Miami Valley Golf
Playing (and Receiving) by the Rules
Information Regarding Prizes & the Rules of Amateur Status 
When we're out on the golf course we play by the Rules, so why should it be any different when we accept a prize in a golf tournament? Golf is an honorable game which has a very specific code of conduct for how we should behave on the course (Etiquette), how we play the game (Rules of Golf), and how we must act in order to call ourselves amateur golfers (Rules of Amateur Status). The Rules of Amateur Status are an important part of the game of golf, although they are often overlooked and/or misunderstood.

In the current edition of the USGA Rules of Golfthe Rules of Amateur Status have been reorganized for better understanding and ease of use. Rule 3 (Prizes) states that amateur golfers may not play golf for prize money (or its equivalent) and outlines specific limitations on the types of prizes which amateurs may receive. 

Every so often, the MVGA becomes aware that a club or invitational tournament is awarding cash prizes. When this occurs, we contact the group involved and notify them of the Rules of Amateur Status and the restrictions on prizes. Golfers who participate in such events are deemed to be "playing for prize money" in the eyes of the USGA and are therefore jeopardizing their amateur status. 
So what's the big deal about winning a few bucks? A lot, if you care about playing by the Rules. What would you say if I said, "What's the big deal if I tee up my ball in the fairway?" If we don't play the game by the Rules (which includes the Rules of Amateur Status), then we’re not playing GOLF. 
The point the USGA is trying to make, by setting limitations on the prizes which amateur golfers may receive, is that professionals play the game to earn a living and amateurs play the game for fun. This is the key element which distinguishes one from the other. And just because amateurs can’t accept cash, doesn’t mean they go away from a tournament empty-handed. Amateurs may receive merchandise (or gift certificates redeemable for merchandise) up to a retail value of $750 per event. Remember, amateurs play golf for fun, not to make money, so taking home up to $750 worth of merchandise sounds like a pretty good deal. 
How about holes-in-one? The same prize limitations apply used to apply, but this was amended in 2006. Ace shooters may now accept a prize of any value for a hole-in-one (including a cash prize) – as long as the hole-in-one was made while playing a round of golf. Hole-in-one contests conducted on a driving range or the like are still subject to the $750 merchandise prize limit (no cash allowed). 
It is important to note that there is a difference between "playing for prize money" and wagering. Playing for prize money occurs when a player enters a competition where cash prizes are awarded. Whether or not the player wins a prize in the event is irrelevant -- the act of entering this type of event is in violation of the Rules of Amateur Status. On the other hand, gambling or informal wagering occurs when a player bets on himself, such as a skins game or player pool. Participation in the pool must be optional, the sole source of all money won by the players must be advanced by the players betting on themselves, and the amount of money involved is such that the primary purpose is the playing of the game for enjoyment. 

Who cares if I lose my amateur status? I only play at my home club. The USGA and the MVGA cares, and anyone else who believes in playing by the Rules should care. When you play for prize money or accept a non-conforming prize, you are no longer considered an amateur golfer. The MVGA refers to these individuals as “non-amateurs.” They are ineligible to compete in all competitions for amateurs, including events at their home club

So what happens if I take the cash or other non-conforming prize -- now what do I do? You may remain in limbo as a non-amateur, or you may apply to have your amateur status reinstated. The current fee is $150 and the period you must wait for reinstatement (and be ineligible for amateur competitions) is typically one year from the date you accepted the non-conforming prize. Applications for reinstatement may be completed online. The MVGA reviews all applications for our area and forwards them back on to the USGA. 
So, the moral of the story is, for the good of this great and honorable game, please think twice before you conduct or enter an event which offers cash prizes or before you accept a non-conforming prize. Isn't your status as an amateur golfer who plays the game by the Rules worth more than a few lousy bucks? We would hope so. 
More information on the Rules of Amateur Status can be found in the USGA Rules of Golf, after Appendix IV.   
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Miami Valley Golf is a Recognized Allied Golf Association of USGA