FORMER Dalmahoy professional Stuart Callan is the driving force behind a junior golf exchange programme between a Lothians club and Croatia going from strength to strength.
Callan spent five years in the Balkan country before returning home to take up the post of club professional at Bathgate.
He was instrumental in a small group of young Croatian players coming over to Scotland seven years ago to help broaden their golfing experience.
And the success of that trip has now blossomed into a full-blown exchange programme that now sees Bathgate juniors travel to Croatia every October.
“The initial trip was designed to help the development of the Croatian boys by exposing them to the higher level of play in the Scottish junior golf scene,” said Callan. “Golf in Croatia is very much in its infancy and the junior players have limited facilities for practice and a shortage of experienced players to learn from.
“The trip proved to be very successful and the clubs we visited were keen to become involved in supporting ongoing connections. At that time, it was agreed that we should repeat the trip in 2006 and include an exchange mechanism through which some Scottish junior golfers could visit Croatia during the October school holiday.
“Since then we have had groups of golfers travelling each summer and October to the two countries and all the juniors involved have been treated with wonderful hospitality from the clubs on both sides.”
The 2012 trip for the Bathgate juniors took place in October during the school break.
Through a series of fund-raising activities, including the club’s annual Tartan Tour Pro-Am, money was generated to cover the cost of the trip. “The juniors who travelled to Croatia in October qualified for the trip through events played in June and July this year,” added Callan.
“We played a triangular match with the Croatian juniors and the Slovenian national squad for under 15s and under 13s at Castle Otocec in Slovenia.
“There was an eight-boy/girl team representing each. The general secretary of the Slovenian Golf Association attended the event and immediately recognised the benefits to his younger junior squads.
“We are now discussing the possibility of including a summer trip to Scotland for those squads.” Bathgate’s Scott McCandless won the individual trophy in that event with an impressive one-over-par scratch score on a layout used for the European Universities Championship in 2011.
“During my five years in Croatia I worked very hard on developing the junior participation in golf and the exchange programme was one of the initiatives we developed to motivate and reward the juniors for their efforts,” said Callan.
“It’s the same now at Bathgate. The October trip has proven to be a great success in terms of motivating the juniors to work at their game and we have seen a noticeable improvement in the standard of play of the juniors at the club.
“We have also noticed a significant increase in the numbers of juniors actively participating in the sport at the club.
“The trip also offers the juniors a fascinating insight to the cultural differences between the two countries both in golfing and social terms.”