'Shamateurism'

The R&A is on the right track by looking at revamping the rules of amateur status. The amateur-status rules are a bit of a joke.

Suggestions coming out of the R&A’s recent “Working for Golf Conference” at St. Andrews made it sound as if the governing body were going to abolish amateurism altogether.

Not true, says R&A chief executive Peter Dawson. However, Dawson conceded that the rules of amateur status would be “modernized” in time for 2012.

He wouldn’t be drawn on the specifics, but suffice it say that what amateurs can do three years hence will be vastly different to what they can do today.

About 140 delegates from 60 countries under the R&A’s jurisdiction met at St. Andrews last weekend. Among the reported proposals were that golf unions/federations will be able to sign amateurs to contracts; that amateurs will be allowed to sign contracts with third parties such as management companies or manufacturers; that expenses can be covered by third parties other than golf unions; that amateurs can earn money which is then put in trust until they turn pro.

Dawson said the last point was “one I haven’t heard about” but did not deny that amateurs might be able to sign contracts with third parties. “I can’t say that’s either true or false because it hasn’t been decided yet,” he said.

“It’s true our amateur-status committee is having a fundamental review of the code. We want to try and keep it modern and relevant.”

Dawson conceded that the rules of amateur status are outdated.

“We all know that elite amateurs have been discussing their future with agents for a long time,” Dawson said. “That’s technically against the rules, but it’s something that’s almost impossible to police. So one of the things we are looking to do is to make whatever rules that exist enforceable.”

I counted three players agents at the Lytham Trophy last week. It will be the same at other big amateur events this summer.

And who can blame amateurs for wanting to cash in on the money available in the professional game?

“Amateurism” at the elite level has been dead for years. True, there are still career amateurs: guys who hold down full-time jobs and can still play a bit. Those guys are a dying breed.

The guys who play in the elite squads for countries around Europe are basically semi-pros. They might not earn any money from playing, but it doesn’t cost them a penny to play full-time golf.

They are ferried around the world and reimbursed for expenses accrued everywhere they play. Their coaching is paid for, they have access to sports psychologists and conditioning experts and they never have to worry about paying for equipment.

One reason why golf unions want to sign players to contracts stems from the huge investment they make in amateur golf. For example, the EGU pumps a lot of money into nurturing talent, only to see it disappear into the professional ranks. The EGU would like something in return.

Of course, that could mean golf unions presenting elite amateurs with an ultimatum, such as sign this contract or you don’t play for your country.

Needless to say, the professionalism of the amateur game has good and bad sides. One plus is that countries have a chance to identify and nurture young talent. We all want to see that.

However, the elite systems can breed a false sense of entitlement and even laziness in some players. Sometimes you take the hunger away from players by making life easier for them.

The elite systems don’t make for level playing fields, either. James Robinson’s victory in the Lytham Trophy was odd because he was the first English player in many years to win the event who wasn’t a member of the elite squad. However, Robinson is in the English A squad.

Normally elite amateurs dominate the amateur tournaments in the British Isles. No wonder. By the time the big amateur tournaments come around, these guys have spent most of the winter traveling around the world. How can that be fair for good club amateurs who don’t have the same funding?

I don’t have an answer to what’s happening in amateur golf. I do realize that something has to be done and don’t envy the R&A’s task.

The bottom line is that something needs to happen to get rid of the current “shamateurism.”

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