Golf teachers' new mantra: the progression principle

The search for young talent
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There is no shortage of schemes aiming to introduce golf to new players, particularly youngsters. But then there is no shortage of organisations in golf to run them. It may or may not be a surprise, then, that one of the most successful launched in the last couple of years is completely independent of the myriad golfing bodies, and started life merely as a way for a busy club professional to look after a few juniors.

Dave Gosling was the professional at Cotswold Edge in Gloucestershire and wondering how he could get youngsters to become more interested in the game while fulfilling the rest of his duties. "It is something I was and am passionate about," Gosling said, "and that passion has carried us a long way." He is now the managing director of Young Masters Golf, and no less busy.

What Gosling came up with was a teaching scheme that progressively introduces youngsters to the skills, the rules and the etiquette of the game. Courses last for eight weeks and there are five levels, with badges, merit points, quizzes and competitions.

What Young Masters Golf does is sign up teaching professionals to run courses at their clubs or driving ranges. They are about to recruit their 350th club. A number of pros have been taken on to help attract new clubs but, like all successful products, the scheme's biggest asset has been word of mouth.

"I heard about YMG from a friend who is a professional," said Duncan Lambert, of the West Malling club in Kent. "And I've told other pros about it. It is the first time we have had a complete induction package for juniors. We can all do the teaching, but what they provide is the structure and the organisation."

Suzy Watt, the professional at the Amida club in Hampton, south-west London, a pay-and-play course which used to be run by the council but has now been privatised, heard about YMG from no lesser a source than the Duke of York. The Duke, the captain of the Royal and Ancient, was at the reopening of the club on Wednesday and met the winners of the YMG Champion of Champions tournament held at Celtic Manor last month.

"I am an American," said Watt, "and there were all sorts of schemes where I was growing up to get kids into golf. I was looking to do something similar here and it was great to find this was available. It is a great way of learning the game. We had two courses fully signed up before we had even opened."

According to Lambert, the fundamental difference with the YMG scheme is the cost factor. Before, it was too cheap. "When you charged £1 or £2 for junior lessons, there was little commitment on either side. Now we have the confidence to charge there is something in it for us, but it also means the children keep coming."

Gosling got the idea originally from his own sons. "They did all the usual things, music lessons, swimming lessons. But once they had learnt to swim, I wondered why they kept wanting to go. They said that now they had their 200m badge, they wanted to get their 400m badge. There was a whole course of different skills to be learned. We had nothing like that in golf."

So Gosling sat down and created a programme. Soon he had lots of groups of youngsters on the scheme, and then waiting lists developed. Whole football teams, or children from the same street, would sign up together. From having seven or eight youngsters with handicaps, there were soon 40 or 50 playing in club competitions. Suddenly, the junior team were winning trophies and bringing prestige to the club.

Friends of Gosling, including former Tour pro Nigel Blenkarne, EGU coach for the South-west, persuaded him to formalise the scheme, and they then spent a year developing it into something that could be marketed to other professionals. They started recruiting clubs two years ago, and in the last 12 months alone over 11,000 children, from the ages of four to 15, have gone through the scheme.

While children of golfers tend to be exposed to the game, its rules and etiquette, most of those joining YMG have no golfing background, and yet over 90 per cent have carried on with the game. An advanced scheme is in the works, while a programme for women is to be launched during the Wales Open at Celtic Manor. There is also interest from 22 other countries.

There is anecdotal evidence of children improving their schoolwork, while one social worker in Bristol persuaded youngsters from one rough estate to join up with spectacular results. "They were not the sort of kids who were used to queueing up quietly with a meal ticket for lunch, but that's exactly what they were doing at one of our tournaments," said Gosling.

Gosling also relates the story of a shy seven-year-old from Devon, who stayed in his room and had no friends before joining the scheme. But at an end-of-term school function he shocked his teacher by requesting to speak about his new interest in golf. "His parents said, 'Thanks for giving us back our child'," Gosling said. "I thought that was a bit heavy, but they couldn't believe how outgoing their son had become."