Plans proposed to offer money in handicap events have been shelved in favour of scratch competitions. Steve Carroll sat down with the R&A's Grant Moir to find out more

Golfers playing in scratch competitions will soon be able to win up to £700 in cash following changes to the Rules of Amateur Status.

But while players in handicap events can also compete for prizes up to the same value, they’ll not be able to accept money under the new regulations, which come into force from January 1, 2022.

The R&A and USGA have published the new rules, which have been revised to make them easier to understand and which represent the biggest shake-up to the non professional game in decades.

They were first proposed back in February and outlined lifting restrictions on sponsorship, reducing the recommended waiting time to be reinstated as an amateur, and no longer forcing those who won big-money long-drive contests and putting competitions to turn professional.

While much of what was outlined earlier in the year remains unchanged, significant revisions have been made to the rule covering prizes.

The new code initially suggested keeping a prize limit maximum of $750 but not differentiating between cash and non-cash prizes – potentially allowing club and handicap players to be given money rather than vouchers.

The explanation was that vouchers had been liberalised to the extent that they were “very much the equivalent of cash”.

Now a distinction has been made between scratch and handicap competitions after the consultation process revealed potential concerns about integrity and about money being taken out of the game.

So while amateurs playing in scratch competitions will be allowed to accept any prize, including cash, up to a limit of £700 or $1,000 in value, those playing in handicap competitions will not be able to win money.

Grant Moir, the R&A’s director of rules, told NCG: “We did receive feedback on prize money, the kind of cash prizes being available in the recreational game and elite amateur golf, and there was a concern expressed by a number of national governing bodies and others that, while the values weren’t increasing, the fact it was money that could be made available had the potential to alter the way the game is played – just in the sense of those prizes being more attractive.

“There’s this fine balance, obviously, with a self-policing game that relies on integrity, relies on abiding by the Rules of Golf and, even more so, the Rules of Handicapping in terms of the ease of manipulation then there was just a concern that the balance might be tipped too far with the offering of cash prizes.

“We took that on board and we found it was possible to make this distinction between scratch-only competitions and handicap golf and, by doing so, we were retaining the ability to win cash prizes for those at the more elite level, who would benefit from that in terms of being able to fund their amateur golf and who probably had enough equipment and didn’t really need more vouchers or merchandise.

“We think that distinction will work well.”

Asked whether the potential difficulties in monitoring handicap competitions had contributed to the decision, Moir added: “I don’t think there was any sense golfers would all of a sudden change their ways and we know we’re fortunate to play a game that at all levels relies on the honesty and integrity of the vast majority.

“But it was felt there was no particular need for there to be cash prizes in that aspect of the game and so why introduce the element of risk that might come with the availability of such prizes?

“There was also some concern expressed that introducing cash prizes for handicap golf would perhaps see more money going out of the game and the idea of retaining these handicap prizes – whether it be vouchers, gift cards for the pro shop, merchandise that has been purchased from the pro shop – within the golf club was considered to be good for the game as a whole.”

Moir said that putting in place the distinction between scratch and handicap events had allowed the governing bodies to raise the prize limit from $750, which had remained the same since 2004, to £700 or $1,000.

Reflecting on the changes as a whole, he said: “We just wanted to make these Rules of Amateur Status easier to understand and apply and to reflect really how the modern game is played – and particularly at the elite amateur level.

“We didn’t want to fundamentally change the nature of the game. We think at elite and recreational level the amateur game is very strong but certainly, in terms of assisting those who are trying to compete at the elite level, we felt it was possible to remove some of the restrictions that apply away from the golf course and therefore provide greater opportunity and inclusivity at that level of the game so that more players could access funding.

“That was the remit and also to try and make it easier and quicker for those who have moved into non-amateur but then want to return and make that transition back into the amateur game easier and more seamless.”

What do you think? Would you have enjoyed the chance to win a cash prize or are vouchers a better way to keeping money in the club? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

Subscribe to NCG