How Madeira got children excited about golf

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 7, 2017 12:57 Updated

The small island of Madeira near Portugal has a population barely higher than a quarter of a million people. Yet, in a case study that will interest British clubs, a junior academy at one of its clubs now has more than 60 members – and many of their mothers have taken up the game. Michael Otto details this remarkable story

Junior golf is a long-term investment and most clubs don’t see it that way. They are looking for the quick fix to solve their financial problems and the dwindling membership issue.

What did we do in Palheiro Golf, one of only three golf clubs in Madeira? At the height of the financial crisis we were looking for alternative sources of income. Golf is still an elite sport in Madeira and most people, let alone youngsters, can’t afford it.

We started a summer promotion in the local paper and through social media. Kids are out of school for three months during summer holidays and their parents need to put them somewhere, as most of the time they are both working. We employed the services of a young student (studying to be a teacher) to look after the kids, and the pro was helping with the teaching.

For the little ones it doesn’t need to be golf all the time. They were also playing other games. The older ones started off with putting, chipping and the fundamentals of golf. Most of it was all about having fun.

For this the parents paid a small weekly fee, and the kids were on the premises from nine to five, including a dish of the day lunch. It wasn’t a big money spinner, but we didn’t lose money either. Some of the kids became so crazy about golf that they wanted to continue after the summer holidays.

We then started the junior academy, and today more than 60 children are members of it; not bad for a small island. They do not a pay membership fee until they are 21.

During school time our ‘junior day’ is Saturday, and they have their own pro. According to their age they all have their own competitions – putting for little ones, chip and putt, the six-hole academy course, nine holes and the more advanced ones play 18 holes. They have their own ranking and a lot of medals and prizes are given out. We contacted local companies to sponsor tournaments, asking them to pay for trophies and lunches.

In the wake of this some of the parents have now taken up golf as well and became proper members. We have started ‘golf for mums’. They were waiting for their kids to finish, and drinking coffee or watching television, so we asked them to give it a try while they were waiting. Now we have a group of ladies playing regularly in the afternoon or after work. We went to the schools and invited teachers and pupils for an open day, always under the motto ‘golf is fun’.

Finally – one comment on how my daughter started. She had accompanied me on the course since she was four or five, and started playing a bit from seven onwards. In the beginning I coached her but never put pressure on her. When it came to join the others in the group to get coaching from the pro, she wouldn’t have it since she was extremely shy. So I asked her to bring a few of her friends from school and we started ‘golf for girls’ and that did the trick. After a short while they then joined the boys and happily competed together. She is now an assistant professional at Studley Wood Golf Club in Oxfordshire. Looking at some of the kids today it is a joy to see how they have become athletes and developed a love for the game.

Kids are the future and adults should show them and make them enjoy their golf. I know a lot of clubs that are virtually dying because the membership regards children as a nuisance. Please bear in mind that Madeira is not a rich island, and most of these kids are coming from very average families. All this takes a tremendous amount of effort and goodwill from everybody involved. But if this is possible here, it should be easy somewhere else.

But it takes time.

The junior programme at Palheiro Golf

  1. It has 12 members in 2008. Today it has more than 60 ranging from four years old to 21.
  2. Two have enrolled for PGA training in the UK. One is already qualified. Another is in his native Sweden where he has received a golf scholarship.
  3. The other two golf courses on the island are running similar programmes, and the best players of each category can qualify and then take part in the annual national championships on mainland Portugal. Local government and clubs subsidise travel and accommodation expenses.
  4. Local school physics teachers are invited by the club’s professionals to learn how to teach basic golf fundamentals in school.
  5. Through the local newspaper and social media the club informs the community on a regular basis about events and open days.
  6. The older children who are qualified to play 18 holes are allowed to take part in the (adult) competitions and have their own prizes.
  7. There is no separation between boys and girls.

Michael, who retired from Palheiro Golf in 2014, is keen to point out that the credit for this achievement must go to the club, its management, its pros and everybody else involved. Contact him on: or



Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 7, 2017 12:57 Updated
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  1. Donna October 16, 04:56

    It is great to know that more people are helping to grow the game of golf. I am keen to see how else we can also benefit the Madiera very young golf juniors and like to explore how to collaborate as well. Please do connect me with person in charge. Thank you very much.

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  2. jack October 10, 08:15

    What a brilliant article – well done Michael and all the other people involved. Hope you are well. I look back fondly at my visits to Palheiro.

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