A few readers have alerted me to a situation that is slowly trickling through clubland. It seems that a growing number of clubs are beginning to allow professionals to play in club events like the weekly members’ competition and even Club Championships.

That’s right, we are now being asked to compete against the professionals in our weekly club comps. It’s “beat the pro” on a whole different level.

It appears that the situation is in response to an incident whereby a club member (who was also a member of the PGA) took action against their club for not being allowed to play in certain club events. In essence they argued that being a member of a professional organisation should not prohibit them from taking part in the events.

As a result, some clubs are now changing their rules simply to avoid similar legal battles. They also state that this will help grow the game of golf by “opening up” the events, etc.

I should point out that at least some of these clubs are looking to allow only PGA Vocational members (i.e. those working in the industry, who have become professionals via a trainee or bridging program) , and not Tournament Professionals. I should also note that the Rules of Golf don’t prevent professionals from playing with amateur golfers.

At any rate, I’ve chatted with a few members at various clubs about this, and they are not thrilled. Not. At. All.  In fact, their sentiments border on outrage.

Comments like “It seems like the Pros want the best of both worlds!” and “How on Earth are we supposed to compete with these guys?” popped up regularly.

The line between professional and amateur athlete is becoming thinner and thinner. We need to look no further than the Olympic Games—once an “amateur” competition that is now dominated by professional athletes—to see what can happen when professionals infiltrate a sport. In golf, even our “Open” competitions—The US Open, Australian Open, Open Championship, etc—are basically professional events that feature few amateurs. Closer to home, even Pennant golf is affected, with professionals now allowed to represent a club.

One of the things I genuinely look forward to each week is my regular Wednesday comp.  Though I rarely figure anywhere near the top of the standings, I know that there is always the chance I could have a day out and maybe bring home the bikkies (“tell him he’s dreaming”). But if a pro were in the field—regardless of their level—I’m sure my anticipation for playing in these events would be diminished.

I’ve played in a lot of pro-ams, with professionals of every different level – from Vocational Professionals to Touring Professionals, men AND women. And it’s clear that nearly all of these players play an entirely different game to us lowly club amateurs.  Their consistency, mental fortitude, skills, distance and overall game play far surpass that of the average club member—even the scratch or single-digit player will struggle to compete. On their worst day, the pros can be expected to shoot a few strokes worse than their norm. In comparison, that’s what I aim for on my VERY BEST day.

I can only imagine the fallout that will inevitably occur (and it WILL happen) when a Club Championship is contested between a professional and an 18-marker. I know who I’d put my money on.

Many will argue that the handicap system will sort this all out, and that it is there to level the playing field. But as I (and many, many others) have discussed, the current Australian Handicapping System (namely DSR, Slope, etc) is flawed. And thus it will likely let us down in this endeavour.

If clubs are determined to go this route—essentially ignoring the wants/needs of their members in order to avoid litigation that may never eventuate—then the only real fix, in my opinion, is to create a new grade of golfer. While we currently have A, B and C grades, perhaps clubs need to create something like an AA or Pro grade?

As always, I’m interested to know your thoughts out there. Should pros be allowed to play in your club events? Should we have different grades, or let them play with the rank and file? What else can be done?

See you on the fairways

About Richard Fellner

Winner of multiple Australian Golf Media Awards, including Best Photojournalism and Best Column, Inside Golf Group Editor Richard Fellner is the quintessential Golf Tragic, having played the game for over 50 years (but has never gotten any better!) He has played and reviewed courses all over the world, and has interviewed many of the great players of the game (including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Greg Norman). Richard is a member of both the Australian Golf Writers Association and the Golf Society of Australia, and he is a regular guest on many Australian "sports talk" radio shows and networks, including ABC Grandstand, SEN 1116, Melbourne Talk Radio 1377, 2GB and others. Follow Richard Fellner on Quora


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