GM regulars Fergus Bisset and Jeremy Ellwood debate whether or not possession of an official handicap should be for members of affiliated golf clubs only.

Should Home Unions Offer Handicaps To Nomadic Golfers?

says Fergus Bisset

It’s the basic remit of each of our home unions to maintain and improve the overall health of the sport of golf in this country.

A key route for achieving this at a grass roots level is through the many and varied, historic, progressive and inclusive clubs we are lucky enough to have across the UK and Ireland.

These clubs provide a community hub and a network of potential friends and acquaintances.

In an age of distancing and separation, golf clubs are one of the few remaining settings where proper cross societal and generational interaction takes place.

We should do all we can to preserve them.

Offering official handicaps to nomadic golfers would not be helpful with regards that objective.

One of the key benefits a club can provide to current and prospective members is the chance to obtain an official handicap; to play in competitions, to enter open events, to be officially recognised as a legitimate golfer.

If handicaps were available to non-members, many might turn their back on clubs or elect not to join one. Thus, much-needed subscription revenue would be lost.

If golf clubs closed as a result, that would not be to the benefit of the overall health of golf: Contrary to the remit of a home union.

Much better for home unions to extol the virtues of club membership and encourage more to join, as England Golf has been doing so effectively with their “Membership: Give it a shot” campaign.

More members (with official handicaps) means a stronger base of committed golfers in this country. Individuals who have bought in, not only to the game but also into a community asset that can benefit all involved.

The objective should be to convert nomadic golfers into members, not to turn members into nomads.

Should Home Unions Offer Handicaps To Nomadic Golfers?

says Jeremy Ellwood

There will naturally be reservations and suspicions about such schemes as it has been bred into golfers for many years that to get an official handicap you must be a member of an affiliated golf club.

But as in all walks of life, things have changed in golf and will continue to change.

To never question or challenge the status quo is a sure-fire route to complacency and stagnation.

Let’s not be blindsided by the (potentially only temporary) lockdown-inspired membership boom.

For many years, the message has been coming through loud and clear that fewer golfers want the classic golf club membership model, whether inspired by cheap green fees as a result of over-supply, shifts in family dynamics and available leisure time, or a realisation that playing a variety of courses has greater appeal than being tied financially to one.

Traditional golf has perhaps railed against the nomadic golfer, seeing him or her as a threat rather than an opportunity, with official handicaps a kind of valiant last hurrah.

But if we could just shed the unhelpful ‘them and us’ attitude between club members and nomads, the game as a whole might just grow.

For many nomadic golfers the desire to hold an official handicap isn’t make or break, but that’s not to say some wouldn’t welcome the chance, whether for greater legitimacy, ease-of-access to certain courses or the chance to enter open competitions (if permitted) to bring more revenue the way of golf clubs.

Certainly, many open competitions down my way have been struggling to attract full fields and some have gone by the wayside through lack of interest and support.

There must be a way to make this work to the benefit of all parties, so why don’t we support such a move in principle and think of us all just as golfers who love the game rather than further perpetuating the ‘them and us’ sentiment between members and nomads?

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