Scotland’s struggle with the transition from amateur to professional golf over the past decade hasn’t necessarily been down to a lack of support. Team Scottish Hydro, after all, has provided backing for a number of players since it was set up in 2011, while £1 million was also invested through Scottish Golf Support Ltd, a partnership backed by the Scottish Government.
There’s been a long-held belief, though, that something that was actually joined up in terms of it involving amateurs as they make that journey towards turning professional was a missing part in the bamboozling puzzle that has become Scottish golf at that transitonal phase, which makes the home of golf’s new support package arguably the most significant so far.
In what is believed to be a first in Scottish sport, a public-private partnership has been established involving some of the game’s main stakeholders. Through Aberdeen Asset Management, SSE Scottish Hydro and Bounce Sports Management joining forces with Scottish Golf, the governing body, the best young players will be helped to prepare as best as they possibly can for life in the paid ranks, including playing in pro events, then supported at the outset of that next big step in their careers.
Grant Forrest and Ewen Ferguson, two members of the 2015 winning Walker Cup team and both in their first full seasons as professionals, are the first recipients of the new support, which will be offered mainly on the basis of it having been earned through performances at the top end of the amateur game but not solely on that. Other boxes will have to be ticked, too.
“We have long held the belief the key is catching them before they turn pro, making sure that when the change does come, they walk out the front door with all the little bits and pieces in the background ready to help them and give them half a chance at the start,” said Iain Stoddart, founding partner of Bounce Sports and the driving force behind the initiative “Hopefully, this gives the two guys here [Forrest and Ferguson] and those who come along after every chance of succeeding in what has been, historically, a very fragile stage of their careers.
“Aberdeen and Hydro, in their own ways, have been huge suppporters of Scottish golf but probably haven’t done much together. Now, along with Scottish Golf, we’ve brought it all together so everyone is communicating as we push the top amateurs in the country forward with everything we have to help them. This initiative is a sort of umbilical cord. Once the player gets to the main tour, you can cut that cord, introduce new sponsors etc.”
Colin Banks, SSE Scottish Hydro’s head of sponsorship, described the new initiative as a “green shoot” and said that being “united in strength” would give Scotland’s top young golfers a better chance to succeed. Aberdeen Asset Management has already done more than could ever be asked in that respect, but Stephen Doherty, its head of global equities, is excited about this being a “template” that will give players the best opportunity possible. “We want a roadmap laid out and we want a more professional approach while the players are still amateurs,” he said.
Forrest and Ferguson both played in Challenge Tour events as amateurs last season. “That was so crucial to me finding my feet and knowing what to expect,” admitted Forrest. “The more opportunities you can get before and just after you turn pro are so important to help you hit the ground running.”
He’s certainly done that, making the cut in the Dunhill Links last October on his professional debut and, just last weekend, finishing fifth on the Challenge Tour in Turkey.
While some people believe it is not Scottish Golf’s role to be involved in preparing players to become pros, CEO Blane Dodds disagrees. “We have a big investment in players from a young age. It’s pointless to do that and them simply walk away [when they turn pro],” he said. “We want to see that investment turn into a return by putting them in the best possible place to perform and take away all the other hassle that goes with life on the tour. We can’t be successful in isolation, we need to work together and this is a big step forward in that respect.”