The professionalisation of elite amateur golf in this country becomes complete this week when the top finishers at the Australian Amateur Championship will be paid prizemoney for the first time.
Recent changes to the rules of amateur status mean the top eight on the leaderboard at Cranbourne Golf Club this Friday will receive a pay cheque.
Both men’s and women’s winners will earn $1,350 for their week’s work while runners-up pocket $1000, third place $750 and money distributed to eighth place. The Australian Junior Championship will also pay winnings down to fifth place.
Last year the event moved from being decided at matchplay (after more than 100 years) to the more familiar professional format of 72-hole strokeplay and now, with the addition of prizemoney, the event is ‘amateur’ in name only.
In fairness, it has probably been the best part of two generations since the field assembled at the national championship could accurately be called amateurs.
The gap between these players and us recreational golfers is vastly greater than that between these players and those playing for a living. Professional in waiting has always felt a more accurate descriptor.
Golf Australia, the game’s governing body, says the move to both axe the head-to-head format and introduce prizemoney is designed to prepare the country’s elite for the seemingly inevitable move to professional careers.
"Last year the event moved from being decided at matchplay (after more than 100 years) to the more familiar professional format of 72-hole strokeplay and now, with the addition of prizemoney, the event is ‘amateur’ in name only." - Rod Morri.
As Golf Australia’s General Manager of High Performance said of the introduction of prizemoney: “We want our events to demonstrate a strong flavour of what players will experience when they make the move into professional golf, and this is a great step in that direction.”
Given the majority of those teeing up this week will be eyeing a career in the pay for play ranks, there is a certain sense to the change.
But the game – and the players – unquestionably lose something in the process, too.
While matchplay is almost unheard of at the professional level, that doesn’t mean it has no role to play in a golfer’s development.
It was less than 10 years ago recent Players Championship winner Cam Smith won a famous Australian Amateur final against Geoff Drakeford, coming from 5-down after 18 holes to secure a 3&2 victory.
Did that experience play any role in his heroics at Sawgrass? Impossible to say but it clearly didn’t hurt.
That same year the Women’s Australian Amateur championship was won by Minjee Lee, another who has gone on to become one of the best players in the world.
But beyond the contribution the format may make to individual careers is the ongoing dumbing down and narrowing of the game that its loss means.
At the televised level golf is – for understandable reasons – an almost endless stream of 72-hole strokeplay tournaments.
But surely there is room at the elite amateur level for a test of a different kind? There will be plenty of years ahead for most of this week’s field to contest 72-hole strokeplay tournaments.
It would be nice if they – and us – were allowed to indulge in a spectacle of a different kind this week.