Chris Boughton’s Golf Column: Suffolk leads the way for pilot scheme

SUCCESSES AND PLANS: Brendon Pyle CEO of the Golf Foundation, regional development officer Katie Moggan at Suffolk Golf Club and director of golf Steve Hall talked to Chris Boughton about golf participation
SUCCESSES AND PLANS: Brendon Pyle CEO of the Golf Foundation, regional development officer Katie Moggan at Suffolk Golf Club and director of golf Steve Hall talked to Chris Boughton about golf participation

Golf as a participant sport has suffered a significant decline in popularity in the past decade, with the number of rounds of golf played in the UK dropping by around 30 per cent. One of the key factors has been the reduction in juniors playing golf, a trend that the Golf Foundation have been trying to reverse.

The Golf Foundation was co-founded by the golfing legend Henry Cotton in 1952 as an organisation to support junior golf in the UK. Today it is the largest UK Junior Golf charity with financial support from the PGA, European Tour, Ryder Cup Fund, R&A, England Golf, Sport England, British Golf Industry Association, main sponsors HSBC, private donations and has an annual income of around £2M.

Locally The Suffolk, Bury St Edmunds and Stonham Barns Golf Clubs took part in the Golf Foundation GolfSixes pilot scheme earlier this year which proved highly successful and built on the groundwork with juniors already underway at these clubs with the HSBC backed Golf Roots program.

The foundation’s theme was ‘start, learn and stay’ linking up with schools, colleges, teachers and parents.

At the Suffolk GC, PGA professionals Steve Hall and Adam Trett have been working with pupils from County Upper School and King Edward VI (KEGS) and at Bury GC, PGA Pros Simon Byford and Matt Alderton have been coaching students from local schools and West Suffolk College through their sports programme and the Access to Education initiative (assisted by the Prince’s Trust).

I met up with Brendon Pyle, CEO of the Golf Foundation, his regional development officer Katie Moggan and Steve Hall at The Suffolk, to hear the foundation’s successes from 2017 and plans for 2018 and how these will involve local clubs.

Hall reported: “We have been working with KEGS and County Upper since September 2016. Our goal was to introduce children to the world of golf, working closely with both schools. So far, their weekly sessions are well attended and are having the desired effect.

A team with pupils from both schools won the inaugural GolfSixes event in Suffolk this year. We subsequently gave them free club membership, and many are now playing regularly, and some have reached a good standard.”

Just down the road at Bury Golf Club, Byford told me: “With the Golf Foundation’s GolfSixes initiative, pre-handicap junior golfers can have a competitive outlet.

“This is something that is set to grow over the coming years and gives these junior golfers a chance to visit different golf courses.

Our professional staff deliver coaching programmes designed to give an introduction to golf as well as the opportunity to visit the golf club.”

Five clubs in Suffolk took part in this year’s successful junior GolfSixes, and Katie Moggan is planning on including more in 2018. There are 12 Suffolk-based clubs registered as HSBC Golf Roots centres with three more about to join. Moggan also plans to increase the number of girls playing golf.

Supported by England Golf, the foundation will be working with clubs in Norfolk in 2018, to implement their innovative GirlsGolfRocks programme.

Moggan said: “Following the successful first two years of the programme we are looking for coaches and clubs in Norfolk who are able to demonstrate how they can recruit and retain girls in the game and provide a pathway into appropriate membership at a welcoming club.”

Stowmarket GC are also a Golf Roots Centre, and deliver Golf Foundation-supported Tri-Golf taster sessions via local primary schools.

Head Pro Jon Markham and his assistant Alex Davey hold Saturday morning Junior Academy coaching sessions, open to kids of all ages and ability.

Markham told me: “It is brilliant to see the children’s positive reaction to a new sport and their ability to quickly master the basic skills.”

For younger children (6-12yrs) the foundation’s Junior Golf Passport has delivered coaching to more than 6,000 boys and girls in the past 18 months and is set to continue.

Nine hundred PGA Pros are registered through their golf clubs (650 clubs). See their website for more info.

Golf Foundation CEO Pyle is keen to ease some of the barriers that have deterred juniors from taking part in golf.

He told me: “All the Golf Foundation’s work is underpinned by a commitment to making golf more accessible to young people. We believe that we can help them enjoy the playing and personal benefits of golf by making it fun, child-centred, inspiring, innovative, enriching and inclusive.”

The foundation have recently engaged the services of a local life-coach to support and steer this initiative.

All this bodes well for the future and there are positive signs that juniors are returning to golf as a direct result of the foundation’s and golf clubs’ involvement.

The average age at most golf clubs in the UK is over 60, but it has fallen at all our local clubs in the past 12 months.