Robert Rock: Encouraging juniors through clubs

Golf Equipment

How encouraging is your club, really, towards juniors getting into the game?

THIS year alone I have played in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Dubai, South Africa (three times), Morocco, Spain, Malaysia and, most recently, China.

If you went back 10 years ago it would seem unthinkable that the European Tour would visit some of these countries and now it is crucial that we generate plenty of interest in these golf-developing countries.

Some of the players were chatting recently about the idea of having free entry at most of these tournaments but we often do that and it doesn’t really have an impact. The places that are always well attended, like the UK, Sweden, France or Germany, are the already established golfing countries.

People look at Wentworth and think golf is booming but that gives a false impression – we still don’t have an English Open as our top players don’t play in Europe and that doesn’t help matters.

In pretty much every other country the players support their own events. In Spain, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano have stepped in to keep tournaments going.

Now we are going to places where the local government or tourist boards are trying to attract people to the area so the keen golf populations aren’t in place.

I have just got back from China and they are going to immense lengths with building huge courses and academies but we still played in front of a few hundred people.

We have got to do something else to get more people to the event and make it more than the golf. One way that the players can help to generate interest is to get involved with the local communities. We should help in teaching the local school kids on a weekly basis wherever possible and I would much rather do that than play in a pro-am which sometimes doesn’t serve too much of a purpose.

It was mayhem, but in a good way I did some teaching with the local kids from really run-down schools in Pretoria. Each school brought 10 kids, so it was mayhem, but in a good way.

Some of us seem to think that everyone knows about golf but most of these children had never seen anyone hit a golf ball let alone play themselves. So there wasn’t much idea of the dangers involved but, after a couple of hours, they were hitting it pretty good.

Hopefully they got a lot out of it – it was certainly an eye-opener for me.

At my academy we’ve been into the local schools to offer coaching for free and then invited whoever is keen down to our Saturday morning sessions.

We now have almost 60 kids, not quite an equal number of boys to girls but not far off, and they are colour banded according to their progress. There are no handicaps for the beginners, some have gone on to that, but we are trying to get them to a standard where they can join clubs with a handicap.

They will then get a different coloured shirt to register their progress, be it whether they have hit the ball 50 yards or played a hole on the par-3 course on their own.

One of the juniors we found at a school, Josh Zanin, has just won an event by 16 shots so that was brilliant news.
It still amazes me how many barriers there are for juniors in clubs these days. When I was a junior, even though I was probably the best player at the club, I was allowed to play at weekends but only at certain times and with certain people and that wasn’t very encouraging.

One club that I worked at allowed juniors to enter the men’s comps but that was more of a pay and play, though it did have members, so there was a different outlook.

I was in our scratch team at 17 but I needed a job so I worked at another club. That meant working weekends so I couldn’t play and fell out with them. They felt like I should have been doing something for the club and that wasn’t possible as I needed the job. In a perfect world a lot of juniors would be in the scratch teams of clubs up and down the UK but it doesn’t always happen and that’s a great pity.

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