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Ballyliffin General Manager critical of WHS and proposed iGolf scheme – Irish Golfer Magazine


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Ballyliffin General Manager John Farren has never been a man to mix his words and he’s emerged highly critical of the World Handicap System and the proposed Independent Golfer scheme.

Following a Golf Ireland webinar on Monday evening to introduce the Independent Golfer scheme (iGolf as it’s become known in Britain), Farren contacted Golf Ireland with a highly critical email suggesting that not only was the iGolf 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.”

The Independent Golfer Scheme is devised so that golfers who are not members of a golf club are able to obtain a handicap index, allowing them to compete in open competitions, etc. without ever having to actually join a golf club proper.

In England, iGolf membership currently costs £46 a year and is marketed as “an easy-to-use platform that enables you to track your performance, view your playing record and obtain a Handicap Index® under the World Handicap System™, all while being covered with Personal Liability Insurance from Marsh Sport.”

“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.

“The proposed scheme would allow golfers with no home club 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 leave to avail of the Independent Golfer card, and that there was a distinct lack of figures presented to show how many of those availing of the iGolf scheme in England, Wales, Scotland and other countries where it’s been introduced were previosuly members of a club.

Whilst there are around 219,000 golf club members in Ireland, it is believed that around 543,000 played golf on a full-length course in 2023, and no doubt it’s the 224,000 non-members that the Scheme is designed to entice into taking golf a step further.

Such fledgling golfers could be encouraged to join an actual club should their interest in the game blossom, but Farren suggests that a reduction in the number of ‘Open’ competitions could be the result, along with and 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 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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