Chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson tells Steve Carroll that the governing body must reach out to players who are not a member of a club

England Golf will offer nomad players an official handicap this year, the governing body’s chief executive has confirmed.

Jeremy Tomlinson told NCG’s From the Clubhouse podcast the sport would “not be looking after its future well enough if we are not connecting with all golfers”.

He revealed England Golf were working with stakeholders, and other associations, to create a national platform that would connect independent golfers and hoped that a business model would be rolled out in the first half of this year.

Previous proposals, that envisaged the governing body acting as a virtual club and giving players a handicap in return for a subscription, were heavily criticised by some leading counties.

But Tomlinson explained the introduction of the World Handicap System had substantially changed the landscape, with the R&A adopting a core strategy of wanting “all golfers to be able to be offered a handicap”.

The plan, which was discussed and agreed upon at England Golf’s general meeting last month, comes amid a backdrop of soaring membership as players flocked to join clubs when coronavirus restrictions were eased for the first time last May.

Tomlinson, though, said there were still between 1.2 and 1.8 million golfers who were not members of clubs, and explained he was at a loss as to why the governing body were not connecting with them.

“I don’t understand why, when England Golf’s role is to look after all amateur golfers, that it has no connectivity with independent golfers – with golfers who are not members of golf clubs,” he explained.

“Of course it’s members of golf clubs who pay their affiliation fees to England Golf. Quite rightly we should look to prioritise them and we do.

“But if we are to truly look after the health and wellbeing of our golf clubs, we need to make sure that we have members that we inspire and educate all members from other communities.

“There is a huge community of independent golfers that we really must reach out to. Now out of the new World Handicap System, as that was launched in November, the R&A spoke to me about their core strategies.

“Part of their core strategies, that they know happens, is that when you give anybody in any sport a measuring tool with regards to their own ability, it invariably leads to them wanting to do that sport more.

“The R&A are certainly there and, so therefore, as part of the new World Handicap System, they want all golfers to be able to be offered a handicap.”

Tomlinson added that, at last month’s meeting with county shareholders, they decided to continue as the single handicapping authority with regards to all golfers in England “and that would mean issuing independent golfers, non-member golfers, with a handicap”.

Some clubs have voiced fears that allowing golfers to have a handicap without being tied to a club would hurt membership but Tomlinson said he did not believe that was a threat.

“Ultimately, when you look at it, why would a member who’s enjoying their membership at a good golf club look to leave – to then a pay a fee to have a handicap and then have to pay green fees every time they play?

“I’ve been playing golf for circa 47 years and I’ve never known anybody leave a good golf club. I’ve known people leave a bad golf club, unfortunately, but I’ve never known anybody leave a good golf club.

“And I’ve certainly never known anybody join a golf club just to get a handicap. So, for me, golf clubs need to continually look at their value proposition of membership.

“While they are doing that, we are going to, in turn, is to try to create a platform at a national level that prioritises opportunities and options for golf clubs to be able to connect with these independent golfers.

“To be able to attract them in some way, whether that is just to golf days, whether it’s to use their facilities – there might be conference facilities – or it might be to invite them to play in competitions.

“It might be to invite them to play in their own club competitions. But, either way, we want to be able to give all golf clubs that choice of whether or not they want to connect with that community of golfers.

“We’ve never done it in the past. And I think that it’s not only a real shame, but I think we’re not looking after our future well enough if we’re not connecting with all golfers.”

What do you think of the idea? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

The NCG Podcast: From the Clubhouse

England Golf chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson was talking with Steve Carroll on the From the Clubhouse podcast from NCG.

Listen to the full episode here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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