As government prepares to present its road map out of restrictions on 22 February, England Golf CEO Jeremy Tomlinson has written an open letter to the prime minister to reinforce the scientific view that golf can not only be played safely during the first phase of recovery, but also help the country bounce back physically and mentally from lockdown.
Dear Prime Minister,
The light at the end of the tunnel is definitely shining a little brighter for us all as we emerge from the dark, winter months of January and February.
For that we should all be truly thankful.
And, very much in line with most people, I genuinely hope we can soon banish the harmful cycle of lockdowns once and for all.
I understand you will announce more details on this front next Monday when you present a road map out of lockdown and back towards some sort of normality.
Now, as you consider easing restrictions, I truly believe our great game of golf is exceptionally well placed to play a positive role in this first phase of recovery and should be given that opportunity by government.
Today’s confirmation that over 15 million people have received their first vaccination jab is just the shot in the arm we all needed!
Combined with the rate of transmission slowing to the point where the ‘R’ number is below one, there are real signs that our sacrifices over recent times have paid off and our continued social distancing efforts will allow more interaction and freedoms in the future.
We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the NHS staff, army medics and volunteers who have rolled out the vaccination programme to such great effect – heroes one and all.
But now we need to look ahead – to find a way to re-energise the nation through a programme of safe activity and exercise to lift the collective morale of the country.
England Golf has been clear from the start – golf is a sport played safely in the open air with social distancing part and parcel of every round.
With the introduction of our Play Safe, Stay Safe protocols after the first lockdown, we made our sport even more secure.
I’m sure you will be aware that many golfers have already contacted their own MPs to make this point and no doubt many more will reinforce this view by voicing their support for an expedient, safe return to playing golf in the days ahead.
For in excess of two million golfers in England, the mental and physical health benefits of playing our sport can be clearly documented. This isn’t anecdotal, this is based on solid scientific data.
The fact that these benefits can be enjoyed without presenting any undue risk to wider public health is hugely significant and this point has been stressed again in recent correspondence with government.
You will recall that last month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf presented government with an updated scientific paper which once again demonstrated clearly how golf can be played safely during any stage of a pandemic.
In short, golf remains a sport that’s safe and good for both body and soul.
Our golfing community has struggled without access to the game they love. For many, the mental hardships have been tougher to endure than the physical ones.
Like all sports, we have clubs navigating through the economic problems of lockdown, the uncertainty of a re-start date, the questions from furloughed staff about jobs, the queries from members about annual subscriptions.
These have been tough times that none of us want to visit again.
We are all trying to keep positive through what we hope is the final stage of lockdown, remaining optimistic that the “follow the science” news remains upbeat.
Importantly, we see no reason why golf can’t be one of the first sports to return, to help with the healing process for our country, and to ensure that the sun can once again shine on us all through the 2021 season.
CEO, England Golf
Shrewsbury Golf Club has celebrated the achievements of two talented young members by presenting them with embroidered golf bags.
Brother and sister, Rory and Isla McDonald-O’Brien have both played in national competitions at their relevant age groups and are hoping to represent England in 2021.
While there was no representative golf played in 2020, due to Covid travel restrictions, Rory has represented England at U16 level, playing in Madrid at the Centro Nacional de Golf.
Now 17, Rory finished fifth in the Carris Trophy for English U18 boys in August – one of the few competitions to be played in 2020. He was also sixth placed in the English School’s tournament held at Royal St Georges.
Looking ahead to 2021, Rory – who is a pupil at Shrewsbury School – is hoping to be called up for the England U18 squad and at the end of the year is expected to take up a golfing scholarship at an American University.
At 13, Isla competed in the England U18 Girls Championship, missing the cut by just one shot and now, at the age of 14, she is a member of the regional U18 squad. A pupil at Moreton Hall, she hopes to represent England at U16 level in the year ahead. She was Club Champion at Shrewsbury GC in 2019.
The McDonald-O’Briens who live at Nescliffe chose Shrewsbury Golf Club on the strength of its greens. “They run true and fast and are similar to those we’d expect to play on in tournaments across the UK,” says Rory.
Ladies’ Captain, Carol Burgan who, with Men’s Captain Mark Wootton, presented the pair with their bags, wished them both well in 2021.
“It’s great to have such talented youngsters at the Club and we’ll be following their progress with interest,” she says.
In September 2020, Golfshake surveyed 1,700 golfers on a variety of issues surrounding the World Handicap System, leading to a series of articles. Now, completing that analysis, Golfshake's Derek Clements explains why a significant number have given the new process an endorsing thumbs up.
ACCORDING to the governing bodies, one of the key reasons for introducing the World Handicap System is to help grow the game and make it more enjoyable for everybody who plays.
While it is undoubtedly true to say that many of you who responded to our survey on the WHS had reservations, lots of you believe it will be good for golf. As one of you pointed out, a five handicap at a course such as Woburn is very different from a five handicap at a local municipal. The course slope system that goes hand in hand with the WHS means that will no longer be the case. And that can only be a good thing.
England Golf has now produced a toolkit designed to explain how it is all going to work, and the evidence is that the message is now being spread. Handicaps should more accurately reflect a golfer’s true ability and the slope system will mean that you can adapt your handicap to the difficulty of the course you are playing.
So what do you reckon? We asked if the WHS was good for golf. Happily, many of you believe we are heading in the right direction.
"My new transitional handicap index is 4.5 - that makes me 5 at my home club - and 11 off the back tees at Wentworth! I don't know how people can say nothing needed to change. The World Handicap System is much fairer, especially when the situation is reversed."
And if the WHS achieves nothing else, this is what it was set up for - to allow golfers to be competitive at every course they play, regardless of the degree of difficulty.
“The new system is supposed to be more representative of your ability, whereas with the old system people only played to their handicap in the summer and at their best golf, for me that’s annoying as I wanted handicap cuts regardless."
"If it encourages more young people to play it will help promote the game."
“It has the potential to offer more competition opportunities to people disadvantaged by age or physical limitations."
“Some of the snobbish comments I have seen on forums regarding this help me to understand why golf is struggling.”
"For people who only play at their local club it's not of much value, but for those who play at different courses, or move countries or go abroad on vacation then it’s great."
"Handicaps are important but not as important as simplifying the rules, speeding up the game and making it inclusive and welcoming to all.”
Thankfully, most of the anecdotal evidence suggests that people who returned to the game this year, or decided to take it up, were warmly received by the clubs they joined. And this means that when the time comes to renew their subscriptions next year they are likely to take up the option.
"I agree with the principle of a universal system althoughI am unlikely to play abroad."
"I only feel this will be beneficial within the UK if every golf club makes you put every round of golf into the computer.”
A few of you make this point although how on earth that could possibly be policed is difficult to work out - and, when all is said and done, many of us will still just want to go out and knock the ball around with our mates in a friendly four-ball.
"A few times a year I play with family and friends from other European countries or the US. Handicaps have always been an issue for these games so looking forward to accurate comparisons."
"A global system is essential."
"Anything that enables all people playing golf to be able to enter competitions and to play against other people on different courses is a good idea."
"Anything that helps to create a level playing field for handicaps relating to society golfers, competition bandits, making it easier to get a realistic handicap, can't be a bad thing. I'm sure that there will be teething problems, but this is going in the right direction."
"Anything that promotes the game positively is a good thing."
"At least you have a handicap wherever you play in the world. The problem will be if you play different courses on a golf trip. Would you have to change your handicap potentially after each round?"
"Current handicap is based on best round and rarely achievable. Players can hopefully play to new handicap more often.”
This is a common complaint about the existing system, with most club golfers saying that they simply cannot play to their handicaps. The new system should change that once and for all.
"Different courses have different difficulty levels. Varying your own handicap for each course makes the game more fair for all."
"Does not matter where in the world you go - every golfer is playing off a WGH, which is good for golf.”
Precisely. If you travel to the USA, Australia, Spain or anywhere else, you will now have a handicap that ’travels’ with you and can be adapted to the course you are about to play.
“Handicaps will be more reflective of one's game, which is a good thing."
"Golf is a game where fairness is very important. The WHS should help this."
"Good to have the same system throughout the world, as long as it is simple and fair.”
"Greater benefit for good rounds rather than only really good rounds, witout the pressure of a bad round."
“I have experienced issues of moving to different places and clubs and how it can influence handicap so something that helps smooth this out is good. Reading some of the factors that are and are not included in slope rating makes me wonder how much of an advancement this will be."
"I am a member of a club in South Africa, which is already on the WHS. in my view, as all cards must be submitted, it is a fairer view of your current playing capability. It’s coming, so embrace it - don’t fear it.”
We have had several responses from people living in countries where the WHS is already up and running - and the good news is that everybody seems to believe it is a vast improvement on the current system. And it is fairer too!
"I feel the new system will encourage more people to take up golf."
"I have used this system and it is much fairer, better and more reflective of a golfer's true abilities."
"I know that many golfers are hostile to the changes saying if people cannot obtain a 28 handicap theyshould try harder. I have been playing for more than 10 years and have had countless lessons. I can par the occasional hole but often I make silly mistakes and typically go round in over 130. A system that allows people like me, who are genuinely trying their hardest and who understand etiquette and won't spoil it for others, to compete with a realistic chance to win has to be a good thing.”
This is precisely the sort of golfer who should benefit from the new system - if his or her fellow golfers allow it. No matter how hard some people try, they find it extremely difficult to improve. And not everybody has the time to devote to lessons - or can afford to do so. And many just don’t want to improve.
"I love the fact that it's applicable to any course in the world."
"I play at a relatively short course but when I go to longer courses I struggle to play to my handicap so this should make things better and fairer for all golfers with handicaps.”
A great point, well made.
"It will make it a more level playing field when you play a harder course."
"It aligns us with everyone else. People will be able to use scores from every round they play to count to their handicap, so it will be a more accurate reflection of their ability."
"It currently takes far too long for a handicap to go up. You need to have 25/30 bad rounds successively to get handicap back up to what you scored in one good round and that can’t be fair or right.”
This is a common complaint among club golfers. And the new system will address it.
"I like playing in different countries and different standard of club, so getting a few extra shots for tough tracks would be great."
"Living in the Netherlands I use an online system and it does all the calculations for you. Your new handicap is immediately updated once you enter your score."
"Not taking account of different courses was always a bit strange. A five-handicap at Woburn is very different to a five at a local municipal."
"The fact that your handicap can be used worldwide is a fantastic step forward. I also like the fact that handicap is calculated on eight from 20 rounds. So you can have a bad round without adversely affecting your handicap. Finally, the limits on extreme handicap changes is another very positive step."
"The slope rating makes sense. The rest is fairly irrelevant. As long as everyone plays to the same system any handicap system will work. WHS calculation of handicap is a throwback to what I worked under as a single figure handicap player in the 1970s so no issue with it."
“It will make comparisons between golfers at different clubs fairer. I play at a course which has been rated as the most difficult in the county. For the first time I will be able to compare my handicap against those who have their handicap at easier courses.”
And that is another key aim of the system. We all play at different courses, with varying degrees of difficulty. We should now be able to play on level terms.
“If someone has a handicap of around 28 they should feel quite proud of that. My other sport, tennis, is full of people enjoying the game who are quite pleased if they get a first serve in, and we need more of that spirit in golf! As for competition play, bandits will always be bandits. The handicap system is an endearing part of golf culture. In any other sport the best player usually wins, in golf it's all about losing while really winning and vice versa. How very British."
So there you have it. All in all, a thumbs up for the WHS. It is here to stay. We should embrace it.
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