On The Rules – Amateur Status And The Lure Of Money

(This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2016 Issue of Flagstick Golf Magazine)

Ah Fall! That time of year when golfers hear a few familiar sounds echoing through the trees. The honk of migrating Canada Geese, the rustle of fallen leaves, and the call of the Cash Scramble…

If you’re considering signing up with a group of your buddies to take part in one of these potentially lucrative events, I invite you to peruse the part of the rulebook that’s referenced in smaller print on the cover beneath “Rules of Golf”, the Rules of Amateur Status.

A note before I delve further into the subject. I want to be clear that I am not trying to preach about the need for you to preserve your amateur status, or that making money at golf is a bad thing. You’re free to do what you want. I’m just trying to educate players as to the pitfalls that come with accepting money for play, and what is and isn’t acceptable under these rules.

Believe it or not, there was actually a time when those who played for money (aka, professionals) were thought of as undesirable ne’re-do-wells in comparison to the amateur player who played for the love of the game. This began to change around the time when arguably the greatest amateur of all time, Bobby Jones, was playing against, and beating the top professionals in the world. We all know where that story ends up, and professionals now compete for millions of dollars on a weekly basis. However, the way of the amateur is still a cornerstone of the game, and the reason why the ruling bodies go to great lengths to protect it.

The Rules of Amateur Status, and the Policy on Gambling are contained on pages 163-183 of the 2016 edition of the rulebook, and are definitely worth a read.

Firstly, let’s look at the definition of an Amateur Golfer. The definition reads in part, “…one who plays golf for the challenge it presents, not as a profession and not for financial gain.” Simply put, an amateur golfer must not play for cash, period. If he/she does, they forfeit their amateur status, and they cannot compete in sanctioned amateur events. There is a process in place for a player to regain their amateur status, but the standard waiting period is 1-2 years depending on the length of time the player has been operating outside of the rules. Rule 9 covers this.

Now, the rules don’t prohibit a player from competing in events that offer cash prizes, but they are clear that you must declare, prior to competing and usually in writing, that you will not accept any “pay for play”.

That being said, there are situations where a player can be compensated for their performance. Rule 3 covers the value and type of prizing an amateur is permitted to accept without putting their status in jeopardy. In Canada, the retail prize value limit is $1,000 CAD. There is an allowance within the rule for holes-in-one where this prize limit can be exceeded and cash can be accepted.

Things like broadcasting or writing about golf as a profession, instruction, skill and reputation are covered as well, and similar to the main Rules of Golf, there are also decisions in each rule section detailing common situations that can arise with regard to status, and what a player can and cannot accept as compensation.

As with all rules in golf a lot of thought and study has gone into this document, and there are plenty of opportunities for amateurs to flourish within the framework.

So remember, if your goal is to be a professional golfer at some point, then you’re most likely aware of what needs to be done from a financial and business standpoint to get there – just be aware that you may be walking a tightrope where you could slip out of your amateur shoes sooner than you would like. And, If you’re an amateur golfer who wants to continue to compete in amateur events at the local, provincial, or national levels, you need to be aware of the rules. So, if your buddies want you to tee it up in a “fun” event, make sure you do your homework before hand, so that you’re not caught on the outside looking in.

/ Rich McLean 

Rich McLean is Golf Canada Level 4 Referee from Kanata, Ontario. He calls himself “a lifelong player, and fan of this great game.” You can find him on Twitter, @LobWedge.

“Golf has given me so much joy, and this is my small way of giving back.  Have fun. Play smart. Play well.”