REVEALED: Software companies in 'legal battle' with Scottish Golf

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Hot on the heels of the resignation of its CEO Andrew McKinlay, bunkered.co.uk can exclusively reveal that Scottish Golf is embroiled in a legal dispute over its new software plans.

Speaking to bunkered.co.uk on the condition of anonymity, the owner of one software company told us that lawyers have been brought in over concerns that Scottish Golf's new software system is being rolled out illegally.

We can also reveal that two other independent software developers have jointly engaged the services of the Competition and Markets Authority, the Government department responsible for preventing anti-competitive activity in the UK, to probe the organisation’s implementation of its new system.

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Scottish Golf stands accused of trying to “railroad” the country’s 575 clubs into using its new, all-purpose software system, which includes a new Central Database of Handicaps. According to Scottish Golf, the new system is mandatory, clubs having been told that “current Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) who provide handicapping software for clubs will no longer be given any access to handicapping calculations or any handicap data through open APIs or any other means.”

This, in turn, effectively eliminates all other software providers currently operating in Scotland.

“Scottish Golf’s ambition is to drive us all out of Scotland,” said our source. “We all have a shared interest here.

“It’s a big disappointment for us. We have serviced some of our customers for 20 years. We have a good relationship with those clubs and our customers.”

The source said the group is now dealing with lawyers as it attempts to stop Scottish Golf running them out of town.

“We are looking at the aspect of competition law and whether the concept that we feel has been broken by Scottish Golf is the concept of what is known as the  ‘downstream marketplace’. In other words, unless you’ve got what is called ‘objective justification’, you cannot use a privileged position to remove companies that are not under your control.”

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The legal battle bears striking similarities to a case involving the Law Society in 2017. It was accused of abusing its own ‘privileged position’ by its 3,000 members. The case ended up costing the body £1million in legal fees.

“Although you think the Law Society would know its law, it lost because it was in a privileged position and did not have justification for what it was trying to do,” said our source. “It’s a very similar proposal to what Scottish Golf is prosing – to eliminate the downstream marketplace and tell all golf clubs that they can only use the software supplied by them.”

The software companies in question had attempted to enter into dialogue to resolve the issue as recently as December only for Scottish Golf to say it could only discuss issues through its lawyers.

In turn, the three software companies served legal papers in February and immediately brought in the Competition Markets Authority.

If the Law Society case is any sort of indicator, the battle could be an expensive one for both parties, with Scottish Golf already known to be low on funds having been starved of funding and sponsorship, not to mentioned a considerable reduction in club members, which is amongst the worst in Europe.

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“It has cost us an ungodly amount of money,” added our source. “And unfortunately these things are a slow burn.”

The source said the companies are keen to see Scottish Golf “behave within the law” and allow them access to data in order to continue to serve their customers.

Our source also said: “Their software is not technically free. They have taken increased affiliation fees off clubs already, and that’s before they’ve even got the software provided to clubs. They’re badging that as ‘free’ software. That’s another question mark in terms of competition law. Can a company in a privileged position influence the downstream market place by offering subsidised software? Lawyers have to decide these things. It seems to be dubious at best.”

bunkered.co.uk has contacted Scottish Golf for comment.

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