By now, you’ve probably heard about a new scheme being proposed by England Golf whereby roaming golfers could be given an official handicap in exchange for a fee.
The scheme has raised concern among clubs and county unions across the UK, amid fears it could compromise trust in official handicapping and lead to a decrease in memberships.
We spoke to Keith Dyer, secretary at Worsley Golf Club, to find out how he feels the scheme will impact golf in the long run.
The official wording from England Golf on the scheme is that “It is designed to welcome more players and make golf easier to understand.” What’s your response to this?
I don’t really see how the scheme makes golf easier to understand. Golf is a simple concept. The only complicated thing about golf are the rules.
Our stance is that this scheme is another way of providing non-serious golfers with cheap golf and a handicap which is not properly monitored due to lack of interaction with their home club.
What do you think are the drawbacks of this scheme and how do you think it will affect your club membership?
Having a golf club membership is not just about having a handicap and playing competitively. A lot of our members do not have handicaps and are less bothered about the competitive aspect than the social aspect. They have a close circle of long-standing playing partners and being part of a golf club means different things to those people.
Of the income we receive in members’ fees, we spend around a quarter of a million pounds out on the course, which enables us to provide the best possible facilities to our members.
If you then start getting people coming in who’ve paid £60 to England Golf to maintain their handicap, I can see a lot of members not being happy with that – and rightly so. Whether or not this means they discontinue their memberships remains to be seen.
What will this scheme mean from an administrative point of view?
Knowledge of members is vital in maintaining a consistent handicap system. The Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) handicap reviews throughout the season can only be implemented by the handicap committee fairly by knowing the players in person.
However, if every Tom, Dick and Harry is visiting our golf course, we don’t know those people and we can’t maintain their handicaps fairly.
Cost is also going to be a problem. I’ve heard this scheme is going to cost £60 per person and if we’re only getting a fraction of that, it’s not a lot of money to maintain the additional handicaps considering the amount of time that is required.
What level of consultation have you been given about the roll-out of this scheme?
We’ve had virtually no consultation on this scheme. For example, I have no idea what criteria someone needs to meet in order to be eligible for this scheme.
The only thing we got was the letter from Philip Harvey (county secretary for The Lancashire Union of Golf Clubs), which outlined what England Golf were proposing and the union’s stance on it. We agreed with their opinion.
I don’t feel that England Golf have communicated this scheme well at all. We’ve been kept in the dark about a lot of things.
What do you feel would be a suitable alternative to the scheme, to ensure that golf clubs don’t suffer in the long run?
There are companies out there like PlayMoreGolf who offer the casual golfer the chance to play in competitions, enabling them to build and maintain a handicap.
We also have our own flexible membership packages. For instance, we offer an off-peak membership whereby golfers pay £120 a year and £50 on their bar card. They pay a green fee as though they’re playing with a member every time they play, but they can still play in mid-week competitions and maintain a handicap.
Therefore, there should be more emphasis on golf clubs offering flexible membership categories. In the long run, these will convert a lot of golfers into full-time members and, in my opinion, will increase participation levels across the UK.
Since news of the World Handicap System was announced, England Golf CEO Nick Pink has given several comments on the subject.
In a statement released on September 16, he said: “We believe the introduction of the new World Handicap System will have a hugely positive impact for golf around the globe.
“Our team are working hard to deliver the transition from the current system to WHS and will continue to confer with the clubs, counties and our technology partners to ensure that everything runs to plan ahead of the start date.”
Since then, Mr Pink has carried out an interview with National Club Golfer to discuss the possibility of some of the UK’s 630,000 existing club members becoming independent golfers.
He said: “We don’t want membership to go down. If there was a threat we felt that would significantly change that we would stop it. There’s absolutely no way we would do it.
“I just don’t believe that, at this stage, with the insight and research we have got, that people are going to jump out of club membership to join this scheme.”