As the R&A and USGA start consultation on significant alterations, Steve Carroll takes a closer look at some of the changes and the reasoning behind them
Not since they were first codified – by the USGA in 1947 and the R&A in 1950 – have the Rules of Amateur Status been arguably subject to bigger change.
The two governing bodies have announced proposals they hope will reaffirm ‘amateur golf’s important position in the game’, while making the Rules easier to understand and apply.
The developments, which have come following a review of the Rules that began in late 2017, are designed to ‘redefine the distinction between amateur and professional golf and provide a condition of eligibility – amateur status – for amateurs who compete in golf competitions’.
Feedback has now been invited from golfers and stakeholders with the new Rules set to be adopted on January 1, 2022.
But what are the key changes and how will they impact your game? We delved under the bonnet to take a more detailed look…
Why make any changes? In a 14-page document outlining and explaining the reasons behind the proposals alterations, the R&A and USGA said a number of concerns had been raised around the current rules, including that they didn’t reflect the elite amateur game as a stepping stone for many young players that aspired to be tournament professionals.
“Too many players who are unsuccessful in the pursuit of their goal lose their amateur status through participation on cash prize tours without making any impact on the professional game”.
They added that the line between cash and non-cash prizes had become “increasingly blurred to the point where the logic of the distinction is questionable” and said too many barriers were in place for elite amateur golfers trying to fund participation in competitions.
The two lawmakers looked at eliminating the Rules of Amateur Status entirely, under a principle of ‘open golf’, but were concerned about “the detrimental impact on handicap golf that unlimited prizes could produce, in terms of pressure it would place on both the Rules of Golf and the Rules of Handicapping”.
They were also concerned that historic amateur competitions would disappear and this would have a negative impact on development.
So what is now being proposed?
What does the current rule say? Rule 3 prevents amateur golfers from playing for a cash prize of any amount or accepting a non-cash prize in excess of a $750 limit.
What does the proposed new rule say? The prize limit maximum would be kept but would “no longer differentiate between cash and non-cash prizes”.
Accepting a prize would become the standard factor in determining when a player loses their amateur status, and the prize rule would apply only to “competitions that require a player to play from a teeing area into a hole”. That includes such simulator-based competitions.
It would no longer “apply to other competitions such as long-drive events, putting competitions and skills competitions that are not played as part of a tee to hole competition”.
What’s behind the changes? The R&A and USGA say vouchers are now “very much the equivalent of cash” and that evolving payment systems, including gift cards and mobile and app-based systems, have created a “number of complications in differentiating between a cash prize and one that is equivalent to cash (which is also currently prohibited in any amount)”.
It’s proposed an amateur would be able to accept any prize, including cash prizes, as long as the value doesn’t exceed the prize limit.
The Rules wouldn’t apply to competitions where the player’s score on a hole is not the primary purpose because they “do not impact the self-regulating nature of the game as they don’t put pressure on the Rules of Golf or the Rules of Handicapping”.
What’s the current rule? Under Rule 6, amateurs who play at elite level are restricted from using their name, image or likeness to appear in promotions or advertising for financial gain or personal benefit. But the rule doesn’t apply to amateurs who don’t compete at elite level.
Exceptions include when it is promotion and advertising for the benefit of an amateur’s national, regional, state or county golf association, or for a recognised charity.
What does the proposed new rule say? There would no longer be any restrictions on “how an amateur may benefit from his or her name, image or likeness, including but not limited to the receipt of expenses”.
What’s behind the changes? The R&A and USGA believe social media has created a “landscape where the… prohibition on an amateur receiving financial or personal benefit (including raising one’s profile) is unworkable and impossible for national governing bodies to monitor”.
They point out that amateurs selected to squads are allowed to receive “significant benefits” not available to most other amateurs – including travel costs, entry fees, instruction, equipment and living expenses being covered – and there’s a much greater scope for sponsors to get publicity for helping such programmes.
But those who don’t get into squads have to find a way of meeting their expenses while being restricted by the Rule.
“Removing the current restrictions, and allowing an amateur and the sponsor to publicly disclose the assistance being provided, would allow all amateurs the same opportunity to seek assistance with their expenses and help introduce additional equity in the amateur game”.
What’s the current rule? Amateurs can’t receive any compensation for providing golf instruction – defined as “teaching the actual mechanics of swinging a golf club and hitting a golf ball” – except in some limited circumstances, such as writing a magazine article.
What does the proposed new rule say? It’s largely unchanged, except that “an amateur would be allowed to receive compensation for providing instruction in digital forms (such as social media), provided the instruction is ‘one-way’, meaning the amateur is showing how to perform a skill” but isn’t communicating to a specific individual or group.
What’s behind the changes? The governing bodies are wary that altering the Rules of Amateur Status could be seen as providing opportunities for “untrained persons” to provide instruction for payment. The explanation of the proposals reveals this could be seen as “potentially detrimental to the game”.
The current Rules allow an amateur to write a book on golf instruction and it is this concept that could be extended to more digital formats.
“This enables an amateur to raise his or her profile in line with the relaxations on name, image and likeness, and may assist the amateur in gaining sponsor support for their golfing activities”.
But it will only be allowed when being given to a ‘non-specific audience’, and “retains the principle that instruction for payment to an individual or specific group is the remit of the golf professional”.
What’s the current rule? Rule 2 defines a professional golfer as someone who: plays the game as a profession, works as a professional, enters competitions as a professional, holds or retains membership of the PGA, or a professional tour that’s limited exclusively to pros.
What does the proposed new rule say? “The proposed new code no longer defines a ‘professional golfer’”. An amateur golfer would be prohibited from accepting employment – including self-employment – as a golf club or driving range professional or having membership of an association for professional golfers.
“Simply identifying oneself as a professional golfer would, of itself, no longer result in loss of amateur status, including entering and playing in a competition as a professional, and there would no longer be any restrictions on an amateur golfer entering into a contract and receiving benefit from that contract as an amateur”.
What’s behind the changes? It’s a well understood principle that employment as a golf professional is distinct from an amateur.
The explanation document states that: “The proposed new Rules would rely ‘solely’ on whether or not a golfer has accepted a prize above the prize limit.”
Reinstatement of amateur status
What’s the current rule? Rule 9 sets out how a non-amateur can apply for reinstatement and it recommends guidelines to national bodies. One of these is that those who’ve gained national prominence, or have been reinstated twice, are not normally eligible.
What does the proposed new rule say? The administration processes would remain largely unchanged but the minimum waiting period would be reduced from one year to six months, with a “national governing body left to assess whether additional time would be appropriate based on the nature of the applicant’s history as a non-amateur”.
What’s behind the changes? The R&A and USGA explain that the reinstatement process provides a “vital function” in maintaining a distinction between amateurs and non-amateurs and helps ensure thought goes into changing that status “knowing that such an act will require a waiting period should they decide to apply to regain their amateur status”.
It says lowering the minimum waiting period would give pros and instructors to chance to regain amateur status more quickly, while giving national bodies the ‘discretion’ to add additional time depending on how much success an applicant had achieved in the non-amateur ranks.
“This provides a more logical balance as compared to the current recommendations that treat all actions the same (currently, a two-year waiting period for a career golf professional is recommended regardless of his or her playing success)”.
There still would be the option to deny reinstatement but it would be applied in “limited circumstances only”, such as when a player “is considered to have gained national prominence”.
What do you think of the R&A and USGA proposals for the Rules of Amateur Status? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.