Matter of Opinion: The case for the independent golfer

England Golf’s plan to offer official handicaps to non-members has proven controversial with club managers but what do those in favour think? We asked a duo to explain why they’re backing the initiative It’s one of the biggest issues in golf at the moment – and that’s saying something in a pandemic. England Golf’s plan to progress an independent golfer scheme has caused plenty of comment and, in some cases, led passions to run high. Critics of the proposal claim it will entice people out of club membership, while also threatening the integrity of Open competitions – which provide facilities with valuable revenue. But opinion is split. There are also a number of managers who welcome the initiative and think it has the potential to grow the game. Two of them, Jennie-May Smith, manager at Brailsford Golf Centre, in Derbyshire and Andrew Watson, general manager at Holme Hall, in Lincolnshire, come together here to explain their point of view… You’re in favour of an independent golfer scheme. What do you like about it? Jennie-May Smith: For our business, nomadic golfers probably make up two thirds of our revenue every year. We've been looking, for the last 12 months, for ways to connect with them. They’re a huge part of our business and all we can do is data capture and try to get them back and encourage them to participate more. From my point of view, the independent golfer scheme is just perfect. It could potentially provide us with this enormous database that, obviously, England Golf will hold. It should allow us to contact these people, get them engaged, see what their playing patterns are, their habits, and to learn more about what they want. I think driving engagement in our sport can only ever be a good thing. I’m, personally, struggling to see any negatives. Andrew Watson: We’re one of seven golf clubs in a 10-mile radius around Scunthorpe, with a population density of 140,000 people. It's not sustainable and so we've spent the last four or five years encouraging societies, green fee payers, and trying to sell the very best of everything Holme Hall to them. We also think the membership model is antiquated. I'm not saying we can’t have members’ clubs, and elements of members’ clubs, but golf clubs aren't going be able to survive indefinitely on members. One third of our membership is 70 plus, so they're not going to be there in 15 years’ time. If nomads are out there and want to come as repeat business and use the club facilities, we only see positives from that. There seems to be two main concerns from those who aren’t supportive: the potential to take members away and the question of handicap integrity in Open competitions. How do you see those concerns? JS: I think a lot of these reactions are being driven by where we are at the minute. We've all spent the last 12 months reacting to ever changing circumstances, new restrictions that are coming...
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