaugural U.S. Senior Open one of its four tournaments, the Senior PGA Tour was under way. The $475,000 in purses for the four tournaments, incidentally, was less than the $500,000 that Roger Chapman collected last year as the Senior Open winner.
The senior tour began with 50 as the age minimum, but the United States Golf Association stayed with 55 — which it used for its Senior Amateur — for the first Senior Open in 1980.
Not so coincidentally, that changed for the 1981 tournament — the first in which Arnold Palmer would be eligible as a 50-year-old, along with Billy Casper, Gene Littler and Don January.
Palmer, in a playoff, won the Senior Open in his “rookie” season. His presence was instrumental in the tour gaining fan acceptance.
During the next 20 years, the tour blossomed to include as many as 39 tournaments in a year. Economic conditions, however, were a major factor in the tour reaching an ebb of 24 events last year. There are 26 on this year's schedule.
Hale Irwin, the three-time U.S. Open champion who's now 68, is the Champions Tour career leader in wins with 45 and earnings with $26.7 million. Bernhard Langer, a two-time Masters champion, has led the tour's money list four of the past five seasons.
Who follows the Champions Tour? According to one survey used by several tour events, the average ticket buyer is a male between ages 41 and 55, walking the course without access to corporate hospitality areas, and has a household income of between $50,000 and $100,000.
The second largest age bracket is 26 to 40, not the 56 to 70 group that is closer in age to the pros and more likely watched them on the regular tour. Twenty percent of fans have household incomes of less than $50,000.
There also are significant differences between the Senior Open and Omaha's annual pro golfevent, the Cox Classic on the Web.com Tour.
At Omaha Country Club, there will be no party tent with cover bands playing past midnight. No dollar-beer clock, either, for eagles on a certain hole.