England Golf’s new non-member handicap scheme is something of a game changer. We consider whether its effect is likely to be a positive one.
What Is iGolf And Is It Good For The Game?
What is iGolf?
Launched in July, iGolf is England Golf’s scheme to allow non golf club members to obtain and manage an official World Handicap System (WHS) handicap index. It follows the launch of a similar scheme, OpenPlay, in Scotland in June.
The iGolf initiative will give the estimated 2.3 million independent golfers across England the chance to obtain an official handicap.
It has been designed to help non-members play more golf, track their performance, input scores, calculate course handicaps and compete with friends, in the same way club members do under the WHS.
Golfers can subscribe on the England Golf website and, after downloading the My EG app they can start entering scores in order to obtain a WHS index.
Personal liability insurance, plus information on the latest offers and news from golf clubs and partners of England Golf are included in the £40 annual subscription.
The programme includes education on the rules and etiquette of golf and a system of checks and balances is included to ensure the integrity of handicaps.
What’s the objective?
The overriding aim of England Golf’s iGolf scheme is to grow the game and to increase participation in golf across the country.
By providing an opportunity for non-members to obtain a handicap, the hope is that there will be more play generally, more interaction between golfers and local clubs and facilities, with increased green fee income for clubs, plus greater spend in pro shops and clubhouses.
By giving players a chance to measure their progress and to compete against their golfing peers, the thinking is that more players will get more from golf and play more as a result.
Rather than seeking to replace club membership, England Golf believes iGolf could actually be an important route to membership, with non-club members experiencing more courses, seeing the benefits of regular play and of golf club life.
The iGolf platform will also help England Golf to connect with a significant proportion of the golfing public that they weren’t reaching before. That way initiatives such as the “Membership: Give it a shot” campaign launched last year can have a wider reach.
Also, revenue generated from the £40 subscription will be reinvested into the game by England Golf to support clubs and facilities across the country, growing the game at all levels.
With an estimated potential 125,000 subscribers after five years, there would be an annual income of £5 million to England Golf
What are the concerns?
The most obvious concern is that club members will abandon their significantly higher annual golf club subscription in favour of a £40 iGolf subscription.
The worry is that there’s a proportion of club members across the country whose principal reason for paying annual subs to a club is to gain and maintain a handicap. Clubs will lose out financially and that won’t be covered by increased income from green fees from iGolf subscribers.
Another concern is with open competition. That club open competitions will be swamped by iGolf players taking advantage of the lower than normal fees.
And how will members react when their open is won by an iGolf subscriber? Although there are those checks and balances on handicap in place, as mentioned above, there will be those who have their doubts. But was it never thus?
The Golf Monthly view
Despite the concerns covered above, the iGolf scheme is a great initiative for growing the game of golf.
The 2.3 million independent golfers in the country represent a huge opportunity for growth. Many within that number are irregular players, not particularly committed to the sport at this point.
The iGolf scheme will help encourage thousands to play more regularly and invest more in the game. By doing this, clubs and facilities will see the benefits.
Additionally, the extra income for England Golf will allow the body to invest more into other initiatives for boosting club membership numbers and encouraging more to take up the game.
Initially, there will undoubtedly be a few players who eschew club membership in favour of iGolf subscription. But, over time, that cost to the clubs will be significantly outweighed by, not only the increased income from iGolf visitors, but also from iGolf subscribers who have fallen in love with the game and chosen to take the next step and to become club members.
Since a similar scheme was launched in New Zealand in 2018, 20% of those who signed up have gone on to become members of a club.
The iGolf scheme will allow for interaction between more players, clubs and the governing body. If clubs deliver a strong product with support from England Golf, they can appeal to iGolf subscribers and gain revenue and new members.