GolfMark - A Landmark for Junior Golf
A national EGU-approved scheme is transforming the way golf clubs coach and care for their junior golfers. Dominic Pedler's home club, Roehampton Golf Club in southwest London, is the latest to make the grade as set out by the prestigious GolfMark programme.
As second-class citizens of so many stereotypical British golf clubs, juniors have endured plenty of minority discrimination down the years. If not quite human rights, then certainly a lack of playing rights, coaching opportunities and an atmosphere that appreciates their role as the future of those very clubs – and indeed the game of golf.
But genuine progress is underway at a select (but growing) number of clubs signing up to the GolfMark scheme designed to ensure a comprehensive plan for the safe and structured development of junior golf.
The brainchild of the English Golf Union and the English Women's Golf Association, GolfMark involves the assessment of some 70 detailed questions covering not merely coaching procedures and playing opportunities, but also the club's environment and ethics, as well as child protection and duty of care.
So far some 185 UK golf clubs and driving ranges have formally made the grade, with another 704 currently working towards full status. Admittedly, this is only a fraction of all golf facilities but the bar is set deliberately high to ensure the highest standards and the credibility of the concept.
“GolfMark is certainly a tough process to complete, but we decided to subscribe to it wholeheartedly as we have complete faith that it is the right thing to do when teaching children,” says Roehampton Club pro, Richard Harrison, referring to the small mountain of red tape that has taken eight months to complete in addition to the grueling on-site assessment. “As well as ensuring the kids receive the correct coaching in the best possible environment, it is about reassuring parents that the club and the coaches fully appreciate their duty of care.”
Under the scheme all coaching takes place according to a raft of protocols demanded by strict new child safety standards, covering everything from the maximum ratio of pupils-to-coach (Roehampton adopts 6:1) to CRB Police checks on the staff.
Meanwhile, the coaching vision itself goes well beyond standard lessons to encompass an entire golfing education, starting with the colourful Tri-Golf project (for beginners as young as three) before taking in the various stages of the Junior Golf Passport developed by The Golf Foundation and endorsed by such stars as Ian Poulter.
“Traditionally, golf lessons involve reacting to how a player performs each week, but this is all about setting the children a range of co-ordinated skills and challenges that vary from session to session,” explains Harrison. “Each stage builds on the previous one, keeping their interest and giving them a wider appreciation of the game.”
Meanwhile, quite apart from swing technique, the GolfMark concept is equally about instilling the values of the game – not just the nuances of etiquette but the life skills of honesty, integrity, discipline and consideration.
“Ultimately, the scheme is about nurturing the kids’ social development, their sense of responsibility to themselves and to each other, while integrating them into the club and preparing them for adult membership,” say Harrison. “We encourage them to play golf outside of their regular golf lessons, to mix socially and to break down the notion of cliques which have traditionally been a problem at many golf clubs.Talking of cliques, GolfMark’s biggest challenge is to overcome those all-too-familiar factions who are not just resistant to change but who also perpetuate the notion that junior golfers should be neither seen nor heard. Certainly, clubs considering the long and winding road to GolfMark status should be aware of the various conditions covered by the ‘environment’ section of the blueprint. This seeks to ensure that juniors are not merely tolerated but actively listened to, encouraged and motivated within the club hierarchy.
In keeping with the blueprint, Roehampton itself needed to establish a Junior Committee that meets monthly, a Junior Captain and a Junior Liaison Officer who is in regular contact with the members to communicate schedules, plans and ideas and to resolve any grievances.
“For it to work, total commitment is needed throughout the club,” affirms Harrison. “In our case, it couldn’t have happened without a proactive Chairman and Chief Executive, as well as the coaching staff and members who have all welcomed the scheme.”
The Roehampton junior section is certainly unrecognisable fromthe one I joined as a teenager here in the late Seventies, when Golf Passports were unheard of and a small group of us relied mainly on a few kindly parents to organise the occasional match and competition.
Nowadays, my 9-year-old son is one of the club’s 150 juniors with the opportunity to enjoy not just structured weekly coaching but a whole array of events unknown to previous generations.
Among them, Wee Wonders-style Flag competitions (see how far you get round the course with just 36 shots), Junior Ryder Cup matches, 3-Day Golf Camps and National Skills Challenges covering 10 different activities.
Of course, for the UK as a whole, GolfMark still has a long way to go, with the EGU/EWGA estimating that only 50 per cent of UK clubs have even a junior organizer – much less a junior committee.
An added incentive for the remainder is the fact that GolfMark is proving to be rather more than just ensuring the kids are all right.
The EGU/EWGA confirm that since the scheme began in earnest, three years ago, the vast majority of participating clubs have raised their profile in the community, with many directly acknowledging the potential for raising revenues – if not immediately, then on a 3- to 5-year view.
“In our regular surveys we find that 100 per cent of clubs report that GolfMark has been a beneficial exercise for the club as a whole, with over 50 per cent experiencing an increase in membership,” confirms Andrew Willems, the Regional Development Officer for the South-East region for EGU/EWGA who oversaw The Roehampton Club’s application and assessment. “The scheme is becoming an increasingly relevant ‘kite mark’ as more parents, schools and local authorities insist on accredited facilities for the coaching of their children – in golf as in all other areas.”
In these tough economic times with the game suffering from declining participation rates and the fickle patronage of a new breed of ‘nomadic’ golfers, here is an ‘alternative’ membership drive that could potentially pay off handsomely in the long term. Furthermore, the EGU/EWGA report that over 70 per cent of clubs have accessed funding grants since achieving the award.
In any case, GolfMark is not just a one-off project that ends with the award of the prestigious certificate. The EGU/EWGA maintain regular dialogue to help clubs ensure they continue to develop for the benefit of all concerned.
Online refreshers are required annually, with the entire process updated and repeated every three years. Clubs can also strive for Higher Achiever status according to the extent to which they meet 70 per cent of the questions in the assessment.
And beyond the basic junior initiatives, GolfMark actively encourages the clubs themselves to work ‘for the greater good’ and give something back to the local community. Wealthy private clubs are not exempt, with many of them required to commit to regular charity work. In Roehampton’s case, the golf coaches host monthly sessions introducing the game and its values to underprivileged and partially-sighted children in the OutReach scheme of south-west London. In this way, GolfMark is also helping to restore the largely forgotten traditional role of golf clubs as patricians in the community.
Clearly, these junior golfers have never had it so good. Though, in true Monty Python style, try telling that to the kids of today and they’ll never believe you.
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