Independent golfers are “critical” to the future of the sport and embracing them is “how we make the game better”, said the R&A’s chief executive Martin Slumbers.
Speaking as Scottish Golf launched its OpenPlay platform, which will offer handicaps to non-club members in return for a monthly fee of £5.99, the head of the game’s governing body insisted bringing such players into the ecosystem of golf would provide a pathway to membership for clubs.
“Our game is a club game,” Slumbers said in a video for Scottish Golf. “It’s club members who pay for the golf courses, it’s club members who pay for the clubhouses and we mustn’t lose sight of that.”
But on why independent golfers – and schemes to give them a handicap – were crucial to growing the game, he added: “It enables golf clubs to start to connect with those people who are playing their courses on a more frequent basis.
“Just from a business point of view, it stuns me how little information a golf club generally has on the people who are playing the course who aren’t members. Today, sport is all about data, and it’s all about connectivity, and it’s all about being digital. And so I think that’s really, really, important.
“But the bigger play to me is if we can embrace independent golfers in this broader ecosystem of golf and we can talk to them about the value of being a member of a club.
“Remember that most independent golfers are independent golfers because they’re either time poor, or they can’t afford to play on one place regularly. They just want to play occasional golf or they like playing lots of different courses.
“The latter you’re never going to change, but the two former ones you can absolutely embrace. If we can get that right, you create a pathway into club membership that makes club membership way more sustainable in the future.”
Hailing Scottish Golf’s scheme – “I think it’s terrific and it will really have value,” – Slumbers said the number of club members in the UK were a “fraction” of the people who actually play the game.
“As a governing body we were talking to a smaller and smaller group so, for us, this now opens up the whole pie, it enables us to think about growing the game and genuinely reflects the way the game is being played – which is a mixture of club golfers and independent golfers.”
Pointing out that independent golfers were, as a group, younger and more gender balanced, Slumbers continued: “The biggest criticism I have of the game I love is that golfers talk to golfers, and golf talks to golf.
“If you think about that for just five seconds, how the hell do you think we can grow the game when we’re only talking to ourselves?
“So embracing independent golfers, embracing those people who aren’t members of clubs, connecting with them about the value of being a member, and then getting them on a pathway to being a member, that’s how we grow the pie and that’s how we make the game better.”
On OpenPlay, which will see subscribers download the Scottish Golf app and pay £5.99 a month to have access to a handicap, as well as a range of other benefits, Slumbers said: “It’s great for Scottish Golf and independent golfers, being part of it, should remember that Scottish Golf plays a huge role in developing the game.
“By signing up to the app, [paying] the monthly subscription, you’re helping the governing body of Scottish Golf grow the game. That’s got to be good.
“I commend Scottish Golf for doing it. I think it’s terrific and it really will have value. We just got to keep pushing forward and I think it will be very successful.”
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The From the Clubhouse podcast with Scottish Golf’s Head of Digital Martin Hopley
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