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2009 Ryder Cup - Scottish bid, youth strategy
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Plan to make every Scots child a golfer

Ambitious project linked to nation’s Ryder Cup bid

Mike Aitken, The Scotsman, 14 December 2000

A Scottish golf tsar is to be appointed who will be charged with the responsibility of implementing the ambitious plan to introduce every child in the land to the game before the age of nine.

While there’s a kind of fairytale ring to the Scottish Executive’s pledge, which some critics have deemed fanciful and unworkable in a sport where equipment can be expensive and access to private golf clubs is restricted, officials insist they are in a position to deliver on that promise.

Having made the commitment to youth as part of the nation’s bid to host the 2009 Ryder Cup match against the Americans, moves have been started to enlist the services of an individual who can lead the newly-formed Scottish Junior Golf Partnership.

During the recent past, the development of junior golf in Scotland was often held back by factionalism. A variety of governing bodies with vested interests in pursuing their own agendas meant progress in promoting golf was slow compared to the more dynamic programmes at work in countries such as Sweden and Australia.

It is an alarming, but true, statistic that the average age of a golf club member in Scotland is close to 60.

Now the game’s legislators have put their differences to one side and come together to form a new body, which includes representatives from the Scottish Golf Union, the Scottish region of the PGA, the Golf Foundation, the Scottish Ladies and sportscotland, in a bid to make the game more accessible to young people.

"All of these organisations appreciate they have overlap on the same agenda and agree they should work together to put in place a strategy to develop golf in Scotland," said Colin Pearson, senior development officer with sportscotland.

"We will appoint a youth sport co-ordinator for golf to lead this group and help to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together."

The expectation is that around 500,000 young Scots will be given the chance to try the game during the lifetime of this scheme, which is due to be up and running by 2002.

It’s a massive exercise, with every boy and girl in Scotland assured of a chance to play golf before the Ryder Cup match in 2009.

In spite of the scale of the task - hundreds of new coaches and leaders, thousands of sets of junior clubs, and any number of golf courses and driving ranges will be required to make the scheme work - Ian Robson, the chief executive of sportscotland, is adamant the goal can be achieved.

"The most important thing to say is that the commitment to give every child an introduction to golf was never intended to be just a soundbite," he said. "Yes, there are challenges in making this happen. But that’s how we see them - as challenges, not as impossible obstacles."

Pearson added: "It will only happen with a lot of hard work and by getting everyone pulling together in the same direction.

"We see it not so much as a commitment to golf as a commitment to Scotland’s children. It’s not just about swinging a club. We want to see the game of golf come alive in the schools.

"Three things underpin our plan. One, is our overall youth sport framework at sportscotland. We’ll be going into the primary schools and making the links with golf clubs.

"Secondly, we’ve been working with the Scottish Golf Union on a review. That’s part of our agenda to modernise governing bodies. We’re working on bringing them up to date for the 21st century.

"Third, which is the most significant, is the newly-formed Scottish Junior Golf Partnership."

One of the many tasks facing those charged with making this plan work is how to teach the teachers so that they, in turn, can help the youngsters.

Golf professionals will be the key to the success of this programme. "The pros will be essential in terms of coach education," agreed Pearson. "I think the club pros are more likely to be involved in that area than teaching the children themselves."

Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect the under-nines to be able to cope immediately with the complex and daunting challenge of completing an 18-hole round.

That’s why some purpose-built mini-courses will be required to give youngsters a flavour of the game. John Gilmour, the head of the Scottish Executive’s sport policy unit, believes that the finance for capital investment in these new facilities is already in place.

"The capacity to do things like that is already available through Scottish Enterprise," said Gilmour. "Whether at some stage we’re going to need a special programme is another matter. But there already has been a huge investment of £150 million in golf facilities in Scotland over the last ten years. We see no reason why that shouldn’t continue."

Resources won’t just come from the public purse. The Scottish Executive believes that the potential for growth in the game will also persuade private enterprise to make their own contribution.

In many respects, introducing golf to children at primary school won’t mean much unless a pathway can be created which allows pupils at secondary school also to play the game.

"That’s part of our broader aim to re-establish the habit of playing all sports," added Robson. "Then we need to grow strong links between playing golf at school and the clubs. Golf is perhaps one of the last sports where the principle of being a member of a club is still valued by people who are active into their later years.

"The obvious contrast is with swimming where one million people swim each year, but only 20,000 are members of a club. In golf, the percentages are virtually the other way around.

"Overall, though, the concept of being a member of a sports club is disappearing. So part of the challenge for golf is that their clubs need to rethink their approach.

"If, for example, you had a golf club with a dying membership located close to a school, you’d like to think that common sense would prevail and they can work together. Older members could mentor the kids during the week and help to teach them the etiquette of the game."

While some youngsters will have their first experience of the game on a course, others will pick up a club on a range or at a practice facility.

"We won’t have a single model," explained Gilmour, "but we will give everyone an opportunity."

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