Martin Dempster: Clubs wary of being forced to use Scottish Golf’s own app

It was a mystery why a London-based newspaper ran a prominent story on Friday about Scottish Golf’s new all-singing, all-dancing app, given that it was unveiled last December at the governing body’s second national conference in Edinburgh.

Scottish Golf chief executive Andrew McKinlay.

Excuse me for being cynical, but it appears to have been a smokescreen because, on the same day, affiliated clubs received a communication about a directive from Scottish Golf that has been described by one club official as a “very dangerous move”. It has even been claimed that some clubs are now looking into the possibility of joining England Golf instead.

What on earth could prompt such a thought? Well, as part of the implementation of the new World Handicapping System (WHS) in 2020, it appears Scottish Golf is trying to eliminate independent software companies – some of which have long relationships with clubs – from the Scottish market to effectively control things for themselves.

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“Scottish Golf will now facilitate the administration of the handicaps of all Scottish Golf club members,” stated the WHS update. “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 [Application programming interface] or any other means.

“Clubs will still have the option to use the other services provided by these ISVs but Scottish Golf will become the centralised control point of all handicapping in Scotland. This transformation supports our vision of growing the game in Scotland and we feel that now is the right time to make this change.”

One thing that the document doesn’t highlight is that Scottish Golf is not working in tandem with the other members of The Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) on this. Indeed, Scottish Golf chief executive Andrew McKinlay and David Kernohan, Scottish Golf Limited’s CONGU board member, walked out of a meeting last week before a discussion on the ISV licence for the WHS was discussed

I believe McKinlay almost didn’t attend the meeting at all due to Scottish Golf’s position but, in a statement, he insisted that the governing body intends to remain a full member of CONGU along with the other home nations. “We have an important part to play in the roll out of the WHS and the Rules of Handicapping going forward,” he apparently told fellow delegates before departing the room.

As the official licensee, Scottish Golf will perform all handicap calculations from all authorised formats of play as outlined in the new WHS rules. It will then publish a player’s newly-calculated handicap index and make this accessible to all clubs and golfers. This will be done through a new central database of handicaps (CDH) and other platforms that are being developed for implementation next year.

“It is very dangerous moving forward for Scottish Golf to shut out the other providers,” said one match secretary.

“It effectively means clubs will be forced to use the Scottish Golf system, even though it cannot perform essential back office tasks like member direct debits, etc.

“The new Scottish Golf Venue Management System (SMS) is impressive from the brief example I have seen, but clubs will have to pay for different systems for all of their different needs while Scottish Golf take a booking fee on every tee time booked.

“Scottish Golf don’t have a very good track record with developing computer systems and, if they are the only show in town, they have to get it 100 per cent correct as there will be no back-up option. I have to admit to being extremely worried about the impact on clubs. Sadly, I predict chaos and losing even more people to the game before this is completed.”

Speaking about the new app last November, McKinlay described it is a “game-changer that could potentially bring in millions” as Scottish Golf bids to lead the way in trying to breathe new life into the game after more than 75,000 registered golfers were lost in this country from 2005 to 2017, with two courses in the Glasgow area, Eastwood and Mount Ellen, forced to close this year and Letham Grange in Angus set to shut in a matter of weeks.

On the evidence of that aforementioned article last week,it would appear that the new app is finally ready to be launched, with the main target market being the “nomads” or, to give them their proper title, non-affiliated pay-per-play golfers.

For the app to be a success, Scottish Golf surely need to have the clubs on their side. Effectively holding a gun to their head over something else doesn’t exactly seem to be the way to go about it?