Posts Tagged 'England Golf'

For love or money

This was the title of the great Peter McEvoy’s book from 2006 and I come to think of it again as I read the news about Augusta States win in the NCAA finals over the weekend. Peter, perhaps the greatest amateur of all times, of course reflected over the difference between playing for money and purely for the glory and the trophy in his book and as sports develop there are not many places where the glory is still the highest price. In fact, you could easily argue that pride and glory have very little to do with it even in the NCAA finals as come the following week pretty much everyone in Augusta’s winning team will be playing professional golf. And if not that week then the week after, as the Palmer Cup has concluded. Amateur golf is no doubt the breeding ground for the professional game and a successful career in college and/or in the big amateur events around the world will give you every chance of a jump start entry into the professional ranks.

As I read Sean Martin’s article on Augusta State though I almost do get a little tear in my eye. Here is the team of five seniors and a Head Coach, all in their Augusta State uniforms for the very last time. The five players are leaving school and Josh Gregory, the coach, is heading to Dallas to take up the Head Coach position at SMU, his alma mater where he played college golf himself. One last round with the old gang – and the underdog once again comes out victorious. Augusta State is the Division 2 school, only in the first division in one sport – golf, that last year showed that pride, committment and team spirit can win you great titles even without the hefty budgets of other teams. They have now done it twice in a row and it won’t matter that they will come nowhere near next year. In performance sports it is about living in the NOW and I have a feeling this was the greatest present that the five graduating players and the leaving coach could ever get. In another sport this would have made the movies.

Men and women in golf

When Annika Sorenstam played with the men in the PGA Tour event at Colonial in 2003 I was invited to Studio 1 on Swedish radio to discuss the concept of men’s and women’s sports and the possibility of uniting the two. Or perhaps the lack of interest in bringing the two together. Of course when Annika played, it was  a huge thing in the world of sport and it was probably the first time that golf, and perhaps sports in general, played a part in Studio 1. This is were they would normally discuss things like domestic politics and the Middle East crisis. Now Annika had given the world’s media a chance to make her the lone soldier of the female population, ready to take on the men and the unequal society. In Annika’s own mind she had only accepted a chance to test herself against the men and she later admitted that perhaps this was a bit naive. She simply could not understand how big this was going to become.

I am once again reminded about this when I read about the first woman to qualify for a men’s tour in golf. Isabelle Beisiegel has earned her card for the Canadian Tour and even though that is not one of the major places of work for professional golfers it is quite a step for a female golfer. When I was on Studio 1, philosopher  Claudio Tamburrini, argued that separating men and women in sports is just another act of sexism. He claims that separating the two is merely a case of the men being afraid of losing to the women. One example that he gives is the 1992 Olympics where 14 year old Shan Zang won the gold medal in trap shooting, against the men. After that the sport was removed from the Olympic programme and when it returned in 2000 men and women were separated. It will be interesting to see what happens in golf going forward!

Golf’s matador is gone

There will be many articles and blogs on golf websites around the world talking about Severiano Ballesteros this weekend. Golf’s (last?) true magician has finally lost his battle against cancer and the world of golf is a sadder place for it. I usually turn to Golfweek to get the in-depth analysis of important happenings in golf and so also this time. Alistair Tait has written an excellent tribute to the five time major champion that was so much more than ‘just’ a major champion. Every golfer will today revert to think about their own memories of Seve. Two immediately come to my mind; the video that I once got, showing Seve’s win in the 1984 Open Championship at St Andrews and the first opportunity that I had to watch him live – in the Scandinavian Enterprise Open. He was the golfer we all wanted to be. Not because of his brilliant technique but for what he could do with a golf ball. And for the way he took on a golf course.

At the England v Spain match I come to talk to the Spanish Coach, Domingo Hospital, who played a lot with Seve. Domingo tells me how they always played the practice rounds together on tour and with a tear in his eye he says that there will never be another player like him. I think we all know Domingo is right which makes yesterday an even sadder day.

A silent minute for Seve

A silent minute for Seve, picture © Tom Ward

By some very magical coincidence the great National hero picked this weekend to pass away. The European Tour are in Spain for the Spanish Open and the Spanish amateur team are playing a match against England. Tributes were held all over the world and to witness the silent minute held at the Berkshire Golf Club was very emotional. The tribute finished with a round of applause that never seemed to wat to finish. Severiano Ballesteros has left the game that he helped to define. The game will live on but it won’t be anywhere near as exciting as it once was.

Separate lives

The Lytham Trophy concluded on Sunday and after a pretty cruel couple of days over the Links. Jack Senior, Lancashire, finished on top of the leaderboard. Jack is on a good run and now holds the title in Egypt, having won the Egypt Amateur in the autumn, in New South Wales in Australia where he beat fellow country man Andy Sullivan in the final and since Sunday, at Lytham. Jack will no doubt be one to watch over this summer.

As so often before though my reflections after a tournament is not really about the winner. This time they are instead about two players that were not even playing. They were caddying. Matt Nixon and James Robinson both walked around Royal Lytham carrying a bag or pulling a cart. The reason they did this is that they are now professionals and have therefore joined another life. Matt got his European Tour card in December and has since made quite an impressive start to his professional career. James on the other hand has joined the Europro Tour and will need some good finishes to start climbing up the ladder. I can’t help thinking that it would have been quite nice if they could have played rather than caddied. Why is it that we have to have these incredibly rigid rules that stop the flow of players moving up and down the ladder? The ball does not care if you are an amateur or a professional. A Matt Nixon in the field would have given the young guns a real chance to test themselves against a tour player. In fact one that was one of them, in this field last year. And for Matt – I bet he would have made the best of a chance to play four days around an Open Championship golf course. No matter how grim the conditions were…

While I was gone

No, I have not given up this blogging business. All that happened was that I took a week’s holiday. Or actually only a few days as with the Bank Holiday madness that is going on in Britain at the moment it did not take any more than that to get a full week off. As if my working hours were Monday to Friday. Anyway, after a week away the Middleton’s are not the only ones with a busy week ahead. The traditional Lytham Trophy, the first major in amateur golf on British soil for the year is around the corner and I bet we are all hoping for some continuous summer weather. A weekend around the links at Lytham and St Annes is a true treat even if all you do is walk by the side of the fairway.

While I was gone Lee Westwood regained the title as World number 1. Interesting was that he could have been overtaken by countryman Luke Donald who had his chance at Harbout Town on the PGA Tour. Unfortunately he was pipped by the post by Brandt Snedeker, in a play off. Two Englishmen in the World’s top 3 is not all that bad though.

While I was gone the fascinating world of golf once again reminded us about the opportunities that exist. Two of our U18 players got the chance to travel to Sage Valley where the Junior Invitational was played over Easter. I am sure the tournament was fascinating and the compeition fierce. What is even more fascinating though is the level of support that this event has. A quick look at the Sponsorship page reveals a world that for most sports is completely unknown. The fact that there are people out there that are prepared to cough up $2,500 for the chance to play a round of golf at this fabuluous golf course and to be around some of the potential world beaters of tomorrow is nothing short of inbeleivable. But something both we as a sport and the youngsters that had this trip of a lifetime, at least so far, come their way should be very, very grateful for.

One for the future

Today I sit down to reflect over what to say when I open up the inaugural England Golf County Academy Conference tomorrow. The County Academies are in many ways the first step on the player pathway for young golfers wanting to progress. Many of those that in the future will be playing the professional tours will come nowhere near this step on the ladder though. In fact, when they are in their early years they may not even be thinking about golf. Somewhere along the way, if we want players that can play this game, we as golf better make sure that their paths cross ours. Traditionally that would be in a club environment to which the youngster is probably brought by parents or perhaps a friend.

In this day and age though times are quite tough for sports. There seems to be a lot of other things that call for attention and more often than not those things are definitely more accessible than sport. Many times you do not need to leave the comfort of your own house. In fact, you could play a lot of sport without doing that, thanks to things like Wii and other gaming tools. So how can we compete with this? I think it is actually quite easy. And at the same time obviously incredibly difficult because we are likely to be looking at something like a massive oil tanker to try to turn around. It takes a lot of effort.

So for the easy bit, we need:

1. Facilities that are, if not in the basement, close enough for youngsters to get to on their own;

2. Facilities where we can experience “the game” and not just parts of “the game”

3. Attractions in terms of ‘cool’ people seen in media playing the sport

and 4. the most difficult one of all – people who can help make all this the best thing since sliced bread and even more fun than the Wii at home.

And how is golf doing? Well, we certainly do not have the easiest of circumstances but I really think work is in progress…

This week it is the tee off of the European Team Golf season. The European Nation’s Cup at Sotogrande has become a real test early in the year. England is out for the third consecutive win with a team of Laurie Canter, Tom Lewis, Jack Senior and Andrew Sullivan. Should be an interesting week! And as a sign of what Amateur golf is often like I cannot find a single bit about this tournament online. Will keep looking and update when I can!

First sign of spring

Devoted readers will remember when I wrote about the experiences from the choir where two of my children sing (if you don’t, click here). The beuty of that choir and the Christmas concert that I of course went to see is that people of all ages and abilities come together. The less experienced have somebody to look up to and something to aspire towards. This also serves as a bit of a reality check as the risk of something that quite often happens in sport – somebody becoming a big fish in a small pond – is minimal. There is usually somebody there who is better, partly because he or she is older and more experienced, who will help the youngsters to understand that an important first step is probably to become the best in that bunch.

As I now sit down and reflect over the first true sign of spring in English golf, the Sunningdale Foursomes, I realise that this exists also in golf. At least it does this week. the Sunningdale Foursomes are quite unique. Played around the beautiful Old Course at Sunningdale, for the first time in 1934, for amateurs, professionals, men and ladies it is just a great melting pot of different experiences coming together. Among the winners of previous Sunningdale Foursomes you can find Open Championship winners (Alf Padgham and Max Faulkner) as well as the current World number 3, Luke Donald. And even if not playing, you can bet your bottom dollar that a visit to Sunningdale this week will give you a good chance to spot ex Ryder Cup Captain and legend Sam Torrance hiding in the club house. It is of course this mix of grey hair with young enthusiasm, experience from the tour with junior champions and not the least men and women coming together that we should do so much more of. The silo type of working is a decease that is spreading across our society, not just in sport but in pretty much every walk of life and I am sure that it limits our development greatly. We have just got so much to learn from each other!

And not that it really matters but if you are interested in the results at Sunningdale – they should appear here. If you are a true golf fan, you will put on your best cap, perhaps take your dog and your walking stick and join the members on the fairways for what is truly a great experience. But perhaps you are just too far away from Sunningdale…

And how about that!

Not much else you can say I think. Two englishmen in the final of the Spanish Amateur – again! Last year Matt Haines defeated Tommy Fleetwood and this year it was time for Laurie Canter to go head to head with Stiggy Hodgson. I am not sure what Laurie did, but he must have played some serious golf. 9 up through the first 18 and with 10 holes to go the two could already shake hands. Laurie had won, 11/10, and secured himself a place in the Spanish Open in May. For the full Spanish version click here. Laurie’s win was England’s fifth in four years starting with John Parry in 2007, Daniel Willet in 2008 and then Matt Haines in 2010 before Canter took over the trophy.

And if this was not enough on a Monday morning – the new England clothing has started to arrive in Woodhall Spa! At the moment some of us wish we had a warehouse rather than an office but things should soon be out with players. Check out our model on the England Golf pages on Facebook!

Getting there…

Luke DOnald with trophy

Luke Donald with trophy

While I took a few days out to go on half term with my kids, some great stuff happened in the golfing world. Luke Donald became the Master of Match Play as he won the WGC in Tucson Arizona. I think Luke is quite a special kind. Having never been known as a long hitter he continues to show that what most of us have thought for some time, that unless you can hit it a country mile in today’s professional golf you have not go a chance, is not necessarily true. Instead Luke is a man of creativity, accuracy and brilliant short game skills. For the true golf nerd I actually think this is a much more interesting game than the bombers game that have tended to be prevailing in the last few years. And that is not to say that Luke is short of the tee as so often, I think that is a myth that has survived itself.

For somebody in my position it is obviously interesting to try to think about how players like Luke make it to where he now is. As many probably know Luke took the US College route where he played golf at Northwestern at the same time as earning his degree. He had a very solid amateur career, topped with the Walker Cup and when he turned professional he was ready to compete at the bigger stage. Some of those that hope for a similar future this week compete in the Spanish Amateur. If you would like to try your Spanish skills you can follow all the action here. Played at El Prat this is proving a good test for the young apprentices as the first day only saw three players under par. The Spanish Amateur is one of those events that is quite important to win, for a number of reasons. It is early in the year and given the strong field it is always a confidence boost to come out on top and make a mark. For those that hope to follow in the foot steps of Luke Donald I think the most important factor though is the invitation o the Spanish Open later in the year. Most top amateurs today compete in a Worldwide, highly competitive schedule on really top notch golf courses. If they can combine that with some starts on the European or PGA Tour where they can benchmark themselves against the best, they have every chance to know where they stand before they decide to give golf for a living a real go.

To teach the old or the young dog

This week the National Golf Centre was again quite a buzzing place. The annual Development conference took place and the conference centre was full of County officials and coaches. Growing the game was once again at the heart of the discussions which I guess in one respect is a bit ironic. It has been quite a while since this game was actually growing, at least in terms of membership. There are several signs that the actual number of rounds played is not falling but the issue from golf’s point of view is that the norm is more and more moving towards ‘why be a member of a golf club’. Given the Sport England and Government agenda the talk about numbers is very much focused on the 16+ age group where the aim is to increase participation in sports. For many golf clubs this is a tough ask.

One of the presentations at this conference came from a company called Fresh Minds that have done some work on market segmentation relating to golf. The results are quite mind blowing and incredibly useful I would say as they are able to show, more or less exactly, what needs to happen for golf to be at all interesting for the various segments of the market. The slightly depressing fact though is that there seems to be quite a number of segments where the only advice for golf would be to ‘forget about it’. This most often is down to the perception of golf that does not at all fit with these groups.

As I hear this I wonder about how much it is worth to try to convince these people and ‘win them over’. The alternative is obviously to say that ‘that horse has bolted, let us start again’. The starting again would have to begin with youngsters so that by the time they get to 16+ they already have a relation to golf. Which alternative is the most viable one might be the $64,000 question that we are searching for the answer to, but it is clear that both models require many golf clubs to completely re-think their commercial model

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