Sport USGA seeks to simplify Rules of Amateur Status with proposed changes to sponsorship, prize money and professionalism
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What is the distinction between a professional golfer and an amateur one? The U.S. Golf Association would like to simplify the answer to that question.
Together with the R&A, the governing body is proposing significant changes to its existing Rules of Amateur Status that would make the concept of amateurism easier to understand and apply. New rules would clearly define three ways in which an amateur would cross the threshold into professional golf: by accepting a prize in excess of the $750 limit, by accepting payment for giving instruction or by accepting employment as a golf club professional or membership of an association of professional golfers (like the PGA of America).
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Among the key changes proposed for the existing Rules of Amateur Status is the elimination of all sponsorship restrictions for amateurs. The USGA is also proposing that there be no distinction between cash prizes and other prizes – which could eliminate that mountain of pro shop credit competitive players often find themselves holding at the end of a season.
The governing body has taken a holistic view in crafting their proposed changes, approaching amateurism from the perspective of club golfers, elite amateurs and everyone in between.
As with all significant changes to the game,. That period closes on March 26, 2021, with the new Rules scheduled to be adopted on Jan. 1, 2022.
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“We’ve definitely redefined what amateurism is through these proposals,” Craig Winter, USGA Senior Director, Rules of Golf and Amateur Status, told Golfweek. “We’re interested to hear what the public thinks, but we are very comfortable and at this time, we need amateurism in this game to keep its core alive and strong.”
Conversations about modernizing the USGA’s Rules of Amateur Status initially began in 2017 as the organization tackled an overhaul of the Rules of Golf.
During that process, the organization recognized that its current Rules don’t reflect amateur golf as a progression for elite young players looking to chart a path to professional golf or serve the large number of players who, in chasing that goal, lose their amateur status through participation on cash-prize tours without ever making an impact on the professional game.
Interestingly, in the process of the conversation about what it means to be an amateur, the USGA and R&A kicked around removing all limiting factors for amateurs, period. That’s addressed briefly in the USGA’s proposal as “open golf.”
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The concept was short-lived.
“We thought about it, we really did – do we need a set of amateur status rules for this game?” Winter said. “And we believe that there’s just a tremendous amount of value to what that brings to this game.”
Winter noted that the USGA’s modernization effort was largely driven by a desire to level the playing field for players using amateur golf as a way to work their way up in the game.
Tournament and travel expenses add up quickly at the top level, presenting a hurdle for many families. Winter said the USGA has fielded many questions about how to get help with those expenses. Amateurs are generally prohibited from receiving it – with exceptions coming in the form of national teams and scholarships – and even if they do receive approved outside assistance, they can’t advertise or promote it.
Financial means often end up becoming a determining factor in who can pursue tournament opportunities at the highest level and who can’t.
Sponsorships are very closely tied to expenses, and the USGA’s proposed elimination of those restrictions would certainly open the door for elite amateurs – like those who might win a U.S. Amateur or U.S. Women’s Amateur – to benefit from sponsorship by larger companies. Still, it will also allow more people to take part in amateur competitions.
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“There’s a thought that this helps democratize,” Winter said.
A familiar concept
An unsurprising element of the USGA’s proposal addresses the familiar concept of a player using his or her name, image or likeness for promotion and advertising purposes. Those words have appeared in NCAA headlines as the governing body of college sports moves toward a landscape in which.
The NCAA’s new terms were likely to be at odds with the USGA’s current rule of prohibiting amateurs from appearing in promotions or advertising – even those without a financial benefit. The issue of self-promotion in golf garnered national attention in January 2019 when Lucy Li, who frequently played in USGA championships and was selected to the 2018 U.S. Curtis Cup squad – appeared in an Apple Watch advertising campaign. Ultimately, Li was determined to have breached the USGA’s amateur rules,.
As the USGA notes, the current social media landscape makes it extremely difficult for national governing bodies to monitor whether players are in violation of the current rule. This is another area in which the proposed updates serve to simplify the concept of amateurism.
Romine: Proposed amateur rules a net positive for the game
The USGA and R&A are finally modernizing their rules of amateur status, and it should be a net positive for the game.Now, the question is: Will these proposed changes positively impact the amateur-golf experience, or has Pandora’s box just been opened?
“We know there have been challenges in that area,” Winter said. “It’s not even specific to those that make it to the news, but if you look at social media and the impacts that it’s had, how prevalent it is for the younger generation, we’ve been challenged by where the rule is for quite some time. Even in early 2018, and even late 2017, we were pretty confident this is the direction we needed to move and we tried various limiters but none of them seemed to work in the way that was necessary.”
From top to bottom
Perhaps no proposal reaches into the heart of amateur golf at the everyday level – think club championships and weekend games – like the USGA’s attempt to more simply define prizes. Currently, amateurs are prohibited from accepting a cash prize in any amount – hence, the abundance of pro-shop credit. The proposed new rule would eliminate the difference between cash and non-cash prizes, and only designate a maximum value of $750.
Another layer? Side competitions or those happening off the golf course entirely – like long-drive contests, skills competitions and even putts from half court at a basketball game – would now fall outside the USGA’s scope.
“To get to kind of the soul of amateur golf, we want to preserve what is so good about this game and by removing the cash, non-cash distinction – you’ve hit it on the head,” Winter said. “So much of the focus in what we’re trying to do – amateur status is about your eligibility to play the game. It’s about playing and competing.”
By establishing clear ways in which a player forfeits his or her amateur status, the USGA’s proposed changes would actually reduce the ways for an amateur to become a non-amateur simply by playing the game. That would create less confusion over the checking of a box or a simple declaration of being a professional.
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Until a player collects a prize in excess of $750 or accepts membership into an organization of professional golfers, the threshold is not crossed.
“The current rules try to define professionalism,” Winter said. “Going forward, we’re proposing they only define the difference between an amateur and a non-amateur, and the only way you can breach the rules by playing and become a non-amateur is to accept a prize.
“It’s a bit different than we think about the world today, and that’s why a lot of what we’re saying here is we’re redefining amateur status to be easier to understand and apply.”MORE:
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