Critics said it would drive golfers out of membership and some clubs pledged to close entries to open competitions for those players who signed up.
But England Golf have revealed their controversial independent golfer scheme has hit its ambitious target of 25,000 sign-ups in the first year.
The governing body said iGolf, which offers non-club members an official WHS handicap in return for a £40 yearly subscription, had also seen 1,440 players switch from the programme to join a club since its launch – “demonstrating how many independent golfers were inspired to play more golf by obtaining an official handicap”.
England Golf announced their plans at the start of 2021 to a huge furore and sought to reassure clubs and golfers who raised concerns about the accuracy of handicaps obtained and the impact it could have on renewals.
Participation figures, though, have remained strong following the pandemic boost with the number of golf club members in England increasing by 90,000 to 737,000 since February 2021 – a rise of 14 per cent.
And in a recent survey of iGolf subscribers, the Woodhall Spa-based body said 57 per cent disclosed they had either played more, or intended to, since joining iGolf and 60 per cent claimed they were “considering joining a club in the future”.
iGolfers had submitted more than 186,000 general play scores over the last year and 98 per of those were 18-hole rounds. The average subscriber was 42-years-old and held a handicap index of 19.6.
Speaking on the first anniversary of its launch, England Golf chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson said: “This first year has been a fantastic success for the iGolf platform.
“Hitting our ambitious target of 25,000 subscribers in 12 months is a testament to the great work the whole team has put in and confirms our belief in engaging with the independent golfer community. We’re really pleased to be providing an excellent service that is clearly in demand.
“The data we have gathered shows that iGolfers have been encouraged to play more golf since subscribing, which is the primary aim of the initiative, and something that we feel will have a positive impact on the entire golf community.
“Couple this with the fact that we have already seen subscribers move into club membership, it’s clear that iGolf has had a very successful inaugural year.”