FOUR members of the Great Britain & Ireland side defending the Walker Cup in Southampton, New York, this weekend are products of a tournament conceived by Alasdair Good, the club professional at Gullane.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, Rhys Pugh, Nathan Kimsey and Max Orrin all cut their competitive teeth in the “Wee Wonders” before progressing through the amateur ranks to find themselves joining forces to take on the United States at the Golf Links of America over the next two days.
English teenager Fitzpatrick heads into the event riding the crest of a wave, having climbed to world No 1 on the back of claiming the Silver Medal in the Open Championship at Muirfield then winning the US Amateur Championship last month.
Welshman Pugh, who played on the winning GB&I team at Royal Aberdeen two years ago, also used the Wee Wonders as a springboard in his career, as did England’s Tommy Fleetwood, winner of the recent Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
Admitting it was satisfying to see so many successful graduates from the event, Good said: “When I started the Wee Wonders in 2005 it was because there was nothing by the way of a national strategy to get pre-teen children into golf.
“Once I started a coaching programme, the next step was to teach them how to play and behave on course. Due to its popularity, the demand rapidly grew and over the next few years, more on-course events were held and the Wee Wonders flag golf events went national with the help of the PGA. It was clear to see from these early events, with a format and length of course to suit young players, that not only did they enjoy the fun challenge but they had the talent and desire for more opportunities like this.
“During the next few years the event grew to over 100 events nationally and it was clear to see that the regular players were becoming more consistent and skill levels were improving.
“This also taught me about levels to which junior coaching could reach and so both the instruction and the tournament benefited and grew. The participants were enjoying the Wee Wonders events but were also learning a lot from them.
“As players got older and were able to play more events outwith my competition, they said their experiences made them less nervous and so were able to play better.”
The 2013 grand final, supported by Baillie Gifford, was held last weekend at St Andrews, where the winners included Anna McKay from Fife, Ayrshire’s Ruben Lindsay and Harry Austin from Dumfries. “Along the way there have been a few doubters as to whether ‘competition’ is good for such young people,” added Good. “I’ve never been a doubter as to the value of the Wee Wonders experience as it is so much more than a golf event.
“Youngsters learn to be organised, patient and imaginative as well being mannerly but most of all social.
“I know from speaking to many graduates of the Wee Wonders that the friendships they made still are in place today. This would play even a small part in making county, national and even GB&I teams more cohesive for these friends.
“Seeing the older and former Wee Wonders achieve the successes that they have is a great boost for junior golf. It confirms to golf clubs, governing bodies, Government and, most importantly, to junior golfers and their families that with hard work and the right guidance they can achieve the highest levels in a sport they can enjoy for a lifetime.”