How Kent is teeing up success for the future as The Open approaches
PUBLISHED: 08:54 10 July 2017 | UPDATED: 08:54 10 July 2017
There are a number of schemes across the county being implemented to increase participation in golf
As The Open golf championship returns this weekend, confidence is growing in the county that Kent could soon produce a player capable of winning the famous Claret Jug.
The event rolls into Lancashire on Sunday before it returns to Royal St George’s in Sandwich in 2020, by which time sports chiefs are hoping even more young talent will be beginning to emerge.
In Bearsted’s Matt Ford, Kent has a regular on the European Tour, but arguably nobody to really challenge the elite at showpiece tournaments like The Open.
However, a number of initiatives are underway across the county to help break down typical barriers to the sport, and encourage a whole new generation of young golfers.
In 2000, the Golf Foundation launched a ‘mini’ version of the sport specifically for use by young children in primary and junior school, known as Tri-Golf.
This involved developing youngster-friendly equipment that has proved to be popular with children, affordable for schools, and easy for teachers to use.
In addition, resources giving ideas for games and activities that can be linked with the PE and educational curriculum were produced, and a three-hour teacher training workshop was introduced.
All of this has led to an explosion in the amount of golf activity taking place in primary and junior schools.
The Golf Foundation’s development manager for Kent and the south east, Andy Wright, told Kent News last year he hoped Danny Willett’s Masters triumph would help spark further interest but says recent growth can be attributed to a number of different factors.
“Participation numbers have been good but there are a number of factors, not just Danny’s success,” he said this week.
“You could say if he had kept the ball rolling the impact would have been even greater but the game is continuing to grow and more and more clubs are getting kids involved.”
Golf often has to overcome the stereotype that it is only for those living in rural, affluent areas, and so the foundation has also introduced schemes like StreetGolf, where kids hone skills by chipping balls into basketball hoops, for example.
Mr Wright says the project encourages creativity, which can then be transferred onto the course.
England Golf is the governing body of the sport at an amateur level and club support officer for Kent, Charles Molony, also believes the drive to increase enthusiasm among youngsters is proving successful.
He told Kent News: “In Kent we have got golf clubs that are being proactive and changing offers to suit the changing lifestyle of people and offer more value for money.
“Some are quicker to change and stay ahead of the curve, but some are stuck in the Stone Age a bit and say ‘we’ve always done this, it worked 20 years ago’ - my job is to try and change that.
“Up until last year, there was a two per cent decline in numbers but now we’ve stabilised it.
“Golf is perceived as a rule-orientated and competitive sport – if you go into a club there are competition boards everywhere.
“There may still be that perception but if you call up a golf club, nine out of ten of them will be an academy membership or trial membership.
“It’s about getting that person on the conveyor belt. People are not going to make a big jump from temptation to full membership – you have to offer little breadcrumbs.”
Some youngsters, however, are throwing themselves into the game from a young age, such as Matt Ford’s seven-year-old daughter, Teagan, who is hoping a Masters for ladies will be established in the coming years.
She has attended Tudor Park in Bearsted from the age of two, and is a junior club member and a regular face at its Junior Golf Camps, which are hosted during school holiday times.
Although the camps are attracting more girls these days, in the past, Teagan often found herself the only one playing alongside boys, but that didn’t faze her.
“I don’t mind playing with boys and I like to show them that it is not just boys that can play golf,” she said.
As for her father, he is not too far away from being able to dine at the sport’s top table, according to Mr Molony, who emphasised how small the line between success and failure can be at a professional level.
“I don’t know why we haven’t got anyone in the top 100 in the world, but it’s just very competitive, and the margins at that level are so fine,” he said.
“What Matt is doing differently to someone like Justin Rose, it’s probably a shot per round - that’s the difference between being in the top 10 and winning millions of pounds and just getting by.”
Steve Wolfe is CEO of Kent Sports Trust Foundation, which aims to increase participation across the county, and also hopes to see a star figure emerging from the county in the coming years.
He said: “For a county with a deep and rich association with golf, most notably being home to three current or former Open Championship venues, it is strange and puzzling that Kent hasn’t produced a top-class golfer.
“And with almost 100 courses in total in the Garden of England, we aren’t short of facilities here.
“Having had meetings with Charles Molony, we know first-hand that the sport’s authorities are trying to engage with young people and encourage the next generation to pick up a set of clubs via the Golf Express initiative and free community sessions on Margate beach, for example.
“Success breeds success to a large extent, though, so once Kent does produce its own version of Justin Rose or Danny Willett, a crop of suitably inspired international-class talent could well emerge from within the county.
“Sporting success on the whole is cyclical, of course, so fingers crossed that golf’s answer to Dina Asher-Smith, Sam Billings, Tom Ransley, and Ashley Jackson here in Kent is just around the corner.”