Scottish club golfers set for ‘massive cultural change’ next year

An option for club golfers to count “general play” rounds for handicapping purposes under a new global system being introduced next year has been hailed as an opportunity to boost membership numbers in Scotland.

The World Handicap System (WHS), which has been developed by the R&A and USGA, will replace the six different systems currently used by over 15 million golfers in more than 80 countries.

Aimed primarily at making the game more enjoyable for players of varying ability and delivering a unified system, it will see handicaps calculated from an average of scores as opposed to the current event-by-event method.

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The introduction of “general play”, which will see Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales fall into line with countries including the United States, South Africa and Australia, will let club golfers to include rounds other than medals.

“It is a massive cultural change,” said David Kernohan, Scottish Golf’s Handicapping & Course Rating Officer.

“In other countries, general play is the vessel to get a handicap as opposed to competition play.“In Scotland, we are used to playing a competition and that affects our handicap. When WHS comes in, you could go out seven days a week and, if you want to, put a score in.A lot of people will use that opportunity.”

But could the change have an adverse effect on club medals in the future? Kernohan replied: “A lot of members in Scotland love competitions and will always play competitions. But the general play function, I think, could increase membership.

“A lot of golfers don’t play a competition on a Saturday because they don’t have the time but, if they could submit a card through the week, that may help.

“This is the biggest change we have seen in golf for a very long time, in terms of golf club members. Australia were one of the last to go to the average system back in 2014 and they saw participation increase greatly, some one million extra rounds completed for a handicap in the first year. A lot of clubs in Australia are now offering competitions every day of the week.

“The current system is not a fair system, it’s more favoured to the low-handicap golfer with the way the standard scratch system works. This will be fair and equitable for all golfers.”

In a change to the original plan for WHS, which is set to be rolled out in Scotland on 2 November next year, clubs have been given the green light by Scottish Golf to use current Independent Software Vendors to continue adminstering club competitions and publishing results.

However, in order to get a “consistent interface”, the general play rounds can only be submitted through a new Scottish Golf App, which is being provided free of charge to club members but is also available to so-called “nomads” at 
a price of £4.99 per month.

Iain Forsyth, Scottish Golf’s chief commercial officer, said: “There’s been talk of ‘The 
System’ and I think people are being confused by the venue management system that we are offering to affiliated club and what WHS is.

“People are confusing that as one thing, when in fact it is two. People think we are making them use our system or they won’t get a handicap. It’s not. I hope by doing this, it will put a clear line through it.

“In the last four months, we have gone out and met with over 1200 golf club officials and members with regards to educating them on the world handicapping system and what we are trying to do technically. I like to think we have listened to our stakeholders. It’s our job to listen.”

Money from the new App, which is being trialled ahead of a scheduled roll out next spring, will go into club development, according to Forsyth.