Hole-in-one for everyone

22nd August 2008 at 01:00
A new adventure golf course opens at Bishopbriggs Academy

It is easy being Tiger Woods. True, the world's best golfer has to handle raucous crowds, intense pressure and most recently a torn cruciate ligament. But at least nobody dumps big rocks on the greens to make it harder to hole out, which is what happened at the fifth hole of the new adventure golf course at Bishopbriggs Academy.

"Somebody wanted to make it more challenging," says Craig Marshall, 14, who has come into school during the holidays to cast a protective eye over the creation of a dozen third-year pupils, including himself. "Now you cannae get a hole-in-one."

"It usually looks nicer than this," says Alex Lamond, 15, proprietorially. "We look after it and tidy it up when we're in school."

In truth the course, built in an unpromising location between green trees and Portakabins, looks much better close-up than from a distance. Neatly- mortared bricks, well-tended tubs of flowers, devious humps and hollows on putting surfaces, and the cunning curves of each hole, shaped to fit the available space, all contribute to a powerful impression of great care and attention to detail.

"You should have seen this space before the kids started," says depute head Harry Clark. "It was a horrible piece of waste ground. You'd never have believed they could make something like this from it."

The idea for the adventure golf-course came from a group of third-year pupils who, like the location, seemed initially unpromising - eight boys and four girls on xlerate with xl. Devised by The Prince's Trust Scotland, this programme offers "a different kind of education to 14 to 16 year-olds at risk of truanting, exclusion and under-achievement".

It's a description that fitted him well, Craig says. "I've calmed down since we started this project. I used to be a bit of a clown in class. What made the difference was working with other people on the team. If you're pure bad, you get chucked out. I don't want to get chucked out.

"Another thing is, the teachers on the course treat you differently - just like other adults they work with outside school. So we try our hardest to get along with them."

For Alex, the big change has been in her attitude. "It's made me want to achieve more. It has let us see what it's like in the real world. Having to look after the golf course - that was us doing it. It made me realise I could take more responsibility in school. It was different from people just telling you to have a better attitude. This showed you. You felt what it was like to take responsibility."

In the three years the programme has run at Bishopbriggs, positive outcomes like these have been the norm, says Mr Clark. "If they weren't on the programme, we'd expect most of these kids to escape as soon as possible. But eight out of 12 have gone into fifth year and a couple of graduates from two years ago, from being disaffected kids, are now sixth- year pupils."

The Prince's Trust programme provides the curriculum as well as the teaching materials and staff training for xl clubs, explains Mr Clark. "It is all done as a group. We start off with interpersonal skills, then there's an enterprise module, a community project and a residential component. In previous years the project was quite small, but this year we built teamworking and enterprise into one big project that ticked lots of boxes."

Links with outside agencies are encouraged on the programme and were a prominent feature of the golf-course project. Portakabin cleared the land for the course. Morgan Ashford provided skilled labour to shape the holes. ASI Sports donated the Astro Turf - although the pupils actually laid it.

"That was the hardest part," says Alex. "It was so heavy. I didn't think we'd ever shift it."

Capgemini contributed time and expertise, says Mr Clark. "They taught them about planning, designing, fundraising. They organised them into teams for management, design, procurement and finance. At times three of their people would be working with the youngsters at once."

The depute head's idea was for a draughts-board, made of slabs, or boules. But the pupils had other ideas. "They fancied a graffiti art wall at first, then a football pitch. Then one of them suggested golf."

Fact-finding missions to "the world's largest indoor adventure golf complex" at Xscape in Braehead fired up everyone and sparked creative ideas. But this was one of several stages when the "real life" mentioned by Craig and Alex set students something of a stymie.

"Xscape charges Pounds 7 a head, so they have big funding behind them," says Mr Clark. "We didn't, although we did raise money for the project."

So palm trees, tiki huts and ancient ruins were out. Instead, the team designed a sequence of holes with features that look less spectacular, but present players with absorbing challenges, mental and physical.

The proof of this could be seen when the course opened, just before the holiday, say the pupils. The course was a buzz of activity during breaks, and at 50p a head the money-spinning potential opened some eyes. "They're starting to talk about trips to adventure golf courses in Florida," says Mr Clark. "More likely, though, are golf and barbecue evenings to raise money for charity."

The resounding success of the project has now led The Prince's Trust Scotland to launch a new schools enterprise initiative - the Scholar's Challenge - inspired by Bishopbriggs High, says corporate fundraising manager Alison Taylor.

"It has been a tremendous learning journey. I would never have known how to sell shares in a company at 14. When they go to interview, these youngsters can now talk comfortably and confidently about a project that's given them a whole range of employability skills."

Prominent among these are teamworking, seeing a project through from start to finish and working with adults outside school, says head Gordon Moulsdale. "Previously, if you had asked them how to get something on this scale done, they wouldn't have known where to start. It has been about them taking responsibility and they have risen tremendously well to that challenge. It is their achievement. They did it."



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