A professional golfer is somebody who receives payments or financial rewards in the sport of golf that are directly related to their skill or reputation. In golf, the distinction between amateurs and professionals is rigorously maintained. An amateur who breaches the rules of amateur status may lose their amateur status. A golfer who has lost their amateur status may not play in amateur competitions until amateur status has been reinstated; a professional may not play in amateur tournaments unless the Committee is notified, acknowledges and confirms the participation. It is very difficult for a professional to regain their amateur status; simply agreeing not to take payment for a particular tournament is not enough. A player must apply to the governing body of the sport to have amateur status reinstated.
Historically, the distinction between amateur and professional golfers had much to do with social class. In 18th and 19th century Britain, golf was played by the rich, for pleasure. The early professionals were working-class men who made a living from the game in a variety of ways: caddying, greenkeeping, clubmaking, and playing challenge matches. When golf arrived in America at the end of the 19th century, it was an elite sport there, too. Early American golf clubs imported their professionals from Britain. It was not possible to make a living solely from playing tournament golf until some way into the 20th century (Walter Hagen is sometimes considered to have been the first man to have done so).
In the developed world, the class distinction is now almost entirely irrelevant. Golf is affordable at public courses to a large portion of the population, and most golf professionals are from middle-class backgrounds, which are often the same sort of backgrounds as the members of the clubs where they work or the people they teach the game, and educated to university level. Leading tournament golfers are very wealthy; upper class in the modern U.S. usage of the term. However, in some developing countries, there is still a class distinction. Often golf is restricted to a much smaller and more elite section of society than is the case in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Professional golfers from these countries are quite often from poor backgrounds and start their careers as caddies, for example, Ángel Cabrera of Argentina, and Zhang Lian-wei who is the first significant tournament professional from the People's Republic of China. In various countries, Professional Golfers' Associations (PGAs) serve either or both of these categories of professionals. There are separate LPGAs (Ladies Professional Golf Associations) for women.
Under the rules of golf and amateur status of the R&A, the maximum an amateur can win is £500. Under the rules of golf and amateur status of the USGA the maximum an amateur can win is $750. If an amateur accepts a prize of greater than this they forfeit their amateur status, and are therefore by definition a professional golfer.
Professional golfers are divided into two main groups, with a limited amount of overlap between them:
|Member Classification||Apprentice Classification||Description|
|A-1||B-1||Head Professional at a PGA Recognized Golf Course|
|A-2||B-2||Head Professional at a PGA Recognized Golf Range|
|A-3||N/A||Exempt PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions, Korn Ferry Tour, LPGA Tour and Symetra Tour players|
|A-4||B-4||Director of Golf at PGA Recognized Golf Facilities|
|A-5||N/A||Past Presidents of the Association|
|A-6||B-6||Golf Instructor at a PGA Recognized Facility|
|A-7||B-7||Head Professional at a PGA Recognized Facility Under Construction|
|A-8||B-8||Assistant Golf Professional at a PGA Recognized Facility|
|A-9||B-9||Employed in Professional Positions in Management, Development, Ownership Operation and/or Financing of Facilities|
|A-12||B-12||College or University Golf Coach|
|A-14||B-14||Director of Instruction at a PGA Recognized Facility|
|A-15||B-15||Ownership or Management of a Retail Golf Facility|
|A-16||B-16||Golf Course Architect|
|A-17||B-17||Golf Course Superintendent|
|A-19||B-19||Golf Manufacturer Management|
|A-20||B-20||Golf Manufacturer Sales Representative|
|A-21||B-21||Tournament Coordinator/Director for Organizations, Businesses or Associations|
|A-23||B-23||Club Fitting/Club Repair|
|A-24||N/A||Employed within the golf industry and not eligible for another Active classification|
|IN||N/A||Not eligible for classification as Active, Life Member or Retired Member|
|LM/LMM||N/A||Not eligible for classification as Active Member and who have held a minimum of 20 years in an Active Classification (whether continuous or not)|
|LMA/LMMA||N/A||Not eligible for classification as Active Member and who have held a minimum of 20 years in an Active Classification (whether continuous or not)|
|RM||N/A||Members who are fully retired (cannot be working in either a golf or non-golf position) and who have achieved a combined 65 years of age and Active membership and who are not eligible for Life Member|
|F||N/A||Failure to meet the requirements of the Professional Development Program|
Instruction does not cover teaching the psychological aspects of the game or the etiquette or Rules of Golf.