As Scottish Golf launches its independent golfer platform, Martin Hopley, the governing body’s Head of Digital, outlines what it will mean for clubs and golfers They are golfers, but not as you might know them. “They’re playing about five to 15 times a year,” says Scottish Golf’s Head of Digital Martin Hopley. “The vast majority – up to about 80 per cent – don’t particularly want to play in competitions. “They are people who like the flexibility of not being tied down to one particular course and like playing different places.” So as the governing body launches OpenPlay – its scheme for independent golfers – the question that’s often posed is ‘why do they need an official handicap?’ For Hopley, perhaps the bigger query is ‘why not?’ “The reason they really want a handicap is to benchmark their own games – to turn up for social and society games and be able to give and receive strokes as anybody else would in a normal game of golf.” Independent golfers, or non-members, make up the substantial majority of players in the UK. While club membership in Scotland hovers around the 190,000 mark, the number of players not affiliated to a club is estimated to be around half a million. They’ve been on the outside, though, as the sport has traditionally focused its vision on those that pay annual subscription fees. OpenPlay is going to change that. Costing golfers £5.99 a month, they will register on the Scottish Golf app and will be able to gain an official handicap. They’ll do that in the same way as club members, by putting in 54 holes worth of scores, and they will be able to maintain their mark by submitting general play scores. Similar schemes have proven controversial. In England, the decision to launch an offering for non-member golfers produced a significant backlash from golf club managers and unhappy members. But this is about being more inclusive, maintains Hopley, and helping those who – for whatever reason – decide they don’t want to be a member of a club to feel more involved in the game. “There are situations for independent golfers where they might turn up on a tee, and they’re playing with people who have a handicap, and they say ‘well, what are you going to play off today?’ “They might say ‘well, I kind of play to about 10’ and that might work out great, or it might work out that they win or lose by miles. “Either way, it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience for that person, or it may create a sense of awkwardness. So, by having that handicap, you are going to create that sense of inclusivity for people. “We also feel that it could be more beneficial for others including, particularly, female golfers who maybe have felt that going along to a golf club, or even if they are members going and playing in a competition, might feel a little bit intimidating. “They can get a handicap...
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