State of the Game: Is Amateur Golf In Trouble?

James, 17th November 2017

Most of us would agree that amateur golfers don’t have it easy. Despite often a strong sense of real golfing talent, there are plenty of pitfalls along the way – and that’s before even turning pro (where even more obstacles await). With the odds stacked against them more than ever, we ask: is amateur golf in trouble?


What makes an amateur golfer?

In addition to being talented golfers, amateur golfers are those who compete regularly in amateur tournaments with a degree of success.

amateur golf

How do you become a pro golfer?

Once you’ve exceeded the level of amateur tournaments, or are good enough but a little sick of playing the same tournaments year in and year out – you can consider turning pro.

Amateur golfers looking to make the jump up to pro status, whether in Europe or the USA, are almost always scratch handicap or better. In fact, if you want to take part in either Tour’s ‘Q’ or ‘Qualifying’ Schools to potentially earn yourself a Tour Card, you are required to be scratch or under.


What are the benefits of becoming a pro golfer?

Where do we start? At the very highest level – becoming part of the World’s Top 100, Top 10 – perhaps even Number One? Wealth, fame and fortune beyond your wildest dreams?

A good example would be Spanish supremo Jon Rahm. He turned pro after being the leading amateur at the 2016 US Open, already ranked as the world number one in the World Amateur Golf Rankings for a record-breaking 60 weeks before he even made the transition.

Since that point, he has stormed into the golfing consciousness, winning the Farmers Insurance Open and the Irish Open this year, finishing 5th in the world and scooping the European Tour’s prestigious Rookie of the Year award. If only all amateur to pro transitions were so simple and so successful.

amateur golf

What are the downsides of turning pro?

In a word? Money. Whilst there are a fair few amateur golf associations in each major golfing nation that strive to help amateur golfers with paying for tournament travel and accommodation through sponsorships, they are limited to only the best few amateurs. What’s more, once you decide to turn pro – you’re largely on your own.

For at least the first year, amateurs-turned-pros will have to fend for themselves travelling from tournament to tournament, hoping that they can regain some prize money and make cutes, not just keeping them afloat but also attracting potential sponsorship for the following year.

A lot of the pressure falls on the bank of mom and dad, with no guarantee of the flights, travel and accommodation will pay off. Ex-pro’s like Andre Butterfield reckon it costs about £2,000 a week to play on the European Tour. Even on the second-tier Challenge Tour, it probably costs around £70,000-£80,000 a year to play, once you’ve covered flights, accommodation, your caddie and your spending money.

As if the pressure on those helping fund the pro dream wasn’t enough, the pressure mounts on the golfer themselves. They know that every missed putt and dropped shot could be the difference between success and failure, between breaking even and getting further into debt.


So, what’s the solution?

Help for first-year professionals would be ideal. We thought there had been a breakthrough earlier in the year when Scottish Golf’s chief executive, Blane Dodds, announced a few finance and support package. The additional funding would have supported Scotland’s promising amateurs making the step up to “establish them on the European Tour and to keep the players on a stable trajectory,” thereby taking the pressure off financially.

What’s more, with Scotland only having one golfer in the top 30 (Russell Knox) despite being the birthplace of golf, the scheme would also have funded emerging amateur talents with coaching and management support.

Unfortunately, despite being a good idea, one of the main ways Dodds was going to fund the scheme was by increasing the annual affiliation fee that club members pay to Scottish Golf from £11.25 to £24. There was outright mutiny from large sections of clubs in Scotland, leading to Dodds resigning last month. After his departure, the ‘proposals’ have been halted ahead of a public meeting in December. While we’re keeping our fingers crossed the scheme will still go ahead in some capacity, we’re not hopeful.

With any luck, England Golf will take a more active role in supporting its amateur golfers too in the months and years to come. For now, though, it seems that it will continue to be somewhat of a lottery, which is a sad state of affairs. Good luck amateurs!

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