New drive for sport in schools aims to bring golf out of the bunker, reports Roddy Mackenzie
Scotland needs budding Colin Montgomerys to take up golf. The sport, largely seen as the domain of the over-40s, aims to attract a new generation. Senior pupils at Biggar High, in South Lanarkshire, are to be handed the responsibility for introducing the game to younger children in the months ahead as the second wave of a battle plan to inspire more to play.
Vast swathes of the countryside is given over to golf clubs but the average age of the 260,000 members of Scotland's 580 clubs is 43.
Statistics also show that while membership of clubs has increased by 5 per cent over the past decade, the number of courses built over the same period is up by 20 per cent.
Clubgolf - a partnership between the Scottish Golf Union, the Scottish Ladies' Golfing Association, the Professional Golfers' Association, the Golf Foundation and the Scottish Executive - has revolutionised the teaching of the game in Scotland. The Scottish Executive has committed pound;500,000 to the project every year until 2009, by which time, it has famously stated, it wants to have put a golf club in the hand of every 9-year-old.
Last January, 25 coaches - drawn from teachers, classroom assistants, parents and senior pupils - were trained to deliver firstclubgolf, the latest way of introducing the game, to P5-P7 pupils in 12 schools in the Biggar area. At the same time, 11 volunteer members of Biggar Golf Club were trained to deliver level one of the clubgolf programme, so that any primary pupil interested in taking the game further could do so.
Specialised equipment, which can be used in school gym halls, covers the basics of the game. A total of 221 pupils were given an introduction and 50 advanced to the level one programme.
The project has been so successful that it is being used as a model for other rural areas in Scotland.
Coaches and children on the scheme were selected to attend the Johnny Walker Championships at Gleneagles last summer, where they met Scotland's former Open champion Paul Lawrie (who, coincidentally, holds the course record at Biggar with a score of 63).
The Biggar schools cluster covers an area of 620 square miles. Active Schools co-ordinator Ian Carry, a driving force behind the golf project, said: "Some of the schools are very small. So if school gyms were not big enough, then we simply took the game to the local village hall. It shows that clubgolf can be played in a very restricted area and meant that pupils could sample the game without having to have a huge grassy area nearby."
A crucial part of the scheme's success was the support of the local club which will reap the benefit with an increase in junior membership. The club's committee allocated time three nights a week last spring to offer coaching to schoolchildren.
"The local club really took the project on board and the classes were oversubscribed," continues Mr Carry.
"A lot of sports governing bodies target schools to get children to play a particular game and it is easy to introduce under the supervision of teachers.
"But often there is no system to take it further. That's why the clubgolf scheme is perfect.
"For those who are not maybe interested in the physical side of sport or playing in team games, then golf offers a new opportunity.
"Golf has been seen in the past as an upper-class sport, or one that is expensive, but this makes it open to everyone."
The success of the scheme means that private clubs in the area - Carnwath and Kaimes in Lanark - are now keen to get involved.
Mr Carry knows he will have to regenerate the programme every year and hopes that young people will progress to play the game regularly, either at recreational or even a serious level.
"Every year, I will have to refresh the programme by bringing new deliverers on board and it will produce more and more coaches.
"So I'm now training 30 senior high school pupils to deliver the game this year," he says.
"I work closely with the PE staff at Biggar High and the pupils can use clubgolf as part of their Sports Leaders award.
"And it benefits the local golf club with an increase in its junior section. So it has been enthusiastic in its response."
In 2005, the national target was to put 10,000 P5 pupils through the first clubgolf introductory course and 12,000 actually went through the programme, 30 per cent of whom progressed to level one at local golf clubs.
The target now is to reach 20,000 this year so that, by 2009, 50,000 9-year-olds will have been introduced to the game.
Biggar's numbers may seem paltry in comparison but the success of the model shows that golf is not out of bounds for children, even in remote communities.