A re-invigorated targeting of young golfers and Tiger-wannabes seems to be underway in the UK. Is this a second chance for children to get better at golf, or for companies to get richer via their parents? Does it reflect a long-term commitment to British golf or a distress signal from an industry that’s been on its knees for too long?
Last Summer saw the launch in Britain of Junior Golf School, a structured 48-week course aimed at getting children interested in playing golf through a combination of hands-on coaching methods and a large degree of website and interactive media content. All of this has been devised and written by PGA Professional Lee Porter.
The thinking behind the initiative (www.junior-golf-school.com) was to engage the minds as well as the bodies and competitive spirit of youngsters, and to bring along their development as swiftly and as sure-footedly as possible, to help them enjoy the game to the maximum and become long-term adherents to the sport.
Junior Golf School itself formed an early alliance with a children’s club manufacturer – Senergy (UK), responsible for the brands Feel the Fear, Long Dog and Bite Power. The motivation behind this was to ensure as much as possible that children’s interests were best-served by giving them clubs that were correctly weighted and balanced for their developing musculature.
The strategy was to get reasonable equipment into the hands of the children and then teach them what to do with it. Broadly, it aims to try and reduce the incidence of parents who – with the best of intentions – were cutting down their own old clubs and giving them to the kids to start off. While this in itself is unlikely to do much physical harm, it does the child’s game no favours at all and may even hinder skills development, reduce the child’s interest and lead to his/her giving up the game.
It was also aimed at actively supporting the club professionals whose retail business at clubs across the country has been suffering in recent years. This has been caused by various factors that include a haemorrhage of club memberships and an increasing usage of the internet and the high street to source cheaper equipment.
So, it appeared that everyone’s interests would be served. Senergy and Junior Golf School earn revenue, the club professionals increase their stream of income and opportunities to sell. The children develop physical, social and competitive skills. Club memberships and committees see the facilities being enjoyed by young blood that is competent, knowledgeable, courteous and an asset to the club (in other words not clogging up the courses and being an annoyance in general). And the parents enjoy value for money and shared pride in the achievement and growing confidence in their children’s achievements.
Junior Golf School, of course, is not the only option for children’s golf, nor even the broader commercial interests of the game in Britain. That being said, one of the primary motivating factors behind Lee Porter’s turning his concept into reality, was to relieve the administrative and mechanical burden on the teaching professional and boost his revenue-earning potential.
“I had been aware for some time that existing junior programmes were withering on the vine and that ideas for new initiatives were failing to be realized because of costs and administrative demands on the pros,” explains Lee Porter. “I had been thinking for a long time about devising a system that was cheap for the pros, easy to administer, attractive to the kids and good value for the parents.
“Last year, industry conditions dictated that if I were to make Junior Golf School a reality, I had to do it immediately or the opportunity would be gone.”
Junior Golf School saw its official press launch on 24th September 2005 at the Hylands Golf Complex in Chelmsford, Essex. It opened to a blistering lack of interest by the golf media.
Out of some 70 guests invited, it was attended by the photographer from one local paper, a member of the Sports Development Council from Essex Local Authority and the local MP Simon Burns, whose son was interested in seeing what it was all about. In fairness, the Member for Chelmsford West was also genuinely interested in the strategy behind Junior Golf School and its ability to serve the community.
“Of the media who bothered to respond, most were regrettably previously booked to cover the Seve Cup up in the Wirral,” recalls Lee Porter. “It was difficult not to be disheartened, especially in light of the fact that from many sections of the press I’d been hearing unending calls for renewed support for young talent and getting behind the youth. For a while I thought it was all just talk.”
Since then, however, Junior Golf School has been quietly gathering momentum. Eight clubs signed up within weeks and quickly reported renewed interest from kids and parents. One teaching professional even reported that for the first time he has been able to take golf coaching off course and into two local schools. This is due to two factors.
First, he had pre-written and structured modules that meant he had no need to sit down and write them himself – in itself often enough to deter any such undertaking in the past. Secondly, the portability and perceived fun-value of the internet immediately gave his new protà©gà©s access and enthusiasm.
An active interest from a development partner in the Republic of Ireland soon followed, and January sees negotiations taking place between Junior Golf School / Senergy and prospective partners in the USA and South Africa.
In a climate of sustained commercial uncertainty, the golf industry in the UK and Europe has been a cold place recently – and not just during the winter hibernation either.
Against a backdrop of cutbacks, reduced orders and redundancies, Senergy UK has just recruited an entire sales force to service club retailers and selected retail accounts across England and Wales.
Alongside a new product range of clubs and accessories due in Britain for the start of the 2006 season, it has been the arrival on the scene of Junior Golf School that has helped formulate the new aggressive sales strategy for Feel the Fear and LongDog brands.
The manufacturer hasn’t even been put off by the apparent lack of interest from the domestic golf press.
Aggis Varnava, Senergy UK general manager comments, “The road to commercial success in the British golf industry is littered with the corpses of people and products that have had a go. Those of us who’ve been around a long time and paid our dues don’t expect everyone to accept every new thing that comes along with open arms.
“The British golf industry is one of the biggest single markets in the world and one of the most cynical and that’s how it should be. Although the US and Asia Pacific markets may be bigger, the British Isles is still a key influence. It’s the home of the R&A, after all. This is where ideas come to prove themselves.
The partnership between Junior Golf School and Senergy / Feel the Fear is quite without window-dressing. The partnership is trying to show the common sense of it all, more than anything else. PGA pros who rely on revenue from retail and coaching have had a very rough couple of years, but they’re still cynical or wary enough not to jump at just any easy money that comes around.
Both Lee Porter and Aggis Varnava are sanguine about the future. Their destination is clear to them and their journey is well underway.
If they should disappear tomorrow, they will at least have performed one invaluable service to British golf. That is that for the foreseeable future, there is a renewed focus and enthusiasm for the industry and towards aspiring junior golfers in particular.
For further information on Junior Golf School please contact Lee Porter at Hylands Golf Complex on 01277 351820 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Senergy UK Ltd www.feel-the-fear.com
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