Joining England Golf as Chief Executive Officer in January 2020, Jeremy Tomlinson brings a wealth of experience from both playing the game he loves and a career dedicated to working in golf.
Having both represented and captained club, Wiltshire county & England regional teams, Jeremy has grown up benefiting from the life skills, friendships and opportunities that golf provides.
His most recent industry roles include heading up the Titleist & FJ brands for Acushnet Europe Ltd, sitting on the British Golf Industry (BGIA) executive as well as continuing as a trustee for the Golf Foundation. Tomlinson’s career in the golf industry spans four decades and the depth of his knowledge will be an invaluable asset for him going forward in his current role.
Tomlinson is a proud member of Marlborough Golf Club where he plays off a scratch handicap.
You wake up in the morning - what’s the driving passion?
First and foremost, I simply love the game of golf. I also find myself in a privileged position – as well as being able to enjoy playing with my friends at Marlborough Golf Club, I’m proud to work for the governing body of the amateur game in England with the opportunity to drive interest, inclusivity, awareness and participation within the sport.
I work at the heart of golf in England for an organisation that really cares and wants to make a difference to the future of the sport. Each and every day we work towards specific and long-term goals, across numerous campaigns, that will help us empower a thriving community of players, counties and clubs to get the most out of the game we all love.
What was the genesis for iGolf?
Initiatives like iGolf for Independent Golfers have been discussed for years, however the current climate in golf makes it a perfect time to launch such a platform. Last November we began the rollout of the World Handicap System, which in itself is opening the game up globally. Using the WHS as a base, we now have a handicapping system in place that allows us to connect with as many golfers as possible, including independent golfers.
We aim to educate and inspire golfers who may choose to view iGolf as the first step on a pathway to golf club membership and the wider benefits that brings. Of course, for some golfers, club membership does not suit their circumstances. That does not mean that these avid golfers should be neglected. In fact, it is incumbent on us to find a way to connect with them and encourage them to engage more with their local clubs. England Golf’s desire mirrors that of The R&A, USGA and other national associations across the globe.
When people have a way of measuring their performance, they naturally want to play more to improve. An official Handicap Index also provides a way to compete with friends. We see both these factors combining to increase the enjoyment that all golfers can get from the game.
Once we received the backing of our county stakeholders at the general meeting in December, we formed an independent golfer working group, established to ensure that key stakeholders - Counties, Golf Clubs & Members - were consulted throughout the iGolf platform’s development, to maximise the benefits for all.
When did the first thoughts on moving forward with iGolf take place?
As I say initiatives of this type have been discussed for years. The catalyst for change was the introduction of WHS and we agreed in December 2020 that the time was right to move forward with developing iGolf from the beginning of 2021.
What kind of marketing plan will be implemented to make more people aware of what iGolf is all about, and how much money is being spent in this promotional effort?
Understanding a large proportion of the iGolf golfers will be a group of people we have probably never spoken with before. As such, the marketing strategy behind iGolf needs to be multi-channel to allow us to connect with this new audience. Our EG team designed a marketing plan that incorporates all communication channels, with a focus on digital given the nature of the platform. This includes a microsite which acts as a hub for our content, dedicated iGolf social media channels, email communications, content development and digital materials, all of which aim to educate and excite golfers about the benefits of iGolf.
An aspirational goal of the marketing strategy is to foster the iGolf community, as we firmly believe that as this initiative grows, subscribers will create and build a communal spirit. In terms of the budget, we’ve taken a thorough look at what will allow us to reach the audience we’re looking to connect with through this platform, while of course ensuring that it isn’t detrimental to any of the other projects we’re currently running. It’s also important to note that any surplus funds generated through iGolf will be re-invested supporting golfers and golf clubs at every level.
How much will it cost non-affiliated players to join iGolf and will such costs be sustained for a period of time or will they be subject to annual increases?
The cost for an iGolf subscription is £40 for a year. We feel this is an appropriate level and provides great benefits at a fairly low cost. At this stage, we don’t have any plans to adjust this. Included as part of the subscription is £10 million worth of personal liability insurance, which underlines our strong commitment to protecting everyone who plays the game.
What role do you see for the R&A and other active golf groups throughout the UK in this effort and have they been briefed on what your plans are and how this effort will work?
As the overarching governing body of the game, together with the USGA, The R&A are very much involved in what we do. In fact, our independent golfer platform offering was born out of conversations I had with Martin Slumbers, chief executive of The R&A. One of their core strategies in 2021 is to promote greater enjoyment for all that play the sport by enabling as many golfers as possible - members and independent golfers - to establish and maintain a handicap. It’s actually part of a wider strategy that is developing rapidly in the world of golf. It involves not only The R&A, but also the USGA and many other national associations, including those in other parts of the UK, whose aim is to connect with and further inspire an already avid group of golfers.
Therefore, national associations, such as ourselves, were offered the chance to take a lead. And this is exactly what we’ve done with our iGolf offering. The R&A is fully supportive and aware of our ambitions for iGolf, but also keen to see us succeed to make golf across England more inclusive.
The major golf organisations are all seeking ways to attract new players - most especially among Millennials, women and minorities. If you were advising them what would you recommend?
Work must be done to bring greater diversity to the game. That’s why last year we commissioned our biggest ever study into golf and the Black, Asian and minority communities. Once published, the findings will help inform future policies to encourage wider participation from all under-represented groups in our society, and we are very much committed to promoting golf as a sport for everyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or ability.
In addition to this, we wholeheartedly support campaigns to raise awareness in the women’s game, such as The R&A’s #FOREeveryone campaign, as well as having our own successful projects such as Girls Golf Rocks, Women on Par and Women & Girls in Golf Week – all geared towards increasing female participation in our great game. Last year we also jointly staged the English Men’s and Women’s Amateur Championships at Woodhall Spa on the same week for the first time – it was such a success that we repeated it last month at Moortown and Headingley golf clubs and it is now a central part of our championship schedule.
In June, we broke new ground by staging a hugely successful mixed gender Under-18 event at Farnham Golf Club and once again supported golfers with a disability with a world-class championship at Whittlebury Park. These are just a few examples of what we are doing to perpetuate equality of opportunity for all and to attract new players into the game. Naturally there is always more we can do, and will certainly continue to do.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally, what would it be and why?
I’d like to cheat a little on this question and reference changing one thing about golf! And that is the image and perception of our beloved game that non-golfers unfortunately for the most seem to have. The golf club community and its members continue to make unheralded efforts to truly drive inclusion, with many wonderful people championing golf’s modern-day relevance, as well as the social, health and wellbeing benefits.
Best advice you ever received - what was it and who from?
I am lucky enough to have mixed and worked with many wonderfully wise and experienced people from many different backgrounds throughout my life, as such I couldn’t pick any one piece of advice or action from any one person.
What are the biggest challenges facing iGolf - both short and long term?
iGolf has launched very successfully with initial interest and reception simply solidifying our thought process throughout the planning stages; that this was the right direction to take, and a natural follow on from our roll out of the World Handicap System (WHS) last year. We have both realistic and aggressive targets we want to achieve, notably gaining 25,000 new subscribers to the platform each year.
As our marketing efforts increase, participation numbers continue to rise and word of mouth spreads, I’d like to think that in five years’ time we would have built a community of 125,000 golfers. If we reach that target it will raise a lot of money to reinvest back into the sport, for the overall health and good of the game. Although the main benefit to an iGolf subscription will always be the chance to have an official Handicap Index, and track performance and playing ability, the platform provides us with many opportunities to enhance benefits for subscribers, so we are really excited to evolve our offerings.
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