England Golf COO Richard Flint says offering non-members an official handicap will not become the issue many think it will
Strong clubs should “back themselves and not worry” about the independent golfer scheme, England Golf’s second in command told managers.
In an update on the new platform in a webinar held by the Golf Club Managers’ Association, Richard Flint, the governing body’s chief operating officer, said giving nomadic players an official handicap was “not competing with club membership”.
Asked whether handing non-club members a World Handicap System index was taking away a reason to be a member – harming both recruitment and retention – Flint said: “Handicap isn’t the biggest driver of why individuals join a golf club”.
He added: “Whether it’s social, whether it’s community, whether it’s competitive, handicap isn’t the big driver and certainly the insight and data tells us that.
“Of course, it’s an important part of golf club membership from a competitive element. We’re not concerned that this will take away from golf club membership.
“Individuals that want to join a golf club want [to do so] for many more reasons than purely a handicap. But if by offering that handicap to independent golfers, we can increase avidness and regularity of play, then from a financial investment point of view, these individuals will see the benefit of golf club membership beyond purely that handicap and regular play.”
England Golf’s independent golfer initiative will launch in the first two weeks of next month and will cost subscribers £40 a year.
As well as an official handicap, players will receive personal liability insurance and access to the My England Golf app to post scores and track their progress.
Golfers who leave a club will have to wait six months before becoming eligible to join the scheme and county and national events will continue to be the preserve of golf club members only.
England Golf hope the scheme will prove to be a pathway into membership for nomadic players and Flint added: “I think something as an organisation we’ve said before is that those golf clubs that have a strong business model, that have strong governance, that believe in themselves, should back themselves and not worry about this independent golfer scheme.
“It’s not competing with club membership. It’s not intended to. It’s meant to move people and independent golfers along that golfer journey.
“We understand that some golf clubs have concerns. But those safeguards we’ve also built into the system, around the six-month timeline, hopefully will reassure those golf clubs, who were a little bit concerned at the start of this process, that we’re protecting golf clubs but also encouraging golfers into membership.”
Flint reiterated there would be no extra work involved for clubs, with the governing body taking charge of all the administration and technical aspects of the scheme.
“England Golf will carry out all administration duties with regards to both the scheme and the handicap elements so there won’t be any burden or work on golf clubs or counties,” he said.
“There will be a dedicated team at Woodhall from both a customer service point of view, but also a technical handicap queries perspective as well.”
Some clubs have insisted they won’t engage with independent golfers at all, eschewing the opportunity to offer them discounted green fees or to allow them to enter club or Open competitions.
Asked how they would explain to independent golfers, who had forked out their £40, that a “significant percentage of clubs are not going to accept them”, Flint said: “Golf clubs are already engaged with independent golfers through green fees.
“Independent golfers, and particularly those regular golfers, are playing at our facilities across England – so that connection is there.
“Golf clubs are their own businesses and, obviously, engage with independent golfers on that basis. We’re not going to dictate, or mandate, what golf clubs should or shouldn’t do from an independent golfer connectivity perspective, and we’re not going to insist on golf clubs offering any sort of discounts or anything like that. That is solely at the discretion of each individual golf club.”
But those clubs that did want to engage with non-club members through England Golf’s scheme would be able to do so, whether that was through offers or green fees, through a microsite that will be launched in the future.