Some weeks on the European Tour, golf fans will see players they're used to watching on the PGA Tour or other tours around the world. They're typically in the field on an exemption or an invitation, and the announcers will refer to that player as a European Tour affiliate member.
The concept of European Tour affiliate membership creates confusion among some golf fans, wondering if these infrequent players are suddenly full members of the European Tour. Names like Kevin Na, Tony Finau and Billy Horschel come to mind.
So let's explain European Tour affiliate membership and what it means.
European Tour affiliate membership is, effectively, a player buying their way to European Tour status. The fee, as of 2012, was £2,000, and any professional golfer can pay for the affiliate membership. By paying the fee, a player's earnings in the Race to Dubai points system count toward the season-long points race and can be counted toward earning full membership through the top 110 on the season-ending points list.
The affiliate members are considered an add-on to that top 110 players, meaning any affiliate members in this list, the European Tour Access List and similar categories do not take away from the originally stated thresholds to qualify. For example, if six affiliate members finish in the top 110 in the Race to Dubai points list and none of them take up full European Tour membership for the next season, then players finishing in the top 116 in the standings earn status.
Affiliate members also have the fee waived for European Tour Q-School, if they need to enter to attain full status. Affiliate members finishing 111th through 145th on the season-ending points list qualify for the final stage and can skip the first two stages.
For an up-and-coming player, purchasing the affiliate membership can be the way to avoid Q-School with a successful run through invitations and exemptions. For successful players on other tours, like the PGA Tour, it's a way to get into lucrative events and potentially lead to full membership for bigger opportunities.