In letters to affiliated clubs, England Golf have given an update on the proposals to give non-members a handicap

England Golf say checks and balances will help “allay the concerns” of clubs worried an independent golfer scheme could see members leave.

In a letter to affiliated clubs, the governing body’s chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson also revealed anyone signing up would not have “immediate access to county and national events, although there would be scope in the future to stage competitions purely for independent golfers”.

Tomlinson was providing an update as work continues on the controversial proposal, which will see England Golf offer non-members an official handicap this year.

He reiterated the R&A’s core strategy of promoting “greater enjoyment for all that play the sport by enabling as many golfers as possible (members and independent golfers) to establish and maintain a handicap”.

And he revealed a working group, made up of six women’s and four men’s regional representatives, along with two further men’s co-opted officials and England Golf board members and key staff, had met several times to progress ideas.

One of the big concerns from critics is that a scheme offering the benefits of an official handicap, without being tied to club membership, could prove attractive to golfers who might not renew.

Tomlinson said facilities should “rest assured that checks and balances will be factored in to allay the concerns of those clubs who feel that members may choose to leave to take advantage of a new proposal.”

More details followed in a second update, where England Golf said the working group had agreed the aim was to drive avid golfers towards golf club membership – “or at the very least increase their spend on green fees, food and beverage and merchandise at local clubs where they feel a connection and develop a bond”.

They said analysis of similar platforms used around the world suggested there was no evidence that “significant numbers” of players would leave a golf club to join an independent golfer scheme.

“The benefits of remaining at a club which offers not only full playing rights, but also a good value proposition to members should outweigh those provided to golfers through an independent golfer platform.

“The working group continue to discuss the suitability of a time lag between a member leaving a golf club and joining an independent golfer scheme.

“The options being debated range from immediate entry up to a time lag period of 12 months.”

In his earlier letter, Tomlinson maintained England Golf’s role was to “encourage, guide and support clubs” in how they chose to interact with independent golfers.

“The idea is to provide opportunities for clubs so that they may select the best option/options that suit their own set of circumstances”.

“Another huge consideration” for the platform was it would not burden clubs with either administration or costs – “our team at England Golf will carry responsibility for the scheme roll out, administration, operational cost and its ongoing development”.

He added: “There will also be consideration given to the timing of a start date for the platform bearing in mind the ongoing effects of the pandemic and the immediate challenges faced by golf clubs issuing subscription renewals.”

England Golf said the working group was meeting on a weekly basis and added that county representatives and key England Golf staff had also held an online meeting as part of the ‘widespread consultation process’ on the platform.

Tomlinson, and chief operating officer Richard Flint, had recently attended an online meeting organised by Devon. Further meetings will be arranged in the weeks ahead with Midlands, Yorkshire, Hampshire, Norfolk and Midlands.

“Sharing thinking and encouraging feedback remain crucial to the development of a best-fitting platform ahead of its intended launch later this year,” the governing body said.

For the full updates, visit England Golf’s website.

Have your fears been eased by Tomlinson’s update? Are you in favour of the independent golfer scheme? Have your say in the comments, or tweet me.

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