Martin Dempster: Juniors golfers must be welcomed

Scotland No 1 Marc Warren has unhappy memories of intolerance by a club secretary. Picture: Jane Barlow
Scotland No 1 Marc Warren has unhappy memories of intolerance by a club secretary. Picture: Jane Barlow
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TO build the game’s bright future under the new Scottish Golf banner, it’s important that we look back. Not only to include the good things going forward, but also to remember the bad aspects and how they must continue to be stamped out.

On a day of celebration as the Scottish Golf Union and Scottish Ladies Golfing Association came under the one umbrella, Marc Warren’s words may not exactly have been what officials would have liked to hear, but well done to the Scottish No 1 for telling the truth as he recalled his days in junior golf.

“I don’t go back to the golf club I grew up playing at as we were treated quite poorly,” said Warren, referring to East Kilbride, where he was made an honorary life member in 2002 in recognition of a successful amateur career that was topped off by a winning Walker Cup appearance. “Obviously, it’s changed days, but the secretary at the time called the junior section an ‘insidious growth’ and what happened then leaves a really sour taste.”

No wonder and, as Warren continued with his tale, he left Paul Lawrie, sitting beside him, shaking his head in total and utter disbelief. “We had a really strong junior section, including three internationals – Craig Heap, Stephen McGavin and myself – but now I think only two of that are members. They were lost purely because of what happened and I possibly could have been as well but, luckily, I began to get encouragement when I started playing at other places,” added the three-times European Tour winner. “The point is how easily you can be put off by some clubs being overly stuffy. It’s totally unnecessary.”

He’s right, of course, and so is Lawrie about some of the things he experienced cutting his golfing teeth at Kemnay and now looks back on believing it is detrimental to making golf clubs a welcoming environment for juniors rather than having them arrive there fearful of putting a step out of place and getting a clip around the ear. “My experience wasn’t as bad as that,” said the Open champion after listening to Warren. “When I was a junior, you couldn’t play until 4 o’clock, and that was only till 4.30. So you had only half an hour to get 30 or 40 kids out. Why not make it 5.30? Rules like that have got to be changed by clubs. That attitude has got to change. We also need to get them to relax the rules on jeans and phones and take away things like ‘no chipping’ signs. It’s not every club. It’s just some clubs who are steeped in tradition and have been doing things for as long as you can remember. It’s quite difficult for these clubs, but I think it needs to go a little bit that way to make them more welcoming.”

As someone with a hands-on role in a junior Foundation that involves a variety of sports, Lawrie is in a good position to offer a considered view about how he thinks golf can grow. “At the Foundation, it’s mainly the mothers that bring the kids as the mother is usually the taxi driver, so if you can make women more comfortable and accepted at golf clubs, I think you’ll get numbers going up and family golf is brilliant, no question,” he said.

That’s why that particular concept is now being pushed more than ever, though, in hindsight, a trick was surely missed in that respect when the Clubgolf junior initiative was rolled out in 2003 as part of Scotland’s commitment to golf in the build-up to last year’s Ryder Cup. Better late than never, though, and there can surely be no doubt that few junior conveners these days would even dare to describe youngsters as an “insidious growth”.

Apologies to the hundreds of volunteers around Scotland for just picking out two individuals, but I’ve seen the likes of Willie MacKay, a driving force of Clubgolf in the Highlands & Islands, and Iain Holt, who has mainly been responsible for the scheme being embraced so enthusiastically by his club, Turnhouse, at work with juniors and they are like night and day to the one that Warren came across early in his golfing career.

Golf, of course, will always have its critics and watching the sport being played at a snail’s pace, as it was yet again in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, can do nothing to attract newcomers, young or old, into the sport. Scotland is really lucky, though, that, in addition to the work being carried out at grassroots level by the governing body, we now have both Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher providing plentiful opportunities for youngsters, both boys and girls, through their respective foundations, which are a better way of giving back to the game than simply seeing players “host” tournaments, as is happening when the British Masters makes its return at Woburn later this week.

“The kids I deal with are absolutely brilliant and we have no problems with them,” said Lawrie of what his Foundation tries to instil in youngsters. “Any trouble we get is from parents, especially on the football side, which I wish we’d never started because of that. The kids themselves are different class – very seldom do I have to say anything.”

Like Lawrie and Warren, Carly Booth sees enormous benefit going forward from a unified body now being in place in Scotland, believing it has finally put the women on an even footing after years of being the poor relations, both in terms of trips abroad and also in the clothing department. “When I first came on to the SLGA scene playing for Scotland at 11, I used to have to share my outfits with Lynn Kenny,” she said. “We would give our blazers back and they would send you whatever size they had left. It could even have been an XL.”

Yet, at the same time, her big brother, Wallace, would be heading out to represent his country looking like a Saville Row mannequin. “We never really had the same privileges as the guys, but I think this merger will be a huge help. When I heard it was happening I thought ‘about time’,” added Booth. “It will help boost the ladies and younger generation hopefully, giving them more opportunities than we maybe had as juniors.”