Martin Dempster: Junior golf will be boosted by the ‘Tiger Effect’

The sight of a little lad receiving a golf lesson at a Scottish club isn’t normally something that would necessarily catch one’s eye, but it did on this occasion. Why? Well, I instantly wondered if it was maybe due to Tiger Woods becoming a major winner again.

Tiger Woods teaches an eight-year-old budding golfer at his clinic. Now, following his victory in the Masters, junior sessions at clubs around the world are expected to experience a surge in youngsters taking up the sport. Picture: Getty.

Not entirely, I subsequently discovered, as the youngster in question was mad keen before Tiger claimed his fifth Masters victory and 15th major success a week past Sunday, but he had been glued to that incredible final round from Augusta National along with his father.

The following day, on another visit to Aberdour Golf Club, my eye was caught again, this time by a different youngster out enjoying a game, by the looks of things, with his father and grandfather and, once more, it made me think about a probable “Tiger effect”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Yes, of course, youngsters have been coming into the game 
during the 11 years that Woods went without winning a major, players such as Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood and Jordan Spieth having helped attract that next generation of golfers.

Now they know, however, exactly why dads would regale them with tales about Tiger winning his first Green Jacket by 12 shots at only 21 or storming to a 15-shot victory in a US Open at Pebble Beach or plotting his way around the Old Course St Andrews without 
straying into a bunker all week as he triumphed there in the 2000 Open Championship.

It truly is fantastic that youngsters now have their own memory of what a wonderful golfer Woods is and, though the sun being out definitely helped, it is a long time since golf clubs in Scotland – around the world, too – have experienced the sort of buzz that appears to be evident in the wake of what happened in the opening men’s major of the 2019 campaign.

“Everyone has been talking about it when they’ve come into the shop,” said Allan Knox, the PGA professional at Aberdour and the man giving that lesson at the Fife club. “Both supporters and non-supporters have been recognising his incredible achievement. I even had some of my beginner juniors asking if I watched it.”

The junior foundations run in Scotland by Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher both thrived without Woods being at the top of his game, but there’s a strong possibility that numbers will rise on the back of the 43-year-old pulling off one of the greatest sporting comebacks after requiring four back operations, the last of which entailed spinal fusion surgery.

“We have run three events since Tiger won and there was definitely more talk about Tiger from the kids,” said Scott Knowles, who runs the Stephen Gallacher Foundation. “Also, at our Easter Sunday event at Swanston, we had 50 kids – another 45 were playing in the East Lothian Junior League at Longniddry – whereas it would normally be around 45.”

Carnoustie, where Woods sent a tangible buzz of excitement around the course when his name appeared on the leaderboard on the Saturday in last year’s Open Championship before using that encouraging performance as a springboard for his latest Masters success, can expect to feel that “Tiger effect” this Friday.

The Nestie, a free-to-play, 
five-hole course, re-opens then, having been re-designed since it was closed ahead of being used as part of the spectators’ village for the Claret Jug event, with more than 100 juniors set to be in 
attendance with their families.

Just imagine how excited those kids are going to be as they take part in an event that marks the start of a new season for the “Carnoustie Craws” junior programme, which is set to include around 200 juniors, more than a third of which are girls, between the ages of five and 14 enjoying weekly coaching and playing 
sessions at the Angus venue.

Like him or not – and there are still lots of people in that latter category – there can be no denying, surely, that Tiger has indeed handed golf a huge boost, though, unfortunately in the case of this correspondent, some of his magic has not rubbed off straight away.

Failing to break 90 and finishing third last in a Wednesday medal wasn’t exactly what I’d been looking for in my first post-Masters game. Nor was losing the first five holes and being hammered in a match-play tie two days later. Both hurt like hell at the time and it could be a long, hard season if I can’t stop fearing three or even four putts on every green.

I’m still feeling that “Tiger effect”, though, and, therefore, can’t wait to get back out there again to see if I can do better.