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ClubGolfers get facility boost in the Western Isles

March 22, 2013

Keen young golfers enrolled in Scotland's national junior programme, ClubGolf, in the Western Isles will be able to take advantage of terrific new facilities at three local clubs, which have been constructed specifically with children's coaching in mind.

Stornoway (Lewis), Benbecula, and Askernish (South Uist) golf clubs are each in the process of undertaking construction plans to transform their coaching capabilities, proving that the future of golf away from mainland Scotland is alive and well.

Each of the trio has been delivering ClubGolf coaching for several years and will soon find themselves better provisioned than ever when it comes to catering for their budding youngsters.

Stornoway Golf Club has acknowledged that playing and competing over a more appropriate length of course will better allow young people to flourish by breaking ground on a tailor-made layout of its own.

From August this year, ClubGolfers will be given access to a brand new three-hole practice facility, which will lie within the main 18-hole golf course.

Here, they will hone their skills through the ClubGolf programme without interfering with play among the adult members, who are known to take to the course in force throughout the year.

"The current ClubGolf coaching set-up is extremely difficult," said Stornoway member and Level 2 coach Ken Galloway.

"We coach up to 50 juniors every Monday from April to the end of August and, given that some of the kids are very junior, they have to be split into groups of no bigger than six.

"It becomes difficult in splitting them out as we don't have a dedicated practice area, aside from a small putting green and bunker. So, you have to go to areas on the course where there are no golfers. If the weather is good, that can be quite difficult to achieve .

"The provision of the three-hole practice facility will solve our problem."

Around £50,000, grant-aided by sport scotland, the Parks and Open Spaces Capital Grant Scheme and the SGU North District Reserve Fund has been spent in developing the course, which will include three par-3 holes of varying lengths and difficulty, and six tees, with contractors being hired for the construction phase.

And, according to Galloway, the work that has been done will be of most benefit to children still in the early stages of ClubGolf, as they prepare to make the crucial transition onto the main 18-hole layout.

"It will give those who are moving up to Stage 2 in the coaching a better opportunity to have a stepping stone before going into the wild and wonderful 18 holes. That's quite a threshold to cross for a youngster," he added.

At this exciting time for golf in the Western Isles, Benbecula Golf Club has recently had funding approved to the tune of almost £100,000 for building a brand new clubhouse, which will replace the rudimentary brick structure that's currently being used by the club's members.

A total of £99,000 has been contributed by the club, sport scotland, and the Western Isles Council (Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar) in order to construct the new clubhouse building, which should help Benbecula to encourage more girls and lady members - as there are currently no adequate changing facilities - as well as provide indoor space for the delivery of ClubGolf.

"It's not going to be a big building," said club captain Niall McPherson. "But it is a building that we can use as part of the coaching that'll be more comfortable and where we can take the kids to do some indoor tuition, and just for basic shelter."

If all things go to plan, construction should be complete within six to eight weeks, with the clubhouse - which will include an open club room, a small kitchen, a shower and toilet room and disabled restroom facilities - opening sometime in May.

"All the members will benefit," added McPherson. "There is more of a chance they will bring along their kids and it will help us connect better with local schools with the Active Schools programme."

Only 20 miles south of Benbecula, Askernish Golf Club is also in the early stages of establishing an indoor space for ClubGolfers to enjoy.

On advice from ClubGolf Regional Manager for the Highlands & Islands, Willie MacKay, the club have combined plans for the construction of machinery shed with an indoor facility that will be equipped with all features required for ClubGolf coaching.

The original plan, which has also been funded by sport scotland, the Western Isles Council, and the LEADER Innes Gall rural development fund, includes a 45-30ft space for tuition and should be able to house around a dozen young people at a time.

Club chairman Ralph Thompson said: "The problem we have here is that, because of the weather, we get the kids, the ladies, and the gents section engaged during the summer but, by October when the weather gets bad, it all dies a death until the next spring.

"All we wanted to do is have some continuity and carry that right through the winter and with this facility we will be able to do that."

MacKay, whose job it is to liaise with clubs in his designated area in order to promote the uptake of the ClubGolf programme, has been encouraged by the progress being made in Scotland's Western Isles.

He said: "Golf development in the Western Isles over the last five years has been amazing since the Western Isles Council signed up to the ClubGolf programme and their Active Schools Team rolled out their plan. Isle of Harris Golf Club set the ball rolling and then Back Driving Range probably showed the other clubs what can be done.

"The man hours that committees and members give to provide new facilities are exceptional.  It never ceases to amaze me how problems become challenges and more people pull together to achieve their target.

"These three projects under way at present will provide a smooth pathway for juniors at Stornoway, give Benbecula a clubhouse that will see them develop a community golf club, and Askernish look forward to having a facility where indoor shelter will provide both a centre where all year round golfers can practice, as well as be used as a coach education centre for visiting PGA professionals and tutors.

"This would not be possible without the vision of the members and committee, but vital to getting the projects started are the financial support and advice from Western Isles Council, sport scotland, and LEADER Innes Gall. ClubGolf and Scottish Golf also play their part, so it really is a team effort."

Stewart Harris, Chief Executive of sport scotland, said: "With the help of the ClubGolf programme, golf on the Western Isles is flourishing and sport scotland is delighted to have provided funding for these three clubs to further improve the facilities available.

"The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles is now very much on the horizon, which gives us a unique opportunity to capitalise on the excitement which will undoubtedly be generated in the coming year.

sport scotland is committed to supporting the implementation of the ClubGolf programme, part of Scotland's commitment to the game which formed part of the successful bid to host the 2014 Ryder Cup, which has already introduced over 180,000 children to the sport."

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