England Golf appears to shelve nomadic handicap idea

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A proposal to create handicaps for golfers in England who are not members of golf clubs appears to have been dropped.

Last autumn England Golf was reportedly considering introducing a scheme similar to ‘Flexiclub’, which operates in New Zealand, in which pay-and-play, or nomadic, golfers join a virtual golf club for a fee, and in return receive an official handicap and other benefits.

However, the controversial idea, which was said to have been proposed by England Golf’s then CEO Nick Pink, who no longer works for England Golf, appears to have been shelved.

In a digital Q&A on the forthcoming World Handicap System with nearly 200 golf club managers, England Golf’s handicap and course rating manager, Gemma Hunter, suggested that the plan had been dropped this year.

“Eighteen months ago there was a lot of discussion around this,” she told them, “in probably the last seven or eight months that’s been canned. We’ve taken it off the table. We’re not actively working on anything regarding the ‘Independent Golfer’ [the name the project was given]. Maybe we’ll come back to it in the future but at the moment it’s not something we’re looking at.”

Any news of the abandonment of the idea will please some county unions and golf club managers who opposed the proposal; with one county secretary arguing last year that it could “very quickly lead to an erosion of the trust in official handicapping”.

Some club managers had expressed concern that their members would quit their clubs to join the scheme, although the proposal stated that golfers could not join if they had been a member of a club within the previous 12 months.

Last summer Philip Harvey, county secretary for The Lancashire Union of Golf Clubs, wrote to England Golf chairman Nic Coward to say there was widespread opposition to the proposal within the industry.

“Access to a recognised handicap which can be used to play competitively, measure performance and compete against others remains a key reason for golfers to join clubs and retain their memberships,” he wrote.

“Of course there are other benefits to their membership, but we believe there would be strong resistance to allowing non-members access to competitions and creating a virtual membership option, whilst leaving the club member as the main source of the funds which are essential to maintaining the courses and other facilities which the sport needs to operate.

“The outcome is almost universally against the concept from clubs at every level of the game.”

The plan, which was debated at an autumn meeting at Woodhall Spa, would have also seen England Golf run the scheme centrally, with independent golfers registering through the England Golf website. It was proposed that the scheme would be introduced in 2021.

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