Martin Dempster on golf: Team Scottish Hydro is proving a fruitful venture

Scott Henry. Picture: Greg Macvean
Scott Henry. Picture: Greg Macvean
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CONTRARY to a claim made by First Minster Alex Salmond, Edinburgh Castle wasn’t staging its first golf-related announcement when, earlier this year, a new partnership was unveiled for the Scottish Open involving Aberdeen Asset Management and the Scottish Government.

Normally someone who is reasonably switched on when it comes to golf-related matters, he’d obviously forgotten, or not been told, that the iconic venue had also hosted an equally-significant announcement, certainly for some participants of the Royal & Ancient game in this country, more than a year earlier.

It was the launch of Team Scottish Hydro, an initiative spawned by Iain Stoddart, the co-founder of Edinburgh-based Bounce Sports Marketing and manager of a stable that now includes the likes of Stephen Gallacher, David Drysdale and Alastair Forsyth, to provide support for Challenge Tour players.

In short, Scottish golf had been crying out for such a programme to be slotted into the system and all credit to Scottish Hydro, which already sponsored a Challenge Tour event by then and has since increased its support of Scottish golf to include grass-roots projects, for stumping up the cash.

Like most new initiatives, it could have taken a year or two to see something tangible from the Team Scottish Hydro set-up. Yet, two seasons in a row now, it has delivered in exactly the way Stoddart, a gregarious character, had envisaged from the moment the idea started running through his mind.

Twelve months ago, Stirling’s Craig Lee, a former Scottish Boys’ Stroke-Play champion and Northern Open winner, was celebrating earning his European Tour card after finishing 14th on the Challenge Tour money-list. Now Craig Doak, a two-time Tartan Tour No 1, has followed in his spikemarks, the Greenock man having claimed tenth spot on this year’s order of merit on the second-tier

Another member of the Tartan Army, Clydebank’s Scott Henry, is also stepping up to the main Tour next year and I’d also like to highlight the different form of support he’s received at a crucial juncture in his career.

Let’s linger on Lee and Doak for a moment, though. Neither is a spring chicken – Lee is 35; his compatriot turns the same age in December. With all due respect, they’re unlikely to become regulars in majors or be challenging to break into the world’s top 100.

Yet, they’ve worked hard over the past decade or so and shown they can take knocks on the chin, so both deserved to earn spots at the top table in European golf. Lying 113th in the Race to Dubai and with, probably, only one more event left, Lee faces a fight to hold on to his card for next season, but he’s certainly not looked out of place on the big stage and, having also been there once already when he was a bit wetter behind the ears, Doak should feel confident that he’ll give a good account of himself, too.

With his European Tour triumphs and, of course, a winning Ryder Cup appearance, Paul Lawrie, in particular, has helped instil a new wave of pride in Scottish golf this year. Richie Ramsay, Catriona Matthew and Carly Booth also deserve praise for victories on the main professional platforms.

But, in order to ensure a bright future, players have to be constantly moving up rungs on the ladder. Which is why initiatives such as Team Scottish Hydro are vital. Callum Macaulay, a member of Scotland’s Eisenhower Trophy-winning team in 2008, has been one of its members for the past two years.

He’ll be disappointed, no doubt, to have finished 52nd on the money list this season. But, if he keeps working hard and believing in his own ability, having come within a whisker of winning on the 
European Tour right at the start of his professional career, the Tulliallan man could be the next player to earn that step up.

Jack Doherty and Andrew McArthur will also be using Lee and Doak as their inspiration next year, as will Ross Kellett who, in his rookie season, has used the third-tier Alps Tour to earn a spot on the Challenge Tour and, therefore, is seeing his career move in the right 

It takes time to reach the promised land of the European Tour. Just ask Henry. He’d been earmarked as one of Scottish golf’s brightest hopes seven years ago, when he made a successful defence of the Scottish Boys’ title.

Yet, from turning professional in 2007, it has taken five years for Henry, now 25, to secure his big chance.

Henry’s help has come from Scottish Golf Support Ltd, a body set up to channel 
Government funding worth £1 million, which is being spread over five years, to players, both men and women, trying to make that crucial final move up golf’s skyscraper to success.

Three Scottish players earning European Tour cards in two seasons off the Challenge Tour with the aid of initiatives such as Team Scottish Hydro and SGSL surely shows that, in this aspect at least, Scottish golf is definitely getting its act together.

Clubgolf still has to prove it is making a difference

ADMIRED as it is – European Ryder Cup director Richard Hills, for one, constantly sings the project’s praises – I have still to be convinced that clubgolf, Scotland’s junior initiative, has changed the face of our game beyond putting a plastic club in the hands of umpteen thousand kids at some point over the past nine years.

We should have seen a few youngsters from non-golfing hotbeds in Scotland coming through the system and making their mark in national events. Yet, and I’d sincerely like someone to prove me wrong about this, most of our leading lights at junior level would probably have found their way into the game without such a scheme being operated.

In order for clubgolf to be deemed a total success, those seven, eight and nine-year-olds being introduced to the sport for the first time also have to be kept in the game, ie taking up membership at a time when clubs need all the new blood they can possibly get.

I’ve not seen any figures to indicate that part of the initiative is ticking any boxes but, in fairness to the team involved behind the scenes, they are devoted to it and continue to work hard for the betterment of Scottish golf.

The recent announcement that 50 development centres are to be set up around Scotland is an acknowledgement that a piece was missing in the jigsaw, as they will see youngsters aged between 11 and 17 receive specialised coaching and advice on fitness, nutrition and psychology.

They will need to have a handicap, meaning they will need to be club members, so there’s certainly some sound rationale behind this project. But is there really need for 50 such centres in Scotland?

For years, clubs have been calling on the SGU to do more them in return for the per capita fee paid by every club golfer in the country. That may be fair enough, but it doesn’t mean the clubs themselves should have less responsibility for attracting juniors and keeping them in the game.

After all, long before clubgolf came along, Scotland always managed to do a pretty good job of rearing young talent and, believe me, it’s still out there.