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England Golf has abandoned plans to introduce a scheme that would allow golfers who are not members of golf clubs to obtain a handicap.

The ‘Independent Golfer’ project was unveiled in Autumn 2019 and was expected to mirror New Zealand’s ‘Flexiclub’ scheme whereby pay-and-play – or ‘nomadic’ – golfers could join a virtual club for a fee and, in return, gain access to an official handicap as well as other benefits.

The proposal was tabled by England Golf’s former chief executive, Nick Pink, and it would have been seen the governing body operate the scheme centrally, with golfers able to register through the official England Golf website from as early as 2021.

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The plans caused significant unrest amongst unions and golf clubs, who argued that such a move would devalue the traditional golf club membership upon which the majority of clubs are so financially reliant.

Now, though, it appears England Golf has cooled on the proposal.

First reported by The Golf Business, Gemma Hunter, the organisation’s handicap and course rating manager, told a virtual delegation of 200 golf club managers that the proposal has been withdrawn.

“Eighteen months ago, there was a lot of discussion around this,” said Hunter. “In probably the last seven or eight months, that’s been canned. We’ve taken it off the table. We’re not actively working on anything regarding the ‘Independent Golfer’. Maybe we’ll come back to it in the future but at the moment it’s not something we’re looking at.”

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Scottish Golf is currently developing a similar scheme of its own and today told it intends to proceed despite England Golf’s decision to back away from the plan.

A spokesperson told us: “Based on the latest data, Scottish Golf is aware that there are currently three-times as many pay-per-play golfers as there are club members. In Scotland, this equates to around 500,000 golfers who are not currently engaged in the Scottish Golf pathway.

“By encouraging these golfers to obtain and maintain a handicap, we will look to create a pathway for these golfers back into club membership while also ensuring that clubs receive the appropriate amount for green fees at your clubs.

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“By working together with our member clubs to get this right, golf clubs will not only benefit from the increased revenue generated but will also see a growth in club membership which has been experienced in other countries running similar initiatives.”

The spokesperson said that “strict requirements” have been put in place to prevent members leaving clubs to join Scottish Golf’s virtual club, including a lengthy “cooling off” period.

They added: “We have put together a clear approach on how we want to deliver this and are currently sharing this approach with all stakeholders and taking on board feedback.”

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Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

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