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USGA, R&A plan to modernize rules of amateur status

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After modernizing the Rules of Golf at the beginning of the year, the USGA and R&A now plan to update the Rules of Amateur Status.

Less than two months after the NCAA moved closer to allowing student-athlete compensation, the governing bodies announced Monday that they have begun an official review of their amateur-status rules to make them easier to understand and apply.

“One of golf’s greatest benefits is that it can be played by all ages and played for a lifetime,” said Thomas Pagel, senior managing director of governance at the USGA. “It is our goal to ensure that the fundamental concept of what it means to be an amateur golfer is clear and retained to promote fair competition and enjoyment for everyone, while still addressing many issues that seek to protect the game. This is a forward-thinking approach and engaging golfers is a key component of doing what’s best for golf.”

The state of California passed legislation in September to allow student-athletes to benefit from and be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness. A month later, the NCAA voted unanimously to move forward with modernizing its rules of amateurism.

“As a national governing body, the NCAA is uniquely positioned to modify its rules to ensure fairness and a level playing field for student-athletes,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said. “The board's action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals.”

NCAA votes to let athletes profit from name

On Tuesday, the NCAA voted unanimously to allow student-athletes to benefit from the use of their likeness. While the spotlight will be on college football and basketball, golf will also be impacted.

The NCAA did not release details but did ask each of its three divisions to immediately consider updates to its policies and bylaws as it hopes to have new rules in place by Jan. 1, 2021.

The USGA and R&A have a later timetable, aiming to finalize a modernized set of amateur-status rules by late 2021 and put into place new rules on Jan. 1, 2022. Included in the process will be input from elite amateur golfers, golf event organizers, national golf associations, professional golf associations and other industry partners.

“We will be looking at the Rules of Amateur Status carefully and considering ways in which we can modernize them and bring them more into line with the way the modern sport is played,” said Grant Moir, director of rules at the R&A. “The code remains a fundamental framework for amateur golf and we will be listening to the views of players, officials and associations to give us a fully rounded view of how we can improve them.”

Current rules require that “an amateur golfer of golf skill or reputation must not use that skill or reputation to obtain payment, compensation, personal benefit or any financial gain, directly or indirectly, for (i) promoting, advertising or selling anything, or (ii) allowing his name or likeness to be used by a third party for the promotion, advertisement or sale of anything.”

Like the NCAA’s plans, it is unclear how much the USGA and R&A will allow its amateurs to receive. California’s SB 206 would allow college golfers to sign endorsement deals and get paid for any golf-related employment opportunities, including golf clinics and private instruction.

The USGA and R&A did, however, announced an imminent change to its amateur rules. Starting Jan. 1, the rules will no longer limit the prize an amateur golfer may win when making a hole-in-one outside a round of golf, including “stand-alone” and “multiple-entry” hole-in-one events.

The updated Rule 3-2b will read as follows: “An amateur golfer may accept a prize in excess of the limit in Rule 3-2a ($750), including a cash prize, for making a hole-in-one during a round of golf on a golf course. An amateur golfer may also accept a prize in excess of the limit in Rule 3-2a, including a cash prize, for making a hole-in-one during contests held outside a round of golf, including multiple-entry contests and contests conducted other than on a golf course (e.g., on a driving range, golf simulator or putting green) provided in all cases that the length of the shot is at least 50 yards.”