Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Club membership concern over Ireland’s Independent Golfer scheme

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The manager of one of the greatest golf venues in Ireland has called for an “informed discussion” with golf clubs before they vote on Golf Ireland’s proposed ‘Independent Golfer’ scheme, adding that it could threaten club memberships.

Independent Golfer is a scheme that allows golfers who are not members of a golf club to obtain a handicap index, allowing them, for example, to compete in open competitions without having to join a golf club.

Versions of it have been recently introduced in England, Scotland and Wales. In England, iGolf membership currently costs £46 a year and allows golfers the opportunity to obtain a Handicap Index under the World Handicap System (WHS).

According to Irish Golfer, Golf Ireland recently ran a webinar to introduce the scheme, and Ballyliffin Golf Club general manager John Farren emailed the body to suggest that not only was the scheme going to be detrimental to golf clubs nationwide, particularly the smaller clubs, but that the World Handicap system is “already viewed with considerable scepticism by Irish golfers and this will further damage the integrity of competitive golf in Ireland.”

“This is a significant change in the operation of WHS in Ireland and clubs have not been properly engaged or consulted on this proposal,” Farren wrote. “We believe this proposal should be voted on at a general meeting of Golf Ireland as this scheme will have a significant impact on existing clubs and in particular the viability of smaller clubs.

“The presentation was completely biased in favour of the scheme, which was presented as a fait accompli.

“The WHS is already viewed with considerable scepticism by Irish golfers and this will further damage the integrity of competitive golf in Ireland.

Ballyliffin Golf Club. Image from Facebook

“The proposed scheme would allow golfers with no home club to somehow establish a Handicap Index – these handicaps would not have the same level of oversight as club member handicaps.”

Among Farren’s worries are that golfers who have club memberships will sign up to Independent Golfer card and leave their clubs, and that there was a lack of figures presented to show how many members of clubs in England, Wales, Scotland and other countries have now done this.

Around 543,000 people played golf on a full-length course in Ireland in 2023, with just over half, 224,000, not being members of clubs.

Such fledgling golfers could be encouraged to join a club should their interest in the game blossom, but Farren suggested that a reduction in the number of ‘Open’ competitions could be the result, along with an end to discounted green fees for members of Golf Ireland affiliated clubs.

“The introduction of such a scheme would force clubs to reassess the viability of ‘Open’ competitions and discounted green fees for domestic club members,” he wrote, adding: “It was not made clear that these cards would only be available to permanent residents of the island of Ireland – could international golfers visiting the country access these cards on arrival at the airport or in advance of their trip?”

Among the other concerns were whether the scheme would meet current Golf Ireland and WHS handicap committee requirements among which it is stated that a Handicap Committee must have a minimum of four people on the committee, all of whom must be club members, on which courses initial counting scores for a handicap can be recorded, and that failure to inform a club that their course or courses were being used for “official Golf Ireland ‘qualifiers’ would be a serious breach of trust.”

Farren signed off his email to Golf Ireland by suggesting that the matter “requires a full and transparent engagement with the clubs of Ireland before it proceeds any further and certainly merits a more informed discussion before the clubs vote on whether to accept it.”


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