In a time-strapped world, it may be no surprise golf has struggled to attract and retain new players, but like many sports it’s adapting and, certainly as far as Kent is concerned, appeal is growing among two groups.
Sandy Catford is Training Officer for Kent Ladies Golf. She says the sport is more than ever making participation among women and girls a priority.
“There is a big initiative to get more people into golf generally. We’ve always encouraged youngsters but only recently have we been able to offer them training and we’re trying to bring juniors together more as this makes it sociable and fosters greater interest. We’re currently offering free coaching to girls who belong to a club and who have a handicap and are hoping, subject to resources, to build on this.
“Clubs are generally very open to youngsters with reduced fees and ladies’ sections really keen to welcome and help develop the next generation of players, while on a practical level there is really good adapted equipment, such as larger headed clubs, to help the learning process,” adds Sandy, a player since childhood and a member of the Kent first team squad.
She is also keen to tackle head-on the whole issue of the amount of time required to play golf, the fact it’s a sport that can be flexible and, crucially, it has to be as inclusive as possible to secure its future.
“Yes, it’s a time-consuming game but it’s probably one of the most sociable. And a nine-hole round or competition need only take two or three hours.
“My aim is to look at how we take youngsters from beginner through to being a skilled and confident golfer and we’re also now offering training for senior players, something that can be great especially if someone played in the past and wants to return.”
Andrew Salter, General Manager at Sweetwoods Park Golf Club in Edenbridge, agrees: “Our aim is to attract as many female and junior golfers as possible. This is a big focus for us as a business.
“We know that to appeal to these audiences we must remain as flexible as possible when it comes to membership types. We also work hard to ensure our ladies always feel valued, welcomed and highly respected, something that remains close to the ethos of the entire club.”
Tita McCart has been playing for almost 35 years. Originally from The Netherlands, she came to the UK in 1985, joined Sundridge Park Golf Club (SPGC) a year later and, since retiring in 2013, has become even more involved in the sport, still playing for SPGC as well as the Kent regular and senior teams and for senior teams in her country of birth.
Aside from being an accomplished player – her list of impressive achievements include several titles gained here in the UK as well as in Spain and The Netherlands – Tita is passionate about promoting the social side of the sport (she met her husband David at SPGC in 1990).
“I played as much as I could while working but have really been able to step it up since retiring. I was into sport from an early age and have always enjoyed both the exercise and competitive element. If you’re thinking about taking up or returning to golf you’ll find most clubs only too delighted to welcome you.”
Firmly debunking the stereotype this is a sport of bank managers and the retired, 12-year-old Megan Baldwin is one of the county’s most accomplished juniors. A student at Dover Grammar School and a member of St Prince’s at Sandwich, she was first introduced to golf by her father at the age of seven and three years later got her first full set of clubs.
Since then it’s been a steady rise through the ranks. In 2014 she teed-off her competitive ambitions by playing in the under-13 Kent Golf Union clubs competition and the following year won the girl’s section of the Daily Telegraph qualifier (with a one over par) and started to play in the ladies’ competition at Prince’s.
Megan’s goal is to be as good as her 20-year-old idol, England professional and Ladies European Tour player, Charley Hull. “What I’d really like to do is compete against her one day,” says Megan, who wants to encourage other young people who may never have considered golf to give it a go. “It really doesn’t matter if you think you will be good or not. Try it as great things may happen.”
England Golf, the governing body for the sport at an amateur level, has been playing a key part in making the sport more accessible to women as Lauren Spray, its Women and Girls’ Participation Manager, explains: “An 18-month pilot programme that forms part of our wider Get Into Golf scheme is now up and running and aims to demonstrate a growth in women’s participation. Forty-one percent of Get Into Golf participants are female but the transition into regular play requires assistance.
“For example, our research highlighted time as a barrier for women so we’re working with clubs to help them by offering opportunities to fit in with lifestyles. This includes shorter formats and shorter loops where they can get a few holes in after work or by going out to play with the family.
“Golf offers so many benefits and not just in terms of keeping you healthy and active, burning calories and being highly sociable but, unlike a lot of sports, it’s highly adaptable to age, ability and fitness level.”
Tita McCart is also keen to play her part in helping break down some of the barriers. “Golf really is for all ages and capabilities and, because of the handicap system, everybody can play together. It’s not always about individualism either, lots of golf is played in teams. It’s good for getting yourself out into fresh air, exercise and wellbeing, but it’s also really sociable and one can make great friendships. Don’t be put off by thinking golf is too traditional and stuffy – that really is no longer the case.”
Sandy Catford @ Kent Ladies Golf (CTO@kentladiesgolf.org.uk)
England Golf (www.englandgolf.org)
Kent Golf Union (www.kentgolf.org)
Nevill Golf Club (www.nevillgolfclub.co.uk,Twitter @NevillGolf, call 01892 525818)
Get into Golf (www.getintogolf.org)
Sweetwoods Park Golf Club (www.sweetwoodspark.com)
Lullingstone Park Golf Course (www.sencio.org.uk/golf-lullingstone)