Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Clubgolf can start delivering new members for golf clubs

The most heated golfing debate I've witnessed this year involved a likeable PGA professional and an equally likeable chap who works for one of those national agencies that promote Scotland as a leading destination for all sorts of sports. Let's call him the 'government guy'.
It was about clubgolf, the national junior initiative that was launched in 2003 by Colin Montgomerie at Gleneagles, and the exchange of opinions between these two individuals came to mind during a chat last week with Colin Pearson, the PGA's strategic head of golf development (Scotland) who is working hard to make people more aware of the iconic PGA brand and how it can be more involved in helping the game progress.
During their debate, the PGA pro gave the government guy a hard time over the fact the clubgolf programme involved so many volunteer coaches, believing, though I don't recall him actually coming out and saying so, that these people didn't have the proper qualifications to teach youngsters how to play golf.
As you'd expect, the government guy fought his corner pretty well and was quick to point out that clubgolf had introduced a generation of kids to the game over the past seven years who otherwise might never have touched a golf club in their life.
That alone, he argued, made it a worthwhile programme.
According to Pearson, who has been in his post since November 2008 after previously working for sportscotland – where one of his successes was helping transform Scottish swimming to such an extent we managed to win more medals than the Australians at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, our PGA professional is in the minority these days.
While club professionals may have been a bit wary about the project at the outset, he says it is now being embraced the length and breadth of the country and is confident clubgolf can start delivering more new members for golf clubs.
"Golf has been very traditional and in some instances things have been very slow in evolving," said Pearson. "To get to the best in world we have seen there has to be major change within the culture of coaching and performance within the sport. In the early days of clubgolf the pros perhaps thought it was something that wasn't for them.
"Their attitude was probably, 'we coach for a living and don't want to be doing something for nothing'. It is not about that and, if you ask around them now, I think they have a much better understanding of what this is all about and that they can be involved."
Pearson admits clubgolf is a project close to his heart. He was involved in it from the start and is delighted to see players who were introduced to the game through clubgolf now starting to show enough potential to earn places in the Scottish Golf Academy. At the same time, though, he acknowledges that much work is still to be done to ensure the programme can bring a long-term benefit to Scottish golf.
"In five years we've gone from not having any volunteer coaches to having something like 1,650," he observed. "But, in terms of sports development, it takes ten years to really change things. Scotland's recent success in swimming and cycling didn't happen overnight and the key thing for me now (with clubgolf) is what the next ten years bring.
"It is about how we work with the clubs to make sure that pathway is strong. We always knew that was going to be an issue and have got to focus and work hard on making that happen."
Appointed by Sandy Jones, the PGA's executive director, to provide full-time expertise on the ground in the Scottish region that was previously lacking, Pearson is keen to see the organisation play an integral part in the development of the game in the home of golf and believes they can help raise the bar in terms of coaching.
While much has been said and written about Scotland's top golfers failing to hit the heights as often as we'd like them to, the spotlight is rarely turned on the coaches. The PGA, through its Academy training programme at The Belfry, is determined to breed professionals who can get the very best out of their pupil, whether he or she is a beginner or a Tour professional.
"I think the role for the PGA professional in the future is about managing the programme within a club," said Pearson. "Some coaching will be done by volunteers, some will be done by assistants and some coaching will be done by the pros themselves. I think that's how they need to look at it and Jackie Montgomery is a good example at Dunbar.
"We have a vision of having the right coach in the right place at the right time and that means that for all different markets within golf we need to develop coaches who can deliver within these markets rather than what we have at the moment where pros are expected to deliver everything i.e. one minute teaching a beginner then the next minute they've got a Stephen Gallacher.
"If you speak to coaches like Kevin Craggs and Adam Hunter you get a real sense of coaching in the wider context of what it was five years ago when it was maybe more about instruction and one-to-one than it was about coaching the game. Steve Paulding, the SGU's performance director, comes with that expertise of performance sport from sportscotland from his days as cycling coach and I think that is really good for the game."
Some believe playing bans handed out to David Orr, the reigning SPGA champion, and Mark Kerr, one of the emerging talents on the Tartan Tour, for failing to put in the required hours in a shop as part of their training was an indication that the PGA is more interested in seeing its members develop in aspects like coaching rather than helping them become better golfers.
Pearson says that isn't necessarily true and hopes a 'performance group' he's set up that includes respected and knowledgeable figures in Alan White (Lanark), Gordon Niven (Stirling University), Graeme McDowell (Elmwood College) and Campbell Elliot (Haggs Castle) will help identify young professionals who could follow in the footsteps of Paul Lawrie and Ian Poulter, two players who came through the PGA programme.
"It is wrong to think that one route (through the amateur ranks] is the answer," noted Pearson. "We have some concrete ideas that might offer a good alternative for some people and, if there is a PGA player with talent, we need to look at how we look after that player and support them. We've got players coming into the programme playing off +1 and even up to +3 and if they can prove they have the ability, then of course we want to help them improve."
+The above article appears in The Scotsman newspaper today.

Response from Dean Robertson, Stirling
Martin Dempster's article was brought to my attention by Andrew Coltart on route to the Italian Open this morning. He and I and many others with great experience and knowledge, both on a performance playing and coaching level, share different views.
It is only fair to listen to the ground swell that is starting to beat a loud drum. Surely the long term aim is for Scottish Golf to benefit from, not only the coaching initiatives that are being delivered via the SGU academy, but also from other sources, whose delivery may be viewed as different, but whose levels of expertese are valued/embraced by many different golfing bodies both at home and abroad.

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