PODIUM: Sports must strive to attract more young people to play

First published in Opinion

Cliff Heath, the new chairman of Windermere Golf Club explains his drive to encourage young players and says why he believes that juniors are the future of the sport.

For those of us who sat glued to the Masters Tournament in Augusta (and most recently the US Open), it was not necessarily the older and more experienced golfers that had us transfixed.

More so, it was the jaw-dropping talents of 20-year-old Jordan Spieth who, up until the final day, looked set to take the green jacket and the title of the youngest ever winner of the Major.

He held his first golf club (albeit plastic) at the tender age of 18 months. Tiger Woods started play aged two; Rory MciIroy gave early evidence of his golf potential by hitting a 40-yard drive at a similar age.

While we acknowledge that professional golfers are getting younger, it’s also important to recognise that the majority of us aren’t destined to be champions and that this does not diminish our enjoyment of the game, a passion for which can develop at any age.

But it’s clear that the future survival and success of the sport depends upon that passion starting early.

We have a talented and energetic number of junior members, some of whom have developed into extremely able players.

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Two are now playing in the junior county team and one in the England squad.

And, while we run a very active competition schedule in the summer holidays, we are increasingly eager to attract more young blood to the sport, nurture their talents and invest in their future, in addition to dispelling the myth that golf is an elitist activity.

Encouraging youngsters of all ages and from all walks of life to ‘have a go’ is the drive for the season and in line with this, we are launching a number of new and interesting initiatives to inspire enthusiasm from younger players, such as forging links with local schools and running workshops for beginners as a positive way forward.

Members at the club give their time for juniors, freely. A number of qualified coaches are on hand to organise, mentor and develop both those who show great talent and those who are keen to learn from scratch, and we have very recently appointed a junior chairman who will be leading the ‘have a go’ scheme.

An annual scholarship fund for those with an active handicap and a development programme for novices has also been put in place and via the generosity of others, juniors can turn up at the course and ‘borrow’ a donated set of clubs at no cost to themselves.

Passing on our skills and the spirit of the game to the next generation is vital and a view shared by all of our members.

While we do not make the promise of finding the next ‘Tiger Woods’, we are clear in our objectives that every child of any age and background should be presented with an opportunity to experience the sport and most importantly, have some fun!

Golf aside, there are the obvious multiple benefits in encouraging youngsters to get involved in all manner of sporting activity. Helping young people to find a sport, love it and enjoy it for life is not just about physical development.

Through participation in sport, youngsters learn the importance of key values such as teamwork, communication and fair play.

Experiencing the great outdoors and becoming fit and healthy are essential for everybody and it shouldn’t feel like a hardship, particularly in the Lake District.

We do after all, live in one of the most beautiful environments in the world with, of course, some of the most magnificent views, best seen, I feel, from the 8th tee.

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