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‘Moving away from online booking would be a step backward’: Why golf must embrace the digital age

Technology is bringing golf to a new audience and clubs should take note, industry expert Craig Higgs tells Steve Carroll

Moves away from online tee booking would be a “retrograde step” given the gains golf has made during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking on the From the Clubhouse podcast, Craig Higgs, international managing director for Golf Genius, said he believed the decision around how spots are booked should be made on what’s most useful to the whole membership and “not a fraction”.

Asked about the ongoing conflict at some clubs between roll-ups and booked times, which have arisen from the Covid restrictions that forced clubs to manage their tee sheet online, Higgs said: “I’ve got to be slightly careful with what I say because some of our clubs are in that debate but, from my own personal opinion, any movement away from an online booking system would seem a retrograde step.

“I think it’s about what is most useful to the total membership, and potentially not a fraction of that membership that have typically always enjoyed it the way they have enjoyed it.

“If clubs want to do that, if they get the opinion of the total customer base, then they are obviously free to do what they want but, for my stance, I very much enjoy and find it useful to book a tee time online.”

Golf Genius is the world’s leading supplier of golf tournament management solutions, working with the USGA and England Golf, alongside many clubs. Rory McIlroy is a prominent investor in the company.

In our podcast, Higgs also talked about the march of technology, why its introduction can’t be prescriptive, and why he likes the World Handicap System.

Here’s what else to listen out for…

The digitisation of golf

“[Covid] pushed people. Although we were doing quite a bit, in terms of personalised scorecards, it pushed a lot of people towards using the app and the technology within that.

“While I understand it’s been tough for the operations of clubs, it’s delivered up a new audience who are very keen to get out there and play golf. They see the benefit of the great game that we’re involved in. Covid has definitely supercharged what we call the digitisation of golf.”

Why you can’t force clubs to adopt technology

“The club’s there to do what the members want. The customer is king and as long as all the customers have contributed, that’s totally the way to go.”

But change is coming

“It’s coming to every industry that we see – banking, airlines. Technology is here. It’s here to make it efficient for the users and it’s there to enhance the experience of the customer.

“The tee sheet is a classic example. Booking online, I know there’s quite an interesting debate within clubs at the moment but, primarily, the tee sheet is there to make it easy for many people to get their time. They’re busy and it’s an easy way for them to do it.

“From what I’ve seen, the result of Covid was a huge surge in the uptake of digital apps. It was a real catalyst to get people moving forward.

“I know in my club, when it was at its height, you couldn’t enter a tournament unless you used the app.

“Very quickly, there was near 100 per cent uptake of app usage whereas before it wasn’t there. It’s within everybody’s capability and I think we’re definitely moving a lot quicker now towards that point of acceptance.”

On the benefits of the World Handicap System

“We’re definitely working through some growing pains in bringing that in – both here in the UK and Ireland as well as globally.

“We do all of the handicapping for the USGA. That’s nearly 90 million rounds last year calculated by Golf Genius for the USGA. We’ve got a fairly good handle on it.

“Primarily what it’s done for the landscape in the UK is that it’s allowed many more people to come in and offer a service. It has standardised the handicapping solution. Previously, we were not able to supply handicapping to customers.

“We can do that now and it’s made a significant difference to the appeal and the uptake of our product within golf clubs.

“Everybody now has the same way of doing it. Everybody gets a handicap from their local union: England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales.

“They run their golf event through their tournament management. They send everything back to the union, they calculate it, and the next day we’ve got that handicap and it’s a much better system.

“I think it’s an easier system. I know I’m not the only one that thinks that. I know [other] people think a lot differently but, for me, it’s a very good system.

“We’re working with the unions to get it adopted and understood but the standardisation brings in more competition, more providers, and that competition is very good for the market and it’s great for the players using the system because they get more choice.”

The From the Clubhouse podcast with Golf Genius’s Craig Higgs

You can listen to the full episode in the player below, or on your preferred podcast platform.

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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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