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Coach Spencer Henderson takes post in Azerbaijan

Spencer Henderson is Azerbaijan's first national coach. Picture: Peter Kelly

Spencer Henderson is Azerbaijan's first national coach. Picture: Peter Kelly

SPENCER Henderson, who worked for the Scottish Golf Union for eight years, has become Azerbaijan’s first national coach and can’t wait to get his teeth into trying to put a country that has just one 18-hole course on to the golfing map.

SPENCER Henderson, who worked for the Scottish Golf Union for eight years, has become Azerbaijan’s first national coach and can’t wait to get his teeth into trying to put a country that has just one 18-hole course on to the golfing map.

It’s the second time in his career that Falkirk-born Henderson has taken up a ground-breaking post in the game, having left his role as the Scottish national junior coach four years ago to also become Turkey’s first national coach.

An enjoyable spell for the most part there ended in frustration as money was eventually channelled more towards hosting events like the one in Belek that has Tiger Woods signed up to play for three years, rather than investing in emerging Turkish talent.

However, Henderson’s enthusiasm for a coaching challenge, even one that involves starting from scratch, has been well and truly restored by the remit he’s been handed by the fledgling Azerbaijan Golf Federation.

“I will be based primarily at the newly-opened Azerbaijan Golf Federation Golf Academy in the capital city Baku,” said the 40-year-old former Duff House Royal assistant professional. “It is certainly the most impressive Federation headquarters that I have encountered on my travels.

“They have completed a ‘mini’ golf academy with driving range, short game area, huge putting green and two indoor simulators, which will give locals the opportunity to experience golf for the first time.

“The vision of the Federation president, Mr Anar Mammadov, to develop golf in Azerbaijan is the main reason that I accepted the offer. He clearly has a passion to develop every area of golf, from educating juniors, creating an Azeri PGA coaching system, building world-class facilities, hosting professional events to competing on the world stage.”

The country’s first 18-hole course has just been completed by Troon Golf, a renowned design company, and Azerbaijan will join Kazakhstan as a host venue on the European Challenge Tour in August.

“As the Federation is only one year old, the golf scene has yet to really be established but, with the Academy and National Golf Club, it is a really exciting time to be involved,” added Henderson, who was based in Cupar when he worked for the SGU.

“I will be primarily responsible for putting structures and strategies in place from grass-roots level to developing and coaching the Azerbaijan national teams in the future.

“Having worked with clubgolf, the SGU and the Turkish Federation, seeing what was and was not successful gives me a clear vision of where I would like AGF to develop over the next 10-20 years.

“What is really exciting is how open-minded and hungry everyone working at the Federation is to succeed. Not many people get this opportunity in their lifetime so I feel privileged and excited about the role. It’s a chance to make history.

“The challenges will be prioritising the key objectives over the next couple of years. I believe we have to develop the coaches, players, facilities and tournaments, as we currently have nothing in place. This will obviously take time and is vital to do correctly from the beginning.”

In his previous role, Henderson was responsible for preparing Turkish teams when the country hosted the men’s and women’s amateur world championships in 2012. Both sides improved by 40 shots on their previous efforts in those events, with the women achieving their best finish in the Espirito Santo Trophy.

“I feel I instilled a good work ethic and desire, which was certainly lacking before I took up that post,” reflected Henderson.

“On a personal level it was great experiencing a new culture, learning a new language and living in a city of 20 million people was a wee bit different from being back in Cupar.

“Following the World Amateur Team Championships, though, I was told that the Federation decided to go down a totally different route, focusing more on establishing Antalya as a tourist destination and hosting events such as the World Final [now the Turkish Open], Challenge Tour and LET.

“The President of the Federation has done an incredible job in this respect and has put Turkey firmly on the golfing map. Sadly, in my opinion, the national team and developing junior golf in Turkey was no longer a priority.

“They have not had a qualified coach or structured national programme for the past 15 months and as a result the players I worked with have certainly suffered.”

While Henderson makes no secret of the fact that he’d like to test himself against the top college coaches in America one day, he’s happy for the time being on a journey that is gradually taking him in the opposite direction.

“I must admit that, if five years ago, standing freezing on the range at the Scottish Boys Championship, you had told me that I would end up in Azerbaijan via Turkey I would have questioned your sanity,” he joked. “But I am a firm believer in the adage of ‘better to regret something that you have done than to regret something that you have not done’.”

 

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