A Ribble Valley golf club is helping put youngsters on the right course – and is reaping the benefits.
Whalley Golf Club – which can be found on Clerk Hill Road – has revitalised its junior section over the past three years thanks to the support of club members and volunteers.
The 9-hole parkland venue gives over the entire course to its junior section for 26 weekly coaching sessions with PGA professional Jamie Hunt during the season.
The result is that junior numbers now top the 50 mark at the club – with a strong contingent of girls – with youngsters getting involved from the ages of 5 to 18.
“We had a good junior team a few years back, but then numbers fell away to as low as half a dozen before we made a concerted effort to grow the section three years ago,” explained junior organiser Carol Fletcher.
“Unlike most clubs we take juniors from as young as five as it is never too soon to start playing golf as shown by Rory McIlroy, who was hitting 40-yard drives at the age of two!”
One of the highlights of the coaching sessions is the Beat the Pond contest at the end of each week, when players take on the water at the club’s signature hole, the 9 th , right in front of the clubhouse.
“The youngsters just can’t wait to take on the challenge,” says Carol.
Whalley believes that by getting the youngsters out on the course at an early age it helps them enjoy the game with friends, develop their skills and – thanks to the support of a pool of 24 volunteers who ensure every coaching group out on the course is accompanied – helps them pick up the etiquette of the game.
“The volunteers have been an integral part of the success story,” added Carol. “It is not just about the coaching we offer through Jamie, but the volunteers help the youngsters to get comfortable out on the course, to understand simple things like where to stand when someone is putting or where to leave their bag. It all helps reduce any feeling of intimidation that a youngster might have about taking up the sport.”
Whalley is a GolfMark club, with strong safeguarding policies in place and a club welfare officer – all strong signals to parents that this is a safe and welcoming place to bring their children.
Added Carol: “It is great to see the junior side doing so well, but that has had a knock-on effect in attracting new adult members, whether that be parents, grandparents or even uncles.
“We hold seven competitions through the summer for the juniors, each with a presentation afterwards. It is lovely to see the end of season presentation packed out with juniors and their families. We have quizzes, games, food and all the winners have to take the microphone and address the room, even if it is just to say a quick thank you, which adds to the confidence they are gaining out on the course.
“We have created special junior tees out on the course, while events like the Christmas Turkey Shoot or our Halloween competition offer the chance for families to play together, too.
“And we try and ensure everyone involved knows what is going on and available with regular emails throughout each week.”
Youngsters are encouraged to continue their interest in the sport by going on to become adult members of the club, with a special category of Intermediate, aimed at the 18 to 35-year-olds who can often be lost to the sport, offering a value-for-money membership fee.
A number of the youngsters are now involved with Lancashire coaching paths for both boys and girls while 17 years-old Bethan Andrew, daughter of former England international and Curtis Cup player Kim, is a Lancashire county player.
Says Helen Searle, club support officer for the Lancashire Golf Development Group and England Golf: “It is great to see the hard work of a club that has taken such a proactive and positive approach to encouraging the next generation of players into the sport paying off with a thriving junior section.
“While it takes time and effort to invest in developing and maintaining a junior programme, the spin-off benefits can be new faces coming into the club and another element of a strong social side to the club.
“With the arrival of the successful national campaign – GirlsGolfRocks – to Lancashire in 2019, this is another opportunity for clubs to raise the profile of golf and attract new players.”