Despite the fact that Tiger Woods was swinging away at the age of two, golf is still seen as a game for grown-ups. It's played at exclusive clubs with dress codes and joining fees and in this country there's no real tradition of golf in schools. But despite its low profile as a youth sport, the game is thriving at Windsor High School, a sports college in Halesowen.
During PE lessons, pupils are taught basic striking skills, developing their ability to chip, putt and drive the ball over long distances. Once they've reached a certain level of proficiency, they are encouraged to extend their skills and play in matches at the nearby Hagley and Halesowen golf clubs. Director of sport Andy Grace says the school was looking for a sport that would increase participation levels and add a new dimension to PE and sport options. "Golf fitted the bill perfectly. It is a very social sport, where success and improvement is measured against one's own achievements, rather than in a pressurised competitive situation against players who may possess greater ability. A lot of our girls have taken to golf as it allows them to learn and enjoy at their own pace," he says.
The sport has also given students who are unmotivated by other athletic or team games, the opportunity to play a sport with the potential for lifetime participation.
But it still has an elitist reputation, and the kit can be expensive. At Windsor High, this is overcome in a number of ways. Equipment is available on loan and clothing requirements are relaxed by local clubs, so that students from the school can play without a large financial outlay.
However, adherence to a strict code of conduct and the etiquette of the game is insisted upon.
Working closely with the Golf Foundation has enabled the school to take advantage of development programmes designed to encourage participation and increase skills. The organisation runs programmes and provides resources that allow schools to make the most of indoor and outdoor spaces available to them. One of its initiaves is Tri Golf, a mini-version of the game along the lines of kwik cricket or tag rugby, which allows basic striking skills to be taught in primary schools, using lightweight equipment and soft balls. Rachel Lavender, a teacher at Donisthorpe School in Leicestershire, has been using Tri Golf teaching resources and equipment during games lessons and after-school clubs. She says: "The children love it. We have even adapted and invented our own variations to the cards using literacy and numeracy skills." A recent addition is the Tri Golf numeracy pack, which has golf ideas to use in maths lessons. The foundation is developing similar packs in other curriculum areas.
For secondary schools, Start Golf is a more advanced version, using soft balls but with proper golf clubs. Skills learned here are more specific to golf, but still closely related to national curriculum requirements.
Three-hour teacher-training workshops are also available, aimed at helping non-specialist teachers to introduce golf to beginners. Mary Elmenyiy, headteacher at Donisthorpe, attended one of the courses. She says: "The course gave me enough knowledge, ideas and confidence to start the children off and get them to a level where more expert coaches could take them further into the game."
The Golf Foundation's Starter Centre Initiative has seen up to 350 clubs across the country providing open access to children and releasing golf professionals for coaching sessions in local schools. Schools are expected to foot half the bill, but schemes such as Awards for All can be used to finance this in extra-curricular time.
Perhaps the foundation's most innovative scheme is the Junior Golf Passport, designed to tackle the thorny problem of transition from school to club activity. Working through five different coloured merit cards - ticking off various skill tasks as they become more proficient - students can take their passports to any session organised by a PGA professional or, at the first two levels, by a Junior Golf Leader. The passport idea concentrates on the participant and the activity, providing a continuity between schemes and venues. Other sports could learn from this.
As well as taking golf into its family of schools via their School Sport Co-ordinator network, Windsor High is working with the Golf Foundation on a comprehensive scheme of work for all key stages. Based on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority guidelines for striking and fielding games, this will be available nationally at the end of the summer term.
For details of the Golf Foundation's scheme, contact development manager Stuart Armstrong on 01920 876200 or visit www.golf-foundation.org