Three days. Two courses. One big winner.
That was the slogan of the Big Money Golf Classic, a Florida-based mini-tour event that debuted last January and held its second edition last month at Orange County National in Winter Garden, Florida. Boasting a $400,000 purse and $100,000 first-place prize, the 186-entrant Big Money Classic drew many top developmental-tour players for the second year in a row, including several Korn Ferry Tour members, with former North Florida standout M.J. Maguire taking down former PGA Tour player Tom Lovelady in a playoff to take home the winner’s check. Or so he thought.
First reported by Firepit Collective’s Ryan French (aka Monday Q Info), Maguire and at least 23 other players still haven’t been paid their prize money, a sum that, French says, exceeds $300,000, while Orange County National is still owed more than $50,000. The North Florida PGA Section still hasn’t seen $7,500 for providing rules officials and numerous other players haven’t been refunded entry fees for future events.
Meanwhile, Big Money Events founder Dustin Manning, a former golf pro who also runs a supply company for umpires, is the man at the center of this controversy, with French reporting that Manning has hired attorneys as questions continue to pile up about missing funds.
Manning provided a statement to GolfChannel.com, in addition to posting it on social media, claiming that “unforeseeable events” had led to the outstanding payments to players: “Big Money Events, LLC’s number one priority is getting any player that is owed money from the December 2021 Big Money Golf Classic paid in full in addition to refunding all paid entries for future events. Unforeseeable events have taken place that have led to the Big Money Events, LLC owing money to players from the December 2021 Big Money Golf Classic. From a sponsor backing out to a large hold from our credit card processor, the company is now unable to meet its present obligations. Big Money Events, LLC will be in direct contact with all players now owed winnings or the refund of an entry fee.”
French reports that reviewed documents show the agreement between Big Money and the potential sponsor was merely verbal, and that Square, a financial services company, has confirmed that it is indeed holding $254,000 in escrow because of a violation of their terms of condition. But as French also notes, that amount of money isn’t enough to cover all that is owed, which has prompted some players to contact law enforcement, including the FBI.
Maguire, who won $80,000 after he and Lovelady agreed to split the top two prizes ($100,000 and $50,000) and instead play off for $5,000, told GolfChannel.com that he had spoken to Manning, but preferred not to comment on specifics. He added that his attorney was handling the matter so that he could focus on the Korn Ferry Tour opener in the Bahamas, which begins Sunday.
In addition to Maguire, GolfChannel.com spoke to five other players who finished inside the top 12, and four of them confirmed that they, too, had not received their prize money. The exception was paid in multiple installments, first his $2,799 entry fee and then the rest of his winnings.
One player described a recent phone conversation with Manning, who explained the situation with Square but also seemed concerned about the story going public.
“He said he didn’t want this story getting out because there’s a chance that the credit card processing company would reject all payments and send the money back to everyone,” said the player, who was still waiting on his five-figure check plus money for winning a skin. “I was pretty skeptical and it all sounded pretty sketchy, but for as shady as it all was, it seemed genuine in the sense that Dustin was a former mini-tour player and didn’t want to be known as the no-pay guy.”
A second player said Manning told him that the money was being withheld because “a few international credit cards were used” and “the company considered the tournament to be illegal gambling.”
“He seemed honest. apologetic and told us we’d have the money by March 1,” the player said of Manning.
Added a third player: “He’s kind of running around in circles.”
GolfChannel.com has also reached out to both Orange County National and the North Florida PGA Section, but has yet to receive responses from either.
In addition to the Classic and a 15-event tour set to start in April with $999 memberships and $1,950 buy-ins, there was also a women’s Big Money Classic scheduled to begin Wednesday, with big-name players such as Maria Fassi and Laura Davies committed to compete (according to Big Money’s social channels). But in the weeks following the men’s tournament, the landing page for the women’s event was taken down. Manning told GolfChannel.com directly that the event “went a little off the radar to give us some time to think about how to restructure.”
In the meantime, several women’s players had reached out to the tournament, inquiring about new dates or being refunded their $2,799 entry fees, and received little answers – if any.
Manning’s response to GolfChannel.com’s questions about the women’s tournament last week said that “all players” had been contacted by Manning and the event was being pushed back to Feb. 9-11.
“Hope to have a big enough field to honor the purse,” wrote Manning, who contended that 146 players were needed to do so and that just 110 had signed up – with only “50 or so” paying their entry by the due date – causing the postponement. “Still working out details with OCN and hoping to hold at that location. We are also weighing our options for just one course and restructured purse.”
However, Kenzie Wright, one of the hopeful competitors who is still waiting for a refund, was among the players who received this direct message from Big Money Events on Instagram on Monday afternoon: “Unfortunately, we have had to cancel the women’s event as originally scheduled. Any participant that has paid an entry fee will be contacted individually by Big Money Events.”
“Life-changing money for most of us,” Wright later wrote on Twitter. “Sometimes when things seem too good to be true, they are.”
Golf has a history of upstart mini-tours defrauding players out of thousands of dollars. In 2004, the Florida-based Maverick Tour swindled players out of more than $300,000 in entry fees and unpaid prize money before the founder disappeared. Just two years later, the U.S. Pro Golf Tour had big plans to challenge the PGA Tour, even announcing a partnership with Donald Trump to bring million-dollar events to Trump courses and televise them on television. The first event aired on ESPN and Stuart Deane won the $1 million first-place prize. But in 2007, Trump withdrew from the partnership and the U.S. Pro Golf Tour quickly went belly up, abruptly canceling its 2007 season – and later its 2008 campaign – while owing hundreds of players thousands in membership fees and other funds. There are, sadly, many more stories.
After Big Money’s “unorganized” debut, one player told GolfChannel.com that this year’s encore “seemed a lot more legit going into it.” But as French points out, while all players were paid out from the inaugural Big Money Classic, “it took a while for a few,” including winner Adam Svensson being paid his $100,000 (and another $13,000 in interest) in installments over a year period.
“My feeling is he just got in over his head,” French wrote in is report, “but that doesn’t change the fact he put on an event knowing he wouldn’t be able to pay the competitors. That is inexcusable.” (Click here to read French’s full report.)
For a tour that promised one big winner, it has instead produced potentially dozens of big losers.
As one player simply stated via text, “I just wanna get paid.”