England Golf CEO Jeremy Tomlinson reflects back on the madness of 2020 in his end-of-year interview with Harriet Shephard.

England Golf has had a lot to deal with this year.

Aside from the global pandemic, closures and constantly changing rules and restrictions, England Golf also had the monumental task of introducing the World Handicap System to every golf club in the country.

So, I caught up with England Golf CEO Jeremy Tomlinson to find out how our beloved game has really coped with the madness of 2020, and to ask him all the important questions you want to know the answers too.

And I thought I may as well start with perhaps the most important question of all..

Will golf close again if we have another lockdown?

"The decision to close for a second time was misguided in my opinion and I was happy to challenge it along with others from the industry.

"I can't say for certain, but I think the Government has listened to us and I would be surprised if golf courses had to close altogether again.

"To be honest we knew that it wasn't going to be reopened before the end of lockdown. But the petition showed how much golf was needed and wanted. That fact that it got 250,000 signatures in 24 hours was amazing. I'm hopeful that we have shown it can be played in safe way.

“I believe we made the government see just how important golf is not only for sporting reasons, but for a sense of physical and mental wellbeing."


Has it been a good year for golf, all things considered?

“I’m immensely proud of the work that has gone on to provide support, guidance, coaching and leadership for our community of golfers, clubs and counties over the last 12 months.  

"We've seen so many people come back to golf or people who normally play other sports take it up.

“The resilience of our clubs and the tidal wave of popular support that hit our game on golf’s return in May and then again in December has been fantastic. I've had people telling me up and down the country how tee times are filling up a week in advance.

"That said, golf was very lucky that it was one of the few sports that could be played safely. So the test will be seeing how we can maintain this momentum going into next year."

Have more women taken up golf?

"I inherited this goal of increasing the 15% figure (the percentage of female golfers in the UK), and at the moment I'm sad to say we haven't managed to change that, but we won't get the official figures until next year.

"However, I can tell you that we had 20,000 new members between May and August and the biggest increase was in 25 to 40 year olds, so we're moving in the right direction. It's been a great year for Junior golf too.

"We have some fantastic female players coming up through the England Golf programmes, and we recently saw Emily Toy and Lily May Humphries play in the U.S. Women's Open, and lots over the summer in the Rose Ladies Series - which was another fantastic idea by Justin Rose. But in my opinion we don't have enough, we need more. And that's something we're focusing on."

Is enough being done to make women feel welcome?

"Of course not every club is perfect and some venues do need to work on being more welcoming to women and girls. Whether that's by providing toilets on the course, better facilities or just being more inclusive.

"We fully support the R&A's #ForeEveryone Women In Golf charter programme; if we didn't think it was a good idea we wouldn't be supporting it and activating it across out clubs.

"The Women In Golf charter is great but of course it's the action that follows this declaration of support that really matters.

"Of course changing every club is a long process, but we will get there and we're working to support and help them as much as we can.

"Another positive from this year is that for the first time ever we have just as many women as men on the England Golf Board. That female influence will slowly filter down to club level, too.

"We know we're not perfect, but we're learning and adapting all the time."

World Handicap System

Considering all the hardships of this year, was it the right time for the World handicap system (WHS) to be introduced?

"Well, what a question! (laughs). Of course when we planned to introduce the WHS we never imagined we'd be doing it during a pandemic. But it had been planned for years and years to fit in with it being rolled out across the rest of the world and so we couldn't change it at the last minute. We wanted to do it in November thinking we would have a quiet time, but of course we've never had a quiet time this year!

"I think it's great how people can track their scores and it will really help people to understand how their handicap is calculated. It will make playing different clubs and around the world so much easier.

"It's been the most significant change to handicapping in this country for over a century. I truly believe we will all enjoy the benefits of the new WHS as we settle into the new process over the coming months.

"On that note I want to personally thank everyone who has worked so hard to make the transition at club level. All the handicap secretaries and the people putting the system in place on the ground.

"It's been a huge job, delivered to 630,000 golf club members at 1,800 golf clubs. It's been massive."

Lottie Woad

Are you excited for England Golf's first mixed event?

"We're really excited. The English Under 18 Championship will be hosted at Farnham Golf Club in Surrey, the home club of England Girls' squad member Lottie Woad.

"We like to keep at the forefront of trends in golf and try new things, and of course mixed events have become so popular this year.

"It's an experiment and we might not get it right first time but hopefully all the players will enjoy competing against each other and doing something different."

Girls Golf Rocks 2019

What are England Golf's goals for 2021?

"Like everyone else, I want us to get some form of normality.

"We have some great plans, Girls Golf Rocks was meant to be the biggest ever for 2020 but of course that couldn't happen, so now we're back trying to drum up interest in it and clubs can sign up for that now.

"To be honest that project is still in the beginning stages and we want to see it get bigger and bigger every year. Once more people are doing it and confidence is built up in it then it will naturally grow."

Annabel Fuller

Are you feeling positive about next year?

"I'm not saying it's going to be easy - we have a lot of work to do - but yes we are going into 2021 we are feeling very positive.

"I believe that no matter what it throws at us, we will be able to withstand it by continuing to work together with a passion and energy to drive the game forward.”

“I'd like to extend a huge thank you to all the greenkeepers, professionals, clubhouse staff, general managers and army of volunteers at clubs up and down the country who have worked tirelessly for the good of the sport. Also to my own amazing team, it's all down to them.

"And finally, wish a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to everyone who has shared in our efforts to make the most of an extremely tough and challenging year."

You can find out more about England Golf HERE.