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iGolf scheme hailed as huge numbers of players join golf clubs

It was feared iGolf would cannibalise membership but, as it’s revealed 10,000 actually joined clubs, England Golf chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson says the scheme is having a hugely positive impact

 

The tone was hostile. Messages stacked up in the chat. Jeremy Tomlinson was taking something of a verbal beating.

England Golf’s chief executive was outlining the governing body’s new independent golfer initiative and the audience was worried.

Handicaps had always been inextricably linked to golf club membership. You couldn’t get an official one without having the other.

Now Tomlinson was proposing iGolf, allowing non-members to pay an annual subscription to gain a World Handicap System index. They would no longer have to be tied to a club.

This would open the floodgates, critics claimed. Members would leave in their droves.

Then Covid hit. Golf enjoyed a participation boom not seen for decades and waiting lists, and joining fees, started popping up at places that just a few months before had feared the pandemic could shut their doors for good.

And what of the panic that membership would eat itself as players resigned to take advantage of free agency and £40 a year fees?

Well, that didn’t happen either. In fact, according to Tomlinson, the opposite has taken place.

“Members join golf clubs for many different reasons,” he told The NCG Golf Podcast. “iGolfers join for their own reasons. But what we’ve been able to create is a succession pathway.

“We’ve had in excess of nearly 70,000 subscribers since we launched iGolf. Of those, we currently have around 46,000 current subscribers. Part of the reason there is such a drop off is because 10,000 iGolfers have become members of golf clubs.

“They have taken it up, they’ve paid to get themselves a handicap, some insurance, and either their circumstances changed where they could become a member, or they said, ‘I like this. I like measuring my ability. I want to become more competitive. I want to be more sociable. I want to become a member of a golf club. I want to have those playing rights on a more regular basis’.

“It’s been fantastic.”

igolf

iGolf: “This year we’ll be giving another £300,000 to our counties”

But it’s not just the number of players. An off-shoot of iGolf’s success has been the income it’s created.

With the average membership subscription around £1,181, it’s estimated more than £11 million in club membership dues have been driven by iGolf.

Off those surveyed who are still in the scheme, nearly half – 46 per cent – said they were likely to join a club in the future, meaning there could be much more to come.

Then there are yearly iGolf fees themselves – the surplus of which Tomlinson says has been ploughed back into the game.

“Every penny that we get in from subscriptions is reinvested back into the game,” he added.

“We don’t just have our initiatives we work on from an England Golf perspective, which drive inclusivity, women in golf, our junior programmes and work with the Goff Foundation. That money is immediately put back into those areas.

“This year, we’ll be giving another £300,000 to our counties up and down the land – our men’s unions, our women’s associations, and our unified counties. We’re putting a lot of money back in.”

If iGolf is working, in the numbers of players it’s attracting to membership and the money it’s creating for various national and county initiatives, then bridging the gap between independent golfers and club competitions is another avenue to explore.

Some clubs still restrict iGolfers from opens, which essentially devalues their handicaps compared to those of a club member.

That is despite various national organisations, including NCG Top 100s, opening their events to any golfer with a handicap and showing there is no advantage gained by those who have gained an index from a non-traditional route.

Asked if further progress in the iGolf journey could be found in encouraging more clubs to open their doors and their competitions to those golfers, Tomlinson said it wasn’t considered the “next step”.

“It’s a step that’s very much there right now,” he explained. “What you find is that the most progressive golf clubs are the ones that are embracing and welcoming and, if they have the space and capacity – from a tee time perspective, or from an open event perspective – are embracing iGolfers and are doing very well out of it.

“We’re going to continue to promote everything we do. We will continue to quote best practices, the best examples of golf clubs up and down the land that are doing it.

“From a national perspective, we will be looking to create more opportunities for iGolfers to play in our events as well.

“Let’s get back to the word respect. Whether you are a member of a golf club, or whether you’re an iGolfer, whether you are a leisure and recreational golfer, we respect where you are.

“But, with that, we also want to try and provide you with an opportunity to be able to move along the golfer pathway if you wish.

“For iGolfers to be able to play in more competitions invariably means they’re getting more suited to playing more regularly, which means it could well be an easier transformation to becoming a member of a club.

“We just want to try and make each section of that golfer pathway as embracing, welcoming, and as healthy as possible. I think we’re doing that with iGolfers.”

Igolf

What is iGolf?

iGolf allows non-club members to gain an official World Handicap System index along with personal liability insurance.

Subscribers pay £46 a year, gain access to the MyEG app, MyStats, and many other benefits – such as a 10 per cent discount on all England events staged on the NCG Top 100s Tour.

They can also gain entry to exclusive iGolf events, the hole-in-one club, and customer support. iGolf handicaps are overseen by a dedicated England Golf handicap committee.

For more information about iGolf, visit the website.

Now have your say

What do you think of iGolf? Has it helped bring more members to your clubs, and should they do more to accommodate independent golfers? Let me know with a comment on X.

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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