Scotland’s half a million golfers who are not members of clubs will be able to maintain a handicap for the first time ever through Scottish Golf’s OpenPlay scheme.
Launched on Thursday, and available through the Scottish Golf App, OpenPlay marks what the governing body call “one of the biggest change to the sport in a generation”. Previously players had to be members of clubs to hold a valid handicap.
Scottish Golf estimates that over 500,000 regularly play the game in addition to the 200,000 plus who are club members. OpenPlay will integrate with the new World Handicap System launched by the R&A last November.
Embracing the majority of ‘nomadic’ or independent golfers
It’s also a key move in embracing the so-called “nomadic” or casual golfers who now make up the vast majority of those who play the sport. Scotland is the first of the home unions to introduce this facility with England and Wales set to follow.
OpenPlay will now allow these “independent” golfers to use handicaps in competitions or for fun.
It costs £5.99 a month through a flexible subscription on the Scottish Golf App. Handicaps will be issued once 54 holes’ worth of play is registered. The 54 holes can be through any combination of nine and 18 hole rounds.
‘An incredibly exciting development’
Karin Sharp, Chief Operating Officer at Scottish Golf, called the move “an incredibly exciting development for Scottish Golf”.
“Today’s launch represents three years of work developing an integrated software platform for clubs to engage with these golfers.
“The way people consume golf has changed a great deal in recent years. Golfers look for a more flexible approach to the sport that suits their lifestyle and fits around their other commitments.
“For many modern golfers, the traditional club membership offering doesn’t suit their lifestyle or simply doesn’t represent value for money. OpenPlay provides a modern, flexible approach for golfers that will make the sport more accessible and inclusive.
“Whilst we’ve seen a really encouraging increase in golfer numbers across the last year, the longer term trend before the pandemic saw a consistent reduction of around 5,000 members a year over the previous 10 years.
“We still need to explore alternative approaches to make sure the game remains relevant and accessible to the modern golfer.”
System will open communication for clubs to potential members
Using Scottish Golf’s venue management system (VMS), clubs will be able to control exactly how they communicate with OpenPlay members, from the marketing of their club and Open events, to booking tees and controlling green fees.
“We estimate that half a million golfers in Scotland are not members of a club,” added Sharp. “OpenPlay will provide clubs with the opportunity to market directly to those that sign up for the App, providing a channel of communication that does not currently exist.”
Clubs can use OpenPlay to create additional revenue opportunities by allowing OpenPlay members to play in competitions. They can also cultivating a potential pathway to membership for golfers with whom they previously had no way of communicating.
Scheme’s success in New Zealand
In a similar scheme in New Zealand launched in 2018, 20% of those who signed up eventually became club members. The average age of those new members also was 20 years younger than the average golf club member.
“We’ll be working closely with golf clubs in the coming weeks and months to help them maximise the potential of OpenPlay for them.”
OpenPlay is available now by downloading the Scottish Golf App to sign up for an official handicap. The app also provides a free GPS and the ability to book tee times at courses throughout Scotland.