It had seemed that last year the idea of the national golf bodies offering handicaps to golfers who aren’t attached to a club had been abandoned. But with the introduction of the World Handicap System last year changing the game, England Golf announced last month that handicaps will be offered to independent golfers later this year. Scotland, Ireland and Wales will also follow suit.
There are nearly 2 million independent golfers in England and England Golf Chief Executive Jeremy Tomlinson says “we must reach out to these golfers. We must look after all amateur golfers”.
A working group of 6 female and 4 male regional representatives are meeting virtually on a weekly basis to develop the concept which they call an “Independent Golf Connectivity Platform”. Independent golfers will pay a fee for the handicap as well as green fees ro play. But it does seem the uktimate aim is to encourage these players to take up club membership.
It’s encouraging to see this new flexibility from the governing bodies capitalising on the big upsurge in interest in golf in the UK following the ending of the first national lockdown last May.
Mr Tomlinson stressed that clubs would choose individually how they interacted with independent golfers but it seems unlikely they will be allowed to play in club, regional and national competitions just yet. There may be a separate category of competition for them in the future.
Club membership in golf is unlikely to be eroded by this new recognition of nomadic golfer, indeed it is an opportunity to reach out and connect and make the game more inclusive. Because of the capital assets of golf course and club house needing to be funded, club membership will always be the preferred model in the sport and affiliated members who pay fees to the national bodies will have priority.
One of the main arguments against the concept of independent handicaps was that it would lead to a decline in club membership. One of the ideas being discussed is to have a time lapse between leaving a club and being able to seek an independent handicap.
It’s going to be so interesting to see how this pans out in practice. There could be a lot of variation in how clubs treat independent golfers with good experiences and not so good. But it is a real breakthrough to see some outreach, inclusivity and a proper spirit of growing the game.