Rule changes to let amateur golfers accept sponsorship deals

Golfer Silhouette

Amateur golfers will now be able to accept paid endorsements as part of a comprehensive modernisationof the Rules of Amateur Status.

The changes, which comes into effect from January 1, 2022, are the latest move by the governing bodies to make the rules easier to both understand and apply. 

Informed by golfer and golf industry feedback as part of a comprehensive review, the new rules identify only the following acts that will 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; 

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- 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.

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It is the latter point that is perhaps the most compelling. Until now, amateur golfers have been prevented from accepting commercial sponsorship deals but, under the new rules, they will be able to do so.  

It is also worth nothing that there are no age restrictions in place. That raises the possibility of a primary school “phenom” partnering with an organisation, a prospect which has myriad ethical and moral ramifications. 

Grant Moir, the Director of Rules at The R&A, acknowledged that concern but told “We don’t believe it’s the place of the game’s code of rules to set an age limit on such things. Rather, we believe that it’s up to the parents and those closest to the players in question to help them make those decisions.”

He added: “These rules play an important role in protecting the integrity of our self-regulating sport but the code must evolve to meet the needs of the modern game. This is particularly important for modern elite amateur golf, where many of the players need financial support to compete and develop to their full potential. The new rules give them this opportunity and will help to make the game even more inclusive.”

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The R&A and USGA were heavily criticised by Phil Mickelson a fortnight ago when they announced changes to the maximum length of clubs, the six-time major champion blasting the decision “stupid” and branding the bodies “amateurs”.

Moir is not anticipating a backlash like that for the changes to the Rules of Amateur Status, adding that both organisations have made every effort to make the pathway to change as inclusive as possible.

“We couldn’t have been more open about these changes,” he said. “We’ve gone out with the proposals in February and actively encouraged feedback from national governing bodies, individuals and anybody with a vested interest in what has been tabled. We have done everything within our ability to publicise the proposals and we have received a significant amount of feedback that has been crucial in informing the conclusions we have reached.”

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