As the Head of Handicapping and Course Rating for England Golf, Gemma is one of the most knowledgeable and respected individuals within the game of golf in England.
Having spent 10 years working in the sports retail industry, Gemma joined England Golf in 2012 and since then has worked closely with CONGU (Council of National Golf Unions), chairing their Technical Committee and sitting as a board member representing England Golf to ensure, where possible, the application of the rules of handicapping are consistent across all Home Unions. She has also represented CONGU on the World Handicap Operations Committee (HOC) and The R&A’s Amateur Status Committee.
The Hunter Story —
Having played golf since I was eight years old, it’s always been something I have enjoyed and a career path I wanted to follow. Unfortunately, I was never good enough to make it in the professional game but consider myself to be a good club golfer. I have been a member of my golf club for over 25 years and it’s my family’s second home.
In 2009 I was made redundant and struggled to get a job that I thought I could enjoy, so I made the decision to go back to University. After three years I earned a degree in Business Management and Marketing. During my time at university, I decided to volunteer with what was then the English Women’s Golf Association. I discovered a passion for golf administration while working at events.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
My passion and mission within golf is to make sure that I have a positive impact on the sport and leave it in a better place than when I first joined the industry in 2012.
What makes the new handicap system initiative you are spearheading so important?
When it comes to change, everyone is a little bit wary. That’s why it’s important for golfers to be educated on WHS and for them to understand it and embrace it ahead of the launch date of 2 November 2020.
Our ‘Know the Score’ campaign aimed at golfers will help achieve this aim. Since last October we have staged 86 seminars across 35 counties with a total of 4,588 handicap committee members and secretaries attending on behalf of 1,384 clubs.
The feedback we have had at many of our workshops from the clubs has been really positive and once golfers understand the system and the benefits it will bring then I’m sure they will soon be in the swing of things too.
It’s important to remember that this does not change how we play or enjoy the game, just how our handicap is calculated, and the computer does most of the work.
How is the World Handicap System an improvement from what was done previously?
For the first time, WHS will unite six handicapping authorities around the globe and create a handicap index that is fair, equitable and portable anywhere in the world. It will also provide a truer reflection of a player’s current playing ability.
What is the rough percentage of English golfers with an official handicap?
At England Golf we represent around 637,0000 golf club members who currently hold a CONGU handicap, but research has shown there may be over 2 million people who consider themselves golfers and who play the game in England.
What strategies are you planning on using to engage those outside the system?
After lockdown ended and golf was one of the first sports to resume, we saw a rise in the demand to play the game. All over the country, clubs were fielding enquiries from lapsed members or those who had decided to explore membership options seriously for the first time.
Encouraging golf club membership lies at the heart of what England Golf does and we will be working closely with the clubs to harness the feel-good factor around the game right now and promote all the benefits of being a golf club member.
Whether it’s your first par, a chip-in or just having a laugh with your friends, some of the best memories are made out on the golf course. Now golf is back, it’s time to make more.— England Golf (@EnglandGolf) July 4, 2020
Find your nearest course to discover moments that last: https://t.co/wdoLEMhX61 pic.twitter.com/AADGYdHyHJ
Posting all scores lies at the heart of a handicap system. How can various clubs and courses do a better job in convincing golfers to do just that?
The more scores a golfer posts, the more accurate their handicap will be. By posting scores from social and competitive rounds a golfer will obtain a handicap index that is a truer reflection of their actual playing ability.
There is little to be gained from having a low handicap index that you cannot play to and similarly it goes against the integrity of the sport if a player tries to protect an inflated handicap.
Not every social score has to be submitted under WHS, but it is to be encouraged. Clearly all scores played in a singles competition are to be included, but if golfers are enjoying a social round, they can indicate before they play if they want this round to count for handicap purposes, much in the way players currently go about submitting supplementary scores.
How much of a financial effort is being contributed by all the key participants?
I’m not sure I could place a precise value on this. All I can say is that we have put our heart and soul into it.
We have been working with The R&A, USGA and other handicap bodies around the world for more than three years with the aim of creating a system that will bring together the best aspects of all the existing systems.
We have developed a new technology platform which will allow us to centrally manage and maintain handicap records and rolled out an extensive education campaign to educate counties, clubs and now the golfer. It has been a mix of time and money plus lots of blood, sweat and tears.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Growing up as the only junior girl at my club and knowing how few women see golf as a sporting option, it would be great to see more female participants. At England Golf we are proactively working to encourage more and more women and girls to take up the sport through campaigns such as Women on Par and Girls Golf Rocks.
As much as I loved beating the boys as a kid, I would have loved to have shared those moments with friends. For me that came later when I realised that I wasn’t the only girl in my town that played golf. There were others, but it was always just one or two at a club. Thankfully, that’s changing, and I’d like the process to accelerate.
What will be the lasting impact when the project is completed?
Ultimately, the introduction of the World Handicap System will allow one golfer to compare him/herself against any other player, anywhere else in the world. This is something golfers have never been able to do before in the game of golf.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
Not long after I started at England Golf, I had to present to 100+ delegates at a meeting and I was shy and nervous. After the session one attendee said that I should be confident in my delivery and OWN IT because no matter what I said I knew more than anyone else in the room! That stuck with me.
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