Alex Perry, a so-called 'nomad golfer', will soon have an official handicap. But don't worry, he's not going to come and start sweeping up at your open competitions
Hi, I’m Alex, and I don’t have an official golf handicap.
Telling someone you’re not a member of a golf club can often feel like a confession. Even the phrase ‘nomad golfers’ has negative connotations.
Not being a member of a club is a choice. Not because I don’t necessarily want to be, I just can’t justify playing the amount of golf necessary to make it worthwhile. And there are thousands of golfers in the same position as me. But that doesn’t make us any less important to the game at grassroots level.
I get my golf fix by either joining friends at their clubs or throwing a metaphorical dart at a map and trying somewhere new.
The problem that arises is my handicap. I input all my rounds into an online score tracking service that then tells me what my handicap is based on those rounds.
I play off 12, apparently, which I’m happy with. But these are all casual rounds with friends. In a competition environment it’s a different story.
As a non-golf club member, my only real taste of competitive action each year is against my colleagues – all of whom play regularly and off single figures – and my pride takes pounding after pounding as we shake hands before the back nine has really got a chance to get going. (It gets rather cringeworthy in the organisation phase when I’m handed a couple of courtesy shots. Give me strength – not strokes. I’d rather lose.)
So I was particularly interested when I saw England Golf are planning to roll out a scheme to offer official handicaps to non-club members like me in return for a few of my hard-earned pounds each year.
But I was quickly brought back to earth when I saw the reaction from those who are golf club members. While some of it is perfectly reasonable, the main gripe tends to be around potential cheating.
I hate to be the one to break this to you, but cheating exists within golf clubs already.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve asked friends or family how they got on in a competition only for them to bemoan the fact that 50-odd points took top spot. Again.
But even more frustrating is the belief that I, or any independent player, would turn up and play in an open competition at your club and your immediate assumption is that I’m trying to con members out of prizes.
To assume that we are cheats because we aren’t attached to a golf club is not only insulting but so far wide of the mark.
It’s bad enough in a social knock when I smash a drive down the middle of the fairway and someone inevitably quips: “What did you say you were off again?” Wait until you see me from 150 yards in, sunshine.
Each independent golfer’s reason for not taking up membership of a golf club is different. Does that mean they shouldn’t be allowed to measure their game against those who are on an official level?
We constantly drone on about how our sport needs to be more inclusive. But when the governing bodies move to do just that we decide we didn’t mean that kind of inclusive. We just wanted to be able to wear collarless polo shirts.
I really like the idea of being able to pay an official operator – England Golf is a non-profit organisation, remember, so the proposed millions that will be made from this scheme will go straight back into the game – as well as being part of “the scene”.
I’ll still be paying my green fee at your club – the same as I would if I was just rocking up as a visitor. Only this time I’ll be paying a bit more. Surely you would rather I paid £40 and came to play in one of your club’s open competitions than seek out an online discount tee time and poke round 18 holes for a fraction of that price?
Among all the social media noise when this news first broke was a wonderful text from my friend – a golf club board member – who wrote: “This is great. Now we can play in open competitions together.”
And this is the one person who knows my golf game better than anyone. If he’s willing to have me hinder his chances in competitions then maybe – just maybe – there’s more to it than winning a few money-can-actually-buy prizes.