Fairway to success

Scottish golf has seen a surge in popularity in the 21st century.

Liam Corbett, Sports Editor

With the first written record of the sport, over 500 courses and the right to host the 2014 Ryder Cup, Scotland is known as the home of golf but where is our next young talent going to come from?

At the top level of the sport exciting times lie ahead. Tiger Woods is no longer such a formidable force to overcome, due to his personal issues, the game of golf is experiencing one of its most exciting periods. Gone are the days when Nicklaus, Palmer and Player were battling it out or European players were failing to win a major on American soil. Golf is now bigger and better across the entire world and if the upcoming Masters tournament is anything to go by then expect to see Louis Oosthuizen (South African and 2010 Open Champion), Rory McIlroy (Northern Irish and last year’s US Open champion) and this year‘s champion Bubba Watson (American), to name a few, around for a long time to come.

One name missing from that list would be Scotland’s Martin Laird. Laird has won twice on the US Tour and has regularly been a contender in other events. However, he had to deal with the added pressure of being Scotland’s top golfer at number 36 in the world rankings with his nearest compatriot Paul Lawrie at 46th. It begs the question, why is there not more juniors taking up golf and progressing up the ladder to emulate the professionals. Which young Scot is likely to best Colin Montgomerie’s 8 European Order of Merit titles or Lawrie’s dramatic Open Championship win in 1999?

Wilson feels that his scheme is helping to improve the standards of Scottish golf.

Since 2003, when Scotland won the right to host the 2014 Ryder Cup there has been an increase in the number of children taking up golf. Club Golf was a scheme set up by the government to encourage as many children as possible to have taken up golf by the age of nine. The set up basically involves volunteer amateurs who go on a basic training course to get coaching skills so they can organise grass roots training sessions. Club Golf has definitely been a popular incentive, however there is not as much progression through the scheme as organizers had hoped as there are not enough juniors joining golf clubs and working towards getting a handicap.

Stuart Wilson, PGA professional at Eastwood Golf Club, was awarded the “Professional of the Year for 2010” award at the annual Foremost Gala Dinner. One of the criteria that Stuart had to meet was growing the game of golf at grass roots level.

He has introduced a yearly scholarship for the golfer he feels has made the most progress that year. In winning the scholarship this entitles the junior to get a new set of golf clubs, free lessons, along with other equipment such as golf balls, tees, hats, gloves and shoes, all courtesy of Stuart. The second incentive, which has been introduced, is the “You play, I pay”. This scheme allows juniors to build up funds to spend in the pro shop and they do this by playing in the medals and making sure they finish the round. By simply turning up for the medal the juniors get £1. However, by not completing their round they will lose a pound. Any junior that successfully completes their round will get another pound and if they manage to reduce their handicap they will gain a further £2 so, for each medal the juniors play in there is a potential to get £4. With around 30 medals a year they could earn up to £120 if they were to cut steadily throughout the year.

Children are set for a bright future under the guidance of Wilson.

However, Stuart does not feel that the incentives will pay off based on the first few turnouts. “At the end of the day it is down to individuals, you can only do so much. The old analogy you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. People have got to take responsibility themselves, and if they are not interested then they are not interested. The last thing you want do is force someone into it because then they are doing it for all the wrong reasons. We want the kids to come and play and have fun, not because their parents have asked or forced them to.”

Juniors on the East coast seem to know what is required of them when they begin to take up golf. Stuart explained that at Kirkcaldy, where he gained his first main insight into coaching, they have a short 4-hole course on the practice ground and every Saturday they take the younger children who were not all members and that was the start of the junior development. The children then had to get a certain standard on the 4-hole course to then join in the 9-hole medal and then another standard before joining in the 18-hole medal. So the kids went into knowing exactly what was expected of them whereas here, on the West coast, at Eastwood it’s more come along, join in, play 18 holes and that’s it.

If Stuart manages to get more of his fellow professionals in the Foremost group to follow his lead then golf pros around Scotland may soon start to see more juniors attracted to their clubs. With the help of Club Golf, more juniors may now realise they have the potential to go far in the game and that all it takes is a little desire and hard work, even if they do not like the game at first. Then maybe even one day Scotland will produce another Open Champion.

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