The NGA Hooters Tour bills itself as the golf tour "where the dream begins." Alumni from the self-proclaimed No. 3 U.S. tour (behind the PGA and Nationwide tours) include 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk; 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson; this year's British Open winner, Stewart Cink - and Major Manning.
A year ago, Manning, a former Augusta State player, had at least a share of the lead in each round of a victory at the Hooters Tour's Capitol Chevrolet Classic. His first professional victory propelled him to a spot on the 2009 Nationwide Tour via Q-school.
"We're the avenue to the Nationwide and PGA tours," said Todd Barbee, tournament director for this year's event, Oct. 1-4 at The Members Club at Woodcreek Farms and Wildewood.
Beginning "the dream" does not always guarantee success, though. Manning this year has made three of 15 Nationwide Tour cuts and ranks 178th on the money list.
What that means, though, is Manning will return to defend his title at Woodcreek Farms, which hosts the Columbia tournament for a third year.
"With the PGA Tour into the (FedEx Cup) playoffs, guys who didn't make those are playing Nationwide Tour events now," Barbee said. "That in turn bumps some of the Nationwide players (including Manning) back to us."
That is good news for Woodcreek Farms, which expects a field of 168 players and offers a purse of $200,000, a shade less than $34,000 going to the winner.
Also expected to play are Blythewood brothers Luke and Adam Hart and former USC player Scott Feaster. The field will be cut after 36 holes to the low 60 and ties for the final two rounds.
"We're proud and excited to have the Hooters Tour back," said Members Club board president Bill McDougall. "The quality of play and the players (last year) was spectacular."
Last year, Manning shot 21-under-par 267, including a closing 67, and won by one in a final-round shootout with Brennan Webb and Andrew Dresser.
Plans for tournament week include an open qualifier for 10 spots on Sept. 28, a pre-tournament shootout and 4:30 p.m. junior clinic on Tuesday and a 32-team pro-am Wednesday; spots remain available.
"We try to emulate the big tours (with those events) in order to prepare our guys for the next level," Barbee said.
The tournament is free and open to the public. For details, call (800) 992-8748.