A golf club that's on par for success

17th February 2012 at 00:00
Roddy Mackenzie reports on a scheme that has introduced 220,000 children to the game

Jackie Davidson's remit is to get as many schoolchildren as possible out of the classroom and on to Scotland's golf courses. As manager of clubgolf - the Scottish Government's programme to give every nine-year-old experience of the game by the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles - she also wants to take golf into the classroom.

Almost 220,000 children have been introduced to the game since clubgolf was launched in 2003 and last year a record number of girls - almost 19,000 P5 pupils - were brought on board through firstclubgolf, the programme's introductory initiative. But Ms Davidson is always seeking to offer new dimensions to what is already a hugely successful scheme.

"We're also looking at how we can link into the educational side, for example, golf in the environment, golf in numeracy, golf in literacy so that a focus could be put on the sport and not just firstclubgolf," she says.

"We're working on a numeracy pack, aimed at P5-6, where you can use the example of handicapping to learn about adding and subtracting. We're trying to look at how we can add value to the programme and introduce that within the next year."

Ms Davidson acknowledges that, as well as building bridges, she has also had to break down barriers although, unexpectedly, the current economic climate has helped the programme increase the number of schoolgirls playing.

In the past, some golf clubs may have felt they did not require an infusion of new blood as memberships were thriving, but now more and more see the need to encourage schoolgirls, as waiting lists dwindle and, in some cases, fall away altogether.

"About 49 per cent of the delivery of firstclubgolf is to girls, so it's basically half and half," Ms Davidson points out. "It does drop quite a bit when we move through the different stages and we need to tackle why that is happening, but it's also a problem in other sports when girls reach their teenage years."

She finds the clubs they work with are more inclusive than they used to be and have started to look at their constitution and membership structures. It's important for the clubs to retain their core membership, but she and her colleagues try to find new ways to recruit.

"In terms of dress code, we're saying let the children come in their jeans and their hoodies if they want to. Let them wear trainers - just get them to the club first," she says. "If they're allowed to do this, they're more likely to stick with it and then want the kit. It's like any sport in that respect. Get them hooked and then they'll make the demands on their parents to get the equipment."

Ms Davidson says club sport would not be such a success without the support of the schools and appreciates the help given by teachers and volunteers to ensure the programme continues to grow.

"It's a programme that works in line with the Active Schools network, and the co-ordinators work with the regional managers to provide the links with schools and golf clubs," she says.

A couple of local authorities have been slow to come on board, she says. There are also challenges when the Active Schools coordinators move on, as it's a transient workforce, but where there is a good, solid network of coordinators, then the schools are on board with it all.

"It's now really solid across the country," she says. "We anticipated around 311 delivering last year - that can be clubs, driving ranges or indoor centres.

"In schools, it is being delivered by the teaching staff and supported by the Active Schools coordinator. In the clubs, stages one to three are being delivered by volunteer coaches and club professionals."

That, she says, has been a relationship they have had to work on - "the professionals accepting that the volunteers have a role to play in delivering alongside them".


Eleanor Tunn, 16, Thurso High

One of the first children to benefit from clubgolf's structured coaching programme when it was introduced to Reay Golf Club in 2004, Eleanor reached the quarter-finals of the Scottish Girls' Closed Amateur Championships and the semi-final of the handicap event at the St Andrews Junior Ladies' Open on the Old Course in 2009.

Now 16, she won the Reay Junior Open last summer and beat the club's long- standing ladies' score of 71 by two shots to set a new course record.

Last September, at the University of St Andrews' first Schoolgirls' Tournament, Eleanor's gross 80 was enough to retain her lead in the gross event as well as give her second place in the Stableford points competition. She was awarded the S5-6 Gross Salver.

Clara Young, 14, North Berwick High

Clara played firstclubgolf at primary school and went on to join a list of famous names including Catriona Matthew on the East Lothian women's county championships after becoming the youngest winner of the event at Musselburgh Golf Club this year.

Last April, at Strathmore in the SLGA Under-16 championships, she finished fifth and was the top Scot. Then, in the Helen Holm Scottish Open Strokeplay Championship at Troon, she came 34th.

County success earned her an invitation as the only Scot in the Great Britain and Ireland under-16 team for an inaugural match against the cream of Europe for the Vagliano Trophy at Royal Porthcawl in June.

From there, Clara travelled to Hungary to represent Scotland in the European Young Masters before returning home to tee up in junior home internationals and the British Girls' Championship in Gullane.

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