Former British Open champion Paul Lawrie opened a new junior golf facility today at Shetland Golf Club, one of Scotland’s most northerly clubs offering junior coaching through the national programme, clubgolf.
The new facility, funded by £5,000 from sportscotland which supported the project with expertise right through its planning and development process, comprises a junior driving range, practice nets, mats and three greens for pitching and putting.
Junior golf is close to Paul Lawrie’s heart. Through his Paul Lawrie Foundation he aims to support and sustain an interest and enthusiasm for the game.
“I am delighted to be opening this facility at Shetland Golf Club,” he said. “It is fantastic to see projects like this in the islands and I am sure this will be a huge success. Everybody involved should feel very proud of what they have achieved.”
When clubgolf, Scotland’s legacy for staging the 2014 Ryder Cup, was introduced to Shetland in 2006 Shetland Golf Club saw the potential for building its youth membership and signed up.
“Mine was probably the last big generation of juniors we had and I’m 41 now,” said club captain Erik Burgess. “I wouldn’t say it died a death but it was becoming a struggle to get guys to come out and play.”
Five club members became trained and qualified to coach Stage 1 of the clubgolf programme. Two years later qualified volunteer coach numbers have grown to 15, giving the club a coaching capacity that would be hard to match anywhere on the Scottish mainland. Over the same time the numbers of junior club members have grown from 26 to 80.
With structured junior golf coaching firmly established the one challenge remaining was how to extend a coaching season shortened by weather and lack of light. A solution is the new facility.
“Our playing season runs from the start of April into October but we are restricted with the weather and April and September are complete pot luck,” said Mr Burgess.
“The new facility is a great improvement and a great help to what we can offer the juniors in coaching.
“We can now split them up into four or five groups. Some can go to the driving range, others to the driving nets or the pitch and putt green. By breaking the group down into smaller numbers we get to spend more time with them and can dedicate more time to individual kids.”
While the club has been busy developing junior coaching, Shetland’s primary schools have fuelled the interest. For the past four years all 32 schools have offered clubgolf’s introductory game annually, giving over 240 Primary 5 children a first experience of golf during school time.
“This new junior golf facility is a crucial link in the pathway for juniors to progress through clubgolf coaching into the adult game,” said clubgolf’s Highlands & Islands regional manager Willie Mackay. “The club has put in a tremendous effort over the last few years to develop and support junior golf. It couldn’t have happened without the volunteer base they have created.”
Shetland Golf Club is one of 322 clubs in Scotland offering clubgolf coaching. According to Mr Burgess “all the hard work has been well worth it and we’re reaping the rewards with some good young talented golfers”.
Alan Harcus, junior convener at the time of this development and the person that successfully handled the sportscotland funding application, is delighted to see how junior numbers have grown.
“This facility is just what Shetland Golf Club needs as our junior membership has increased fourfold in the last couple of years,” he said. “Having a purpose built practice area will help develop golf in the club without restricting other members’ use of the course.
“The enthusiasm of the kids is very good and their development because of this has been excellent. Several of the junior members have now reached a standard where they are also able to compete in the gents competitions. This is testament to their commitment and hard work throughout the last few years.
“I must take this opportunity to thank sportscotland for providing financial assistance, guidance and support all the way through from initial planning through to the completion of the development, Edwin Williamson and staff for carrying out the work and the committee for their continued support in the development of this facility and junior golf as a whole.”