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Cash prizes for club golfers? It’s just not worth the risk

Our club golfer thinks the R&A and USGA have got it spot on in rolling back plans to allow players to win money in handicap competitions
 

The most expensive prize I’ve ever won was worth about £100. It was a bag. I dutifully collected it from the pro shop and used it until the strap broke.

Everyone was happy. I’d ‘bagged’ something decent for a good showing and the shop moved some stock.

It’s how the club game operates at the majority of clubs. You enter a comp, you do well, and you get a voucher to use with the pro, you pick up a set prize, or you see your winnings appear on your card. However it’s done, the money stays at the source.

But let’s say instead of the bag, I was given £100 in cash. Would I have cycled that money through the tills?

I might have bought a round or two at the bar but get through the entire ton? Would I have re-stocked on balls, or made off with a new pair of shoes? Not a chance. Most of that pretty green would have been coming home with me.

That’s why I’m convinced the R&A and USGA have done the right thing by shelving the idea of allowing players in handicap competitions to win cash prizes in their review of the Rules of Amateur Status.

When the proposals were originally presented back in February, the governing bodies advocated no differentiation between cash and non-cash prizes for all amateurs.

It potentially allowed club and elite players to win money up to a value of $750 before they crossed a threshold into professional status.

Following a consultation process, that’s now been changed and while players competing in scratch events will be able to accept cash up to £700, those in handicap competitions will not. The new Rules of Amateur Status come into force from January 1 next year.

It seems a sensible distinction. The big amateur events aren’t cheap to enter and the expenses that come with a nationwide schedule soon rack up.

Those top ams don’t need to pick up another polo shirt, they need help funding tournament fees and hotel bills. The prospect of cash prizes – along with changes to the rules on sponsorship and branding – will help in a small way.

For those of us popping in a fiver for a weekend comp, whether we’re paid our £25 for a win in cash or vouchers is neither here nor there.

But it does make a difference to the club if that prize pot is regularly disappearing out of the doors every week. Think of it all adding up over a season. Those vouchers are partly how your club professional shifts merchandise.

Would clubs have raced in to hand out the cash anyway even if they had been allowed? I have my doubts and that’s before we even get to the thorny subject of, ahem, cheating. Talk to any club golfer and plenty could tell you a story of impossible scores or a questionable experience.

Thankfully, most of us scrupulously play by the rules and to the spirit of the game but none of us are naïve enough to think that tomfoolery doesn’t sometimes go on.

Imagine the prize desk is replaced by a series of envelopes and winning an event like this now comes with a £400 cash prize instead of a new driver?

Yes, yes, I know all about eBay. But it’s asking for trouble and, as the R&A’s Grant Moir reflected when the new rules were published on Tuesday, the feeling was why take the risk?

I’m happy to keep collecting vouchers and ensuring that cash stays in the club. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

What do you think of the changes to the Rules of Amateur Status? Do you prefer cash or vouchers for prize money? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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