Martin Dempster: Surge of female talent gives Scots golf a boost

Hannah Darling's recent victory epitomised the surge in Scottish women's golf.
Hannah Darling's recent victory epitomised the surge in Scottish women's golf.
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I t’s turning into a real purple patch for Scottish women’s amateur golf. Hot on the heels of Aboyne’s Shannon 
McWilliam securing Curtis Cup selection and Hannah Darling of Broomieknowe landing the inaugural Girls Under-16 Open Championship has come a notable title double. On the same day, Hannah McCook of Grantown-on-Spey won the Welsh Women’s Open Stroke-Play Championship at Aberdovey, and West Kilbride’s Louise Duncan lifted the Fairhaven Trophy, one of the top junior events on the British calendar.

“Great day for Scottish Golf,” wrote David Patrick, Scottish Golf’s national women’s and girls’ coach, of the Saltire flying at the top of those leaderboards in west Wales and Lancashire, where both events boasted strong fields. McCook, for instance, secured her 
victory by beating Sophie Lamb, one of McWilliam’s Curtis Cup team-mates, in a play-off.

“Hard work and perseverance paying off. Lots more to come from the group,” added Patrick.

Add in some strong recent performances by Chloe Goadby of St Regulus and Stirling University, as well as reigning Scottish Women’s champion Connie Jaffrey (Troon Ladies) continuing to see her game go from strength to strength through playing on the US college circuit, and things have certainly picked up from when there were no grounds for complaint whatsoever about a single Scot even getting close to being picked for the 2016 Curtis Cup in Ireland.

What’s making the difference? Credit must go to Patrick, a former Walker Cup player who tasted success on the Challenge Tour before switching his focus to coaching, and also Clare Queen, Scottish Golf’s head of performance, who knows the girls’ and ladies’ game inside out, having come through the amateur ranks herself before spending seven years on the Ladies European Tour.

They clearly have some 
exciting young talent to work with at the moment, which, of course, is a vital ingredient in any recipe for success, but both would be quick to admit, one suspects, that what we are seeing at the moment in Scottish women’s amateur golf has a lot to do with the amalgamation of the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association (SLGA) and the 
Scottish Golf Union (SGU) in 
October 2015.

Make no mistake, prior to then the SLGA was the poor relation of the two bodies, certainly in terms of how much was spent on investing in up-and-coming talent. There’s parity now, though. For the first time, a Scottish Golf squad that spent some time out in South Africa earlier in the year included females, namely McWilliam, McCook, Goadby and Gemma Batty of Moffat.

McWilliam won the Border Championship during that trip, giving her the springboard she needed in the battle for Curtis Cup spots, and first Goadby, notably in the British Universities & College Sports final, and now McCook have also tasted title success.

This welcome upturn in fortunes, with both Darling, in particular, and Duncan having shown that the next wave of talent could be very special, is no coincidence and what a timely boost on two fronts.

First, it has come as Scotland 
prepares to host two events that can help raise the profile of women’s golf in this country – a Gleneagles double-header as the Perthshire venue hosts the inaugural European Golf Team Championships in August before staging the Solheim Cup next September.

Interest in those events among young girls in particular can only be helped by Scots doing their country proud and it really is terrific to see this promising new era for the game in its birthplace coinciding with Catriona Matthew, the player who has flown the Saltire with class and dignity for so long on the world stage, preparing to lead Europe into battle as the home captain in that Solheim Cup.

It will be welcomed, too, by Andrew McKinlay, who starts in his new role as Scottish Golf’s chief executive this week.

Presented with a special cap to mark his service with the Scottish Football Association, it seems certain that one of his main priorities will be trying to get more girls and women into the game at a time when females make up just 12 per cent of the total club membership in the country.

I doubt it will be as easy to significantly change that as some people seem to think, but there is certainly scope to try and McKinlay couldn’t have been handed a bigger boost in that respect in knowing that players such as McWilliam, McCook, Darling and Duncan can all be used to promote Scottish Golf and help encourage more girls into the game.