Scottish Golf’s virtual club scheme ‘could ruin the sport’

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Scottish Golf has been warned it could deliver the “single biggest blow imaginable” to the sport in its birthplace by launching a virtual golf club.

The governing body is planning to introduce an affiliate membership for pay-per-play golfers as part of a new digital platform being rolled out free of charge to clubs.

For a cost of £4.99 per month, it is being proposed that affiliate Scottish Golf members would be able to obtain a CONGU handicap and play in club competitions.

The “radical” plan was revealed at the Scottish Golf national conference at the end of last year by chief executive Andrew McKinlay as part of a strategy to help member clubs.

However, Harburn vice captain Jim Stewart is worried that the introduction of what he described as a “virtual golf club” could have the opposite effect.

Speaking at the Lothians Golf Association annual general meeting at Newbattle, he said: “This could be the single biggest blow to Scottish golf imaginable.”

He later told the Edinburgh Evening News: “I’m very concerned at the possible outcome for clubs who absolutely depend on membership take up and I believe Scottish Golf should be doing more to encourage club membership rather than introducing a rival scheme that could potentially negatively impact club membership even more.

“I personally have no issue with pay-per-play players who are referred to as nomads in the industry as club membership is not for everyone.

“But the introduction of an affiliate membership and virtual golf club by the very organisation that purports to support their member clubs is, in my opinion, poorly thought through.

“I think it says more about Scottish Golf trying to protect and grow their own income rather than taking steps to protect the very clubs they claim to represent.”

Allan Shaw, one of the Lothians representatives on Scottish Golf’s regional forum groups, said the plan for affiliate membership is “still evolving”.

However, Stewart claimed that, on the basis of what had been said by members of the Scottish Golf team at a meeting of Linlithgowshire Golf Association clubs at Bathgate, the governing body is “pressing ahead” with the proposal.

As he stepped down as Lothians president, Paul Gibson admitted it had “been a time of change at both national and local level” in the game.

He added: “Things are now in place that should serve us well, as well as clubs. There have been challenges on the Lothians Executive but hopefully it makes us stronger.”

Former Swanston secretary John Allan has taken over from Gibson as president, with West Linton’s Jean McNab becoming vice president.

At the meeting, a special presentation was made to Carrick Knowe stalwart Jimmy Wilkinson following the club’s closure earlier this year.