2005: Amateur rules liberalized again

By Dave Seanor

Ardmore, Pa.

Eighteen foreign nations were represented last week at the U.S. Amateur, which was won by an Italian.

Be advised: Edoardo Molinari’s victory at Merion Golf Club might become a trend on the amateur tournament circuit in America, thanks to amended Rules of Amateur Status that the U.S. Golf Association is putting into effect Jan. 1, 2006.

The USGA announced Aug. 26 that, beginning next year, amateur golfers under its jurisdiction (United States and Mexico) will be allowed to accept reimbursement for expenses to play in competitions. Also to be revised are the guidelines for amateur reinstatement and penalties for accepting hole-in-one prizes.

As first reported in Golfweek (May 1, 2004), the changes are the latest in a series of liberalizations of the rules of amateur status, intended to unify the standard worldwide.

The revisions resolve more than 20 differences that have existed between the USGA and the Royal & Ancient Golf Cub of St. Andrews, which administers the Rules of Golf outside the United States and Mexico, with regard to amateur status.

The USGA called the changes “the most significant revisions in its Rules of Amateur Status since their inception.”

“This is a major advance for amateur golf,” said USGA president Fred Ridley. “It gives amateurs who do not have access to substantial family resources the opportunity to receive help from friends and supporters so they can compete against their peers.”

The rule change will allow any amateur to accept assistance for tournament-related expenses from outside sources provided reimbursement is made through the player’s state or regional golf association. That means a golfer’s benefactor must give the money to a golf association, earmarking it for distribution to that specific golfer for designated competitions.

Under current rules, only junior golfers are allowed to accept help from outside their families for expenses to play in individual competitions. The revised rules allow juniors to accept financial assistance without going through their state or regional association if the expense money is for a junior competition.

If the expenses are for a non-junior tournament (a state open or the U.S. Amateur, for example), then juniors must follow the association reimbursement procedure.

The news regarding expense money was welcomed by golfers from countries in R&A jurisdictions who visit the United States to compete on the amateur circuit. This kind of funding has been available for several years under R&A rules, but the money could not be used to pay for competitions where USGA rules apply.

“This will be a huge benefit for the summer tournaments in the States,” said Gary Wolstenholme, the 45-year-old Walker Cup player from England. “Now all the best players from Great Britain, Europe, Asia and Australia can afford to come compete in America. It certainly makes tournaments over here a much more attractive proposition.”

David Lutterus is one of several Australians who spent several weeks competing in the United States this summer. Asked if the rule change was welcome news, Lutterus said: “Absolutely. Myself, Michael Sim, Andrew Dodt – all of our parents have forked out a lot of money for this.”

Lutterus said his summer expenses probably have totaled $8,000.

Similarly, American players who want to play extensive tournament schedules now will be free to accept financial assistance from friends and associates. Recent U.S. Naval Academy graduate Billy Hurley, for example, could accept backing from the Navy if he plays on the amateur circuit again next summer.

“That would be nice,” said Hurley, who played in several amateur events this summer – including the Walker Cup – while on active duty.

Upon further reflection, he added: “I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It could just open it up for sponsors to give kids money at 16. But I can see where it makes some sense. It can be good if it’s done properly.”

A USGA news release explained that funding must be channeled through golf associations “to ensure that the new Rule is not abused and that a player is merely reimbursed for what he spent and does not receive additional payment.”

Walter Driver, who will succeed Ridley as USGA president in January, was asked if under the revised rules a management company could back an amateur player through a golf association.

“That’s not the intent of the rule, nor would it be in the spirit of the rule,” Driver said.

Individual golf associations, Driver said, would be expected to administer financial assistance with the spirit of the rule in mind.

Posed with the same question, Ridley said such efforts wouldn’t be welcome. “I hope it (rule liberalization) doesn’t have a lot of unintended consequences,” he said.

Ridley noted that when the rule was changed to allow amateurs to accept free golf equipment, skeptics predicted a flood of clubs and balls being lavished on promising juniors.

“That hasn’t happened because certain economics come to bear (with manufacturers),” Ridley said.

Ridley said a body of decisions by golf associations with regard to financial assistance will accumulate, thus creating guidelines on the subject.

“Like anything, I’m sure there will be some tweaking in how the rule is implemented,” he said.

As for the burden placed on golf associations to manage contributions, Jeff Rivard, executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association, called it “just part of doing business.”

Another change establishes what the USGA says are “more consistent time frames” for the reinstatement of amateur status. In most cases, there will be a one-year reinstatement wait if a player has been a professional for fewer than five years. The wait will be two years if the player has been a pro for more than five years.

A third significant change for ’06 eliminates the forfeiture of amateur status for those who, “while playing golf,” accept hole-in-one prizes with a value that exceeds $750. The R&A, however, did not agree to the change and will keep its hole-in-one prize limit of £500 or its equivalent.

“The issue of hole-in-one prizes remains on our agenda,” said David Rickman, rules secretary for the R&A. “We will be watching what happens in the U.S. as a result of this rule change with interest.”

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