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world handicap system

Can clubs fast-track players into membership?

Some golfers seem to be on the waiting list for ages, while others walk right in. But is it legal? The answer may surprise you
 

Oh, to be a low handicap golfer. They’ve got it made, haven’t they? They’re just too good at the game for a start, and clubs can’t seem to wait to welcome them through their doors.

I’ve heard the stories (I’m sure you have too) of mid-handicappers who’ve spent ages on golf club waiting lists only to witness a scratch player waltz right into the clubhouse as if membership were permanently open.

OK, the reality might just be a little different to the urban myth. But it does pose an interesting question. Are clubs allowed to do it? Can they effectively separate members and move them to the top of a waiting list based purely on talent? Or is this an Equality Act case waiting to happen?

The answer is they can. While the Equality Act does prevent “unlawful discrimination” on the basis of protected characteristics – they are: age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity (including breastfeeding) race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation – your handicap, talent, or ability is not one of them.

A guidance paper produced by solicitors Mills & Reeve in 2018, and containing the advice and opinions of governing body England Golf, explicitly laid it out in the following example.

“A club has a waiting list but fast-tracks single figure handicap players to the front of the list. Golf handicap, talent or ability is not a protected characteristic and therefore this would not be discrimination under the Act.”

So while it might seem pretty unfair if you ever find yourself being passed over, there is nothing in the Equality Act to stop golf clubs fast-tracking based on ability. You’ll have to wait a little longer, or just get better at golf!

What do you think about golf club waiting lists? Should everyone have to wait their turn for club membership, or is it OK for some players to get a helping hand to become golf club members? Let me know with a tweet.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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