Sky’s the limit for amateur Aces

The R&A announced on Monday that in future there will be no limit to the value of prizes for hole-in-ones – even for amateurs.

The Royal & Ancient Club announced on Monday that in future there will be no limit to the value of prizes for hole-in-ones – even for amateurs.

Previously the rules allowed for a prize worth no more than £500 and any amateur accepting something of greater value, such as Daily Mail golf writer Derek Lawrenson, for instance, when he won a Lamborghini and had to give up his amateur status.

The R&A said in a statement that it had decided that because of “the special nature of a hole-in-one during a round of golf means that restrictions on the prizes offered have been lifted”.

The new Rules regarding ‘amateur status’ also include changes for elite amateur golfers aimed at easing the move from amateur to professional golfer.

This follows a far-reaching four-year review of amateurism in golf, which even questioned the need for a set of rules and has resulted in the first-ever uniform worldwide code for amateur status.

Announcing the changes, effective from January 1 next year, the R&A’s Director of Rules David Rickman said: “We felt the time was right to carry out a fundamental review of the Rules of Amateur Status.

“We were conscious that many sports had done away with amateur status rules and we felt that was an appropriate question for us to ask.

“We concluded that it is very important that golf retains its amateur regulations, mainly because of the self-regulating nature of the game both in terms of the playing rules and handicapping.

“We felt that uncontrolled financial incentives could place too much pressure on these important features.”

Excluding hole-in-one prizes from the general prize limit and allowing higher-value prizes, including cash, to be awarded brings the R&A into line with the United States Golf Association which is responsible for the administration golf in North America and Mexico..

Norway’s world number two Suzann Pettersen, an R&A ambassador like Padraig Harrington, said: “I think this is a really good change. Anyone who makes a hole-in-one knows there is a degree of luck.

“Most professional tournaments offer hole-in-one prizes and it adds some real interest for players and fans. It is great to think that club golfers can now experience that same excitement.”

Under the new rules aimed at amateurs thinking of a professional career, players will now be able to enter into an agreement with an agent or sponsor as long as they do not receive any financial gain while they still retain their amateur status.

This was not possible under the old regulations

Rules have also been relaxed on subsistence payments paid through national golf unions.

Rickman explained: “The rules on contracts now reflect the modern game and adopt a much more realistic and common sense approach.

“Similarly, the rules on subsistence expenses should help the support of deserving talent wherever it may emerge across the golfing world.”

England’s Tom Lewis, a first time winner in only his third professional event in Portugal two weeks ago after being named leading amateur at The Open three months ago, was also impressed with the changes.

“It is an important change because some players are forced into turning pro too early just because of financial difficulties.

“It will make a real difference as they will now be able to turn professional for all the right reasons and also at the right time for them.

“This is probably the most important decision they will have to make in their career.”

Other rule changes effective from the start of next year includes exonerating a player from a penalty if it is known that his ball was moved by the wind after address.

Under the new rules, it will no longer be necessary in windy conditions where there is a risk of the ball moving to hover the club over the ball and not to ground it during the process of making the putt

In New Orleans in May Webb Simpson lost a play-off to Bubba Watson after his ball moved a fraction of an inch on the 15th green and he incurred a one-shot penalty.

The difference between first and second place there was US dollars 460,800 and Simpson went on to lose the PGA Tour money list title to Luke Donald this weekend by US dollars 335,861.

Rory McIlroy also suffered a penalty on the seventh hole of his final round in The Open this July, although the consequences were not as great – he finished 25th.

The new rule “exonerates the player from penalty if their ball moves after it has been addressed when it is known or virtually certain that he/she did not cause the ball to move.
“For example, if it is a gust of wind that moves the ball after it has been addressed, there is no penalty and the ball is played from its new position.”

The penalty, meanwhile, for starting late, but within five minutes of the correct time, is reduced from a disqualification to loss of the first hole in match play or two strokes at the first hole in stroke play.
Previously this penalty reduction could be introduced as a condition of competition.

Harrington said: “I am delighted with the changes, in particular the ball moving after address.

“Every time the wind blows I am worried that my ball is going to move and I am worried about grounding my putter, distracting me from trying to hole my putt.

“This change will speed up play, there won’t be as many suspensions and players won’t be getting penalised or disqualified unfairly.

“It is definitely giving us players a little bit of a break.”