Prizes for Amateur Golfers
Elite professional golfers play for huge prize funds every week and some golfers become phenomenally wealthy as a result, but what about amateur golfers? On those rare occasions that you play well and win a prize, what can you accept? What do the new 2012 Rules of Amateur Status say about prizes?
An amateur golfer may accept a symbolic prize of any value (Rule 3-2a). What is meant by a “symbolic prize”? Well, this is a trophy (e.g. a cup, medal, plaque, etc.) made of gold, silver, ceramic, glass, etc., that is permanently and distinctively engraved. So if you manage to win The Open Championship this year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes as an amateur – Bobby Jones did it in 1926 – that replica Claret Jug is all yours.
However, gold bullion is not a symbolic prize – it is not possible to circumvent the Rules in that way, even if the gold bullion is engraved!
The first thing to note is that an amateur golfer must not play golf for prize money (Rule 3-1). That applies regardless of whether the prize money is £5, £500 or £5000. And if a cash prize is offered, all those competing in the competition would be in breach of the Rules, not just the players who win and accept a cash prize.
Many amateurs, particularly the top amateurs, compete in professional events where cash prizes are on offer and gain invaluable experience from doing so. That participation is fine, provided in advance of the competition, in writing, the amateur waives the right to accept any prize money in the event. An example of an acceptable form of waiver can be found in Decision 2-1/11.
An amateur golfer may accept a prize or prize voucher of retail value no greater than £500, or the local currency equivalent (Rule 3-2a). A Governing Body may set a lower prize limit if it wishes to do so – always check what the prize limit is in your country.
This £500 prize limit applies to the total prizes or prize vouchers won by an amateur golfer in any one competition, e.g. main prizes (1st, 2nd, 3rd etc), longest drive, nearest the hole, etc. or a series of competitions.
The choice of prize is a matter entirely for the competition organisers: normal golf merchandise from the club professional such as clothing and golf balls, merchandise from another retailer, or vouchers (see Decision 3-2a/21 for more details on vouchers).
Elite amateur golfers that compete far and wide over the course of a season incur significant expenses in doing so. That is acknowledged in the Rules by the fact that those amateurs may submit vouchers to their national, state or county golf unions and thereafter be reimbursed for any competition related expenses, such as travel and accommodation costs, entry fees, etc.
The Rules changed on 1 January 2012 and an amateur golfer achieving a hole-in-one may now accept a prize in excess of the £500 prize limit, including a cash prize.
It is important to note that the hole-in-one must be made during a round of golf and be incidental to the round of golf. Multiple entry competitions (where the amateur has several attempts at achieving the hole-in-one), putting competitions, and competitions conducted other than on a golf course (e.g. on a driving range or golf simulator) do not qualify and remain subject to the prize limits in Rule 3, i.e. no cash and the value of the prize cannot be greater than £500.
Longest Drive and Nearest the Hole Prizes
Whilst there is no longer a limit on prizes for a hole-in-one (achieved during a round of golf), the prize limits remain in force for longest drive, nearest the hole and other competitions where golf skill is a factor. Therefore, in these other events it remains a breach of the Rules for an amateur golfer to play for cash or to accept a prize of retail value in excess of £500.
Sweepstakes, Gambling, Wagering
Again, although it is prohibited to play for cash, except in a hole-in-one competition (achieved during a round of golf), it is accepted that informal gambling is part and parcel of the game. As such, informal gambling is permitted provided the primary purpose is the playing of the game for enjoyment, not for financial gain. Cash payments for gambling are permitted when the players know each other, participation is optional and is limited to the players, the money is advanced by the players and the amount of money involved is not generally considered to be excessive, e.g. 2s competition that is incidental to the main medal/competition, where entry into the 2s competition is voluntary and the amount being wagered and won is not excessive.
It is important that golfers, organisers and sponsors of amateur events are aware of the limits on prizes. For more information on the points above, please refer to the Guidelines on Prizes for Amateur Golfers, the Rules of Amateur Status and Decisions on the Rules of Amateur Status.
If you are in any doubt about the Rules, contact your Governing Body.