How clubs in Devon are recruiting more women and children as members

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 23, 2011 09:03

How clubs in Devon are recruiting more women and children as members

In an age when golf club memberships are falling and the average age of golfers across the country is still in the 50s, the state of the game is often said by ‘experts’ to be parlous.

It isn’t. With Rory McIlroy in his pomp, the women’s game going from strength to strength with emerging new talent and the interest in Ryder Cup a near fever-pitch every two years, golf is in rude health.

But it’s obvious with the game’s profile at the highest it has ever been that now is the time to strike to impact on the issues affecting golf in the 21st century.

This profound sporting enlightenment is gradually sweeping across the country and down to the grass roots level as the main golfing bodies pull together to build on this momentum and grow the game.

Among those that have seen the light is the recently created Devon Golf Partnership (DGP), which has brought together the PGA, the English Golf Union (EGU) and the English Ladies’ Golf Union (ELGA).

Formed at the start of the year and poised to move into the second stage of its development plan, which will trigger an extra £10,000 of funding, the DGP is driving the sport forward to make golf hip and cool for the iPod generation.

As DGP project leader Duncan Hasell explained, it is looking to promote golf’s beauty and benefits, while breaking down the perceived barriers – financial and cultural – which could be holding back its growth in Devon.

“What’s happening in Devon is clubs are having vacancies when they used to have waiting lists and are now sweating about what’s going to happen,” he said.

“A lot of clubs have just sat back and expected people to come through the door and play golf. Some never thought they would have to market the game and change the image. We have now got their attention because of this.

“The average age of the golfer in Devon is 61, so we’ve got to get some young faces in the game and make it accessible.

“With the likes of Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie, they are grabbing the attention and girls especially are taking notice so it’s about tapping into that, which we are doing.

“But we want to make the game more relaxed too and introduce a ‘café society’ feel in clubhouses and break down the barriers that exist.

“We want the rules of the game and etiquette observed on the course but off the course if someone wants to wear a t-shirt, jeans and trainers, what’s the problem with that? We don’t want to have barriers.

“We’re also targeting other sports. I was a latecomer to the game having played tennis to county standard. I wish I’d started earlier so we’re telling other people playing other sports about the joys of golf and to get involved now so they’ll have another sport to play when they finish playing football or rugby or whatever.”

Since being set up, the DGP has brought dozens of the county’s clubs on board and also attracted a substantial number of juniors, particularly girls, to the sport.

Among its flagship projects, which has already been a resounding success, is Newton Abbot’s Hele Park, which has seen more than 1,000 school children pick up a club for the first time in their lives under the enthusiastic eyes of PGA professionals Stuart Disney and Malcom Craig, with the full backing of the club’s owners and director of golf, Duncan Arnold.

Hele Park is one of seven clubs in the county already recognised by the Golf Foundation for its work with juniors.

These initiatives are key to the DGP fulfilling the aims of its development plan, which includes promising a five per cent growth in the game inside the next two years, while looking to increase club membership by the same figure – but with a 10 per cent increase for women, juniors and the 19 to 40 age bracket.

They have set themselves stiff but attainable targets judging by the progress of the first six months.

“We have already tripled the number of clubs applying for free club coaching grants just simply by pulling the clubs together and telling them what’s out there,” said Hasell.

“It’s created a lot of awareness about taster sessions and we’re promoting best practice in achieving sustained interest and growth such as what is happening at Hele Park.

“We’re also getting funds to finance 90 volunteers to PGA level one, so there are some quality assistants to help the pros with the running of group sessions.

“This is just the start. We have got a three year funding commitment from England Golf and there are other pots of money we can go for under the county sports partnership banner, which we aim to use to expand the game.”

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 23, 2011 09:03
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