Ballyliffin General Manager critical of WHS and proposed iGolf scheme

Mark McGowan

John McLaughlin, North and West Coast Links with Ballyliffin GM, John Farren

Mark McGowan

Feature Interviews

Latest Stories

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.”

Stay ahead of the game. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest Irish Golfer news straight to your inbox!

More News

8 responses to “Ballyliffin General Manager critical of WHS and proposed iGolf scheme”

  1. Bill Guy avatar
    Bill Guy

    The whole thing is ridiculous. We are having enough trouble with suspect handicaps as it stands and I would be highly sceptical of any under this proposed scheme.

  2. Tim Devine avatar
    Tim Devine

    John is right.
    The WHS system is already very suspect, very open to abuse and handicap “management”. Indeed, many lower handicap players no longer even enter club match play competitions because they can’t compete with a 30, 40, or even 50 plus handicapper. Open competitions are regularly won with ridiculous scores and now we are going to significantly undercut club offers to members by this scheme. I would support a Golf Ireland EGM being called to interrogate this offer with member clubs. PS I have already asked (and we got no reply) Golf Ireland to take a strategic look at how they could support smaller clubs to survive… this proposal could kill them off!

  3. Patrick Healy avatar
    Patrick Healy

    coupled with the abomination that is the WHS handicap system this would be the end of the line for many clubs.

  4. Jerry Gore avatar
    Jerry Gore

    I wholeheartedly agree with the comments of John Farren on this issue. The system in Ireland is definitely viewed with concern regarding WHS handicaps.

    I wonder is this another method of Golf Ireland making a financial bonus to top up the coffers.

    If an individual wants to gain an official handicap there are plenty of clubs waiting to welcome them as members.

  5. Donal OCallaghan avatar
    Donal OCallaghan

    This will be detrimental to Clubs who are trying to survive. I am concerned with Golf Irelands lack of consultation with Golf Clubs before deciding to go ahead with this scheme.
    Personally I am all for encouraging people to take up Golf. But in my opinion, virtual membership is not the way forward. The integrity of the game is in jeopardy especially when to comes to handicapping .
    Since 2007 a lot of Golf Clubs have been struggling to survive.
    Golf Clubs throughout the country are already offering discounts for new members to encourage them to take up the sport. (Ladies into Golf, Lapsed Members deals, New to golf, juniors and juveniles and so on and so forth)
    Newbie Golfers out there have to realise it costs a lot of money to maintain and run a Golf Club for its members and visitors.
    I think more discussion is required moving forward before anything is done. Hopefully it’s not a fait accompli.

  6. Mike F avatar
    Mike F

    The World Handicapping System is giving young, strong, fit beginners such ridiculously high handicaps that they can win thousands of euro of prizes while they improve. This is not fair. In the last week in my club prizes have been won by men with the following handicaps 60, 27 (in a strokes comp off the back sticks, which includes an eagle on a par 5), 32 shooting 44 points, 22 and 21 most of whom drive the ball over 250 straight down the middle.
    It’s an absolute joke. The only way to persuade Golf Ireland to do something is to stop entering comps until they stop favouring new golfers at expense of the rest of us who have supported golf, Golf Ireland and the R and A for decades.

  7. Eamon Kearney avatar
    Eamon Kearney

    It is patently obvious that not only is the WHS a complete and utter failure, and putting golfers off the game, this new iGolf intervention will lead to the end of club-member golf as we know it. Why would any new golfer contemplate joining a club on these challenging financial times when they can get a handicap for €50 and play Opens all year. It’s shocking the level of handicap manipulation already in evidence, can you imagine what will happen going forward? competitive golf will be finished.

  8. Walter avatar

    Conflating the WHS and Independent Golfer Scheme isn’t correct, they are unrelated.

    As the article points out, there are a couple hundred thousand golfers who aren’t members of clubs who could benefit from this. And perhaps from this pool there could be players who then join their local club to play in club and inter club competitions. If there are current members that the new scheme will pull from current clubs then so be it, they may have done so anyway given the high cost of golf membership. Core and regular club members will obviously not leave.

    And the point around the eroding of open days, surely it’s the polar opposite? With potentially thousands of new golfers with handicaps the only outcome would be a boom in open day participation?

    On the point of golf club engagement, what input would clubs give only to oppose this initiative to protect their own interests against a better goal of growing the game.

    I think clubs need to do better, they are too expensive, they need to innovate in the face of adversity. Why not offer heavily reduced memberships with pay to play options which could also target those 200k players

Leave a comment

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy & Terms of Service apply.