A Scottish Government-backed initiative to support promising professionals has been branded “pathetic” after the country’s latest Challenge Tour recruit was turned down for backing this season.
Paul Shields, who came through the Scottish amateur ranks after being picked out by talent spotters when he was 13, earned his place on the second-tier circuit through playing in all six rounds at the European Tour Qualifying School in December.
In a real blow to the 25-year-old, however, he has failed to secure help from Scottish Golf Support Limited, despite meeting the minimum criteria set for men making the transition from amateur to professional when that iniative was launched in 2010 through a £1 million investment by sportscotland.
Three Scottish players on the Ladies European Tour – Sally Watson, Kelsey MacDonald and Gemma Dryburgh – were named earlier this week as this year’s recipients of support, which was worth around £23,000 each to both Watson and Pamela Pretswell last season.
It’s the second year in a row that a male player has failed to secure backing through the initiative but, unlike 12 months ago, the board led by Graeme Simmers, a past R&A captain and former Scottish Sports Council chairman, had a genuine candidate this time around in Shields. “I was disappointed to have my opportunity for the Government funding denied,” he told The Scotsman from Portugal, where the Kirkhill player has spent the last week with his coach, Brian Gemmell, preparing for the start of the Challenge Tour season in Kenya next month.
“I did appeal the decision and it was determined that, after further review, the decision still stood.
“I find it hard to believe that the SGSL have come to the decision that with all their resources they have determined they can not offer players like myself any opportunity to enhance my preparation or my first season on the Challenge Tour.”
The snub comes a year after Heather MacRae, one of three Scots to secure cards for the Ladies European Tour last season through its Qualifying School, was told she wouldn’t be receiving SGSL support due to Steve Paulding, Scottish Golf’s performance manager, believing it was “unlikely” she could become a winner on the circuit.
MacRae said she’d been left “pretty shocked” by the nature of that knockback and this latest controversry surrounding the initiative has fuelled a fresh wave of anger within the Scottish game.
“I’m sick of this board, to be honest,” said one leading home-based player, who asked to be unnamed. “It must make guys wonder if it’s worth bothering to try to improve because if you do, you probably can’t play a full year due to lack of support. It’s pathetic.” It was announced a year ago that the programme was “under review” but the findings of an in-depth University of Stirling have yet to be made public.
Shields represented Scotland at every level from under-14s upwards, including an Eisenhower Trophy appearance in 2012. He’s spent the last three seasons cutting his teeth as a professional on the third-tier PGA EuroPro Tour.
Now, having earned the chance to move on from that, he clearly feels that he has been let down at a time when Scotland is facing its biggest struggle ever with the transition of players from amateur to professional.
“I have a proven track record showing my success when the Scottish Golf Union [now part of the amalgamated Scottish Golf] has supported me,” he added.