Significant Changes To Golf’s Rules Of Amateur Status Published

The R&A and USGA have published new Rules of Amateur Status to come into effect 1st January 2022. We spoke to Grant Moir, Director of Rules at The R&A, to find out more

Golf's Rules of Amateur Status
(Image credit: Getty Images)

After proposed changes to the Golf’s Rules of Amateur Status were made public in February 2021, modernised rules were published today by The R&A and USGA and will come into effect on 1st January 2022, bringing in big changes to prizes and sponsorship.

Following lengthy consultation with, and feedback from, golfers and the golf industry, the updated Rules feature modifications to the proposals, particularly with regards prizes.

The new Rules of Amateur Status, which remove many restrictions applied to amateur golfers, are the latest step by The R&A and USGA to modernise the Rules and make them easier to understand.

The changes follow the modernisation of the Rules of Golf back in 2019.

“We felt it very important to maintain the integrity of the game in terms of the Rules of Golf and the rules of handicapping,” says Grant Moir, Director of Rules at The R&A.

“But we’ve been able to remove restrictions, principally many that apply away from the course, to allow those playing at the elite level of the amateur game to compete to their full potential.”

Rules of Amateur status: The headlines

The new Rules identify that only the following acts would result in a golfer losing their amateur status:

  • Accepting a prize with a value exceeding the prize limit (£700/$1000) or accepting prize money in a handicap competition.
  • Playing as a professional.
  • Accepting payment for giving instruction (although all current exceptions still apply, such as coaching at educational institutions and assisting with approved programmes).
  • Accepting employment as a golf club professional or membership of an association of professional golfers.

To achieve this simplified approach, the following key changes have been introduced:

  • Distinguishing between scratch and handicap competitions in terms of the prizes that may be accepted.
  • The prize rule applies only to tee-to-hole competitions played on a golf course or a simulator but no longer apply to long-drive, putting and skills competitions that are not played as part of a tee-to-hole competition.
  • Eliminating all advertising, expense-related and sponsorship restrictions.

Rules of Amateur status

Grant Moir is director of Rules at The R&A
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Prizes

The most significant change to the proposals that came out in February is with regard prizes.

The February proposals suggested there would be an elimination of the distinction between cash prizes and amateur prizes up to the defined prize limit for amateur golf.

The published rules make a distinction between scratch and handicap golf.

Rule 3a says that an amateur playing in a scratch competition may accept a prize (including cash) up to a new limit of £700 or $1,000 – that limit is raised from £500 or $750.

But Rule 3b states that an amateur playing in a handicap competition is not allowed to accept prize money but can claim any other prize up to the £700/$1,000 limit.

“Our initial proposal was a situation where any amateur golfer would be able to accept a cash prize up to the prescribed limit, regardless of the type of event they were playing in,” says Moir.

“Feedback demonstrated two main concerns – one that cash has certain temptations and we didn’t want to tamper with the fabric of amateur golf - The game the majority play which relies so heavily on integrity and self-policing in terms of Rules and handicapping.

Secondly, a concern on the potential loss of revenue. The way it works with vouchers and merchandise as prizes is important to the game financially, as it stays within the golf clubs.

Those two aspects made us reconsider the situation with regards cash prizes across the game. So we’ve limited that to scratch only.”

By removing the cash prize element for handicap golf, the governing bodies were able to consider raising the prize money limit. It will now by £700 or $1,000.

“By changing our position on cash prizes, it enabled us then to feel we could also give something for handicap golf by raising the limit,” Moir continued.

The prize limit applies to any tee to hole competition, any skills competition within a tee to hole competition (nearest the pin or longest drive for instance).

And total prizes accepted in a single competition should not exceed the limit – If you were to win the team, individual, nearest the pin and longest drive prizes in one event, you wouldn’t be able to accept total prizes with value higher than £700 or $1,000.

But in non-tee to hole competitions, a long drive contest or trick shot contest for instance, the prize limit does not apply.

Rules of Amateur Status

Louise Duncan was 2021 Women's Amateur Champion

Sponsorship

Perhaps the biggest change to the Rules is the removal of all restrictions on advertising, expenses and sponsorship.

Moir explains: “It’s been something we’ve talked about since the outset of these discussions back in 2017. Fairly early on we felt strongly that the time was right to remove the restrictions on amateurs being able to advertise the source of sponsorship assistance they were given.

There are reasons for that. As they were, if you were part of a national squad, what you could receive and what the squad could do in terms of giving publicity to the sponsor was out of kilter with what an individual could do.

Similarly, if you managed to get yourself onto a scholarship programme in the U.S, or elsewhere, you’d have funding and backing that would enable you to compete at an elite level.

But if you were just short of that standard then you’d be looking to try to get some assistance without being able to offer anything back.

A halfway house would add a burden on administrators and players themselves. Therefore, it seemed right that the time had come to remove those restrictions.”

Instruction

The Rule on instruction has been tweaked slightly to allow amateurs to give instruction online as long as it’s not to a specific individual or group.

This is taking note of the number of elite amateur players who may have social media or other online accounts, in which they inevitably talk about their golf in a way that could be construed as instruction.

Instruction was previously allowed to be given in writing, via a magazine article or book for instance.

“I wouldn’t view this as a significant change to the instruction rule, it’s a logical incremental step based on how social media has become the new form of instructional book,” added Moir.

The new Rules on Amateur Status, together with guidance notes and an overview document can be found on The R&A and USGA websites.