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Rules of a Pro-Am Golf Tournament

By Craig Berman

Playing with a professional golfer is a dream come true for many fans of the sport -- and it’s a dream that the professional tours help amateurs live each week. Most golf tournaments feature a Pro-Am event the day before the event starts, where three amateurs and a professional make up a foursome. The winners get prizes, and amateurs get to feel what it's like to be a professional golfer for the day -- including the focus on adhering to the rules.

Gaining Entry

By and large, the big qualification for participating in a Pro-Am is the ability to write a check. Most PGA Tour Pro-Ams start at $4,000 to $6,000 per entry, and can reach $20,000 or more. Smaller or more local events cost less. In addition, amateurs usually must have an established USGA handicap, and will receive a percentage of that number. If the Pro-Am gives a golfer 75 percent of her handicap, for example, a 20 handicap would get 15 strokes. There also may be a maximum handicap that can be claimed, so a 40 handicap wouldn't get the full benefit of that high number.

Keeping Score

Unlike a normal golf competition, which is decided by the low net score or via match play, Pro-Am golf tournaments generally are best ball, low net score or a scramble format. This means that a bad shot or three isn’t worth panicking over. In either format, it’s OK to pick up your ball and move on to the next hole if things go poorly, since others in the foursome presumably will do well enough to have their scores count. If nothing else, that’s what the pro is for.

USGA Guidelines

Unless specifically stated otherwise, a Pro-Am is governed by the United States Golf Association and professional tour rules. Any exceptions to USGA rules because of local rules or conditions will be clearly stated prior to the start of the competitions. Violations can be costly, as professionals can find themselves disqualified for acts like using an illegal practice aid. While most equipment prohibited by the tour rules can’t be used, some do allow or mandate golf carts for the amateurs to speed up play.

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Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid common rules violations to keep your round going smoothly. Check your bag before beginning the round to make sure you don't have extra clubs or other gear that can't be used. While you can pick up a ball to give up a hole, there are no "gimmes" on short putts, and using your foot to improve your lie will end your participation on a hole. You may not be a professional golfer, but on the day of the Pro-Am you have to act like one and play by the letter of the rule book.

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