In just eight years the number of golf facilities in Poland has increased from six to more than thirty, the number of players from 900 to 15,000 and the number of PGA members from 6 to 25.
Before 1939 there were three golf courses in Poland. Under the communist regime after World War II all sports had to be ‘working class’. Since golf was considered ‘bourgeois’ it was not permitted. The facilities that existed were either ploughed up or left to decay.
As with other Eastern Europeans, politically and economically, life has seldom been a joyride for the Poles. There is a powerful reminder of this in the PGAs of Europe 2000 yearbook which states: “Changes in the country’s political system have enabled the PGA of Poland to be legally recognised for the first time as a union of professional golfing instructors…
“Previously this was not possible since fundamentally there was no such thing as professional sportsmen. Now, duly recognised, there is a small but enthusiastic family of six professionals, all keen to see progress and development forthcoming in the years ahead….”
By then Poland still had only six courses at which those pros could be employed and a mere nine hundred amateur players from a population of some thirty-eight million.
Contrast that situation with this recent summing up of Poland’s growth factor by their busy-busy, hands-on PGA President, Marek Podstolski. “Even five years ago we had only fifteen instructors,” he recalled. “Now we have twenty-five fully-qualified professionals. This year alone we had twenty young golfers join us (on their training programme) so we’ve nearly doubled our intake in one year.
“This shows how much we’re progressing. It’s got to the point where some of the golf clubs are reluctant to release their professionals to play in tournaments at the weekend, because they are so busy.”
On any given weekend there might be fifty or sixty beginners trying to learn the game as the number of golfers in a country that has been bitten incurably by the golfing bug, rises by the week.
Podstolski added, “We’ve got a lot of good young amateur players coming through. One of them has gone to America to develop his game. They all dream of becoming professionals and want to join the PGA of Poland. But we encourage them to go to university and finish their education first, so at least they have more than one option.”
Marek has been a most enthusiastic figurehead for his association, regularly attending the Annual Congress and International Team Championship, along with other relevant events, and liasing closely with The PGAs of Europe’s Education Committee, in order to establish and advance their education programme.
Driving this programme, and Poland’s hunger for self-sufficiency as a golfing nation, has been their head of training, Mike O’Brien, winner of a ProSport Media 5-Star professional award last November for his outstanding service in this regard.
Mike was one of that ‘small but enthusiastic family’ of professionals who, eight years ago, sought to kick-start a golf rush in a country with barely any previous pedigree, the PGA having been founded as recently as 1995. Now they have sound relationships with the Government and with the Federation and have a growing Order of Merit tournament schedule, run as Pro-Ams.
A clear, internationally visible sign that Polish golf is firmly on an upwardly mobile path, has been the successful staging in 2008 of two important tournaments, one on the Challenge Tour, and one on the European Seniors Tour.
The Parkridge Polish Seniors Championship at Krakow Valley was won by former World No1. Ian Woosnam, who shot a superb final round 63, while Gary Clark took the DHL Wroclaw Open at Toya, both of them introducing the sport to a new public.
Marek Podstolski observed, “We had a lot more spectators than we expected, about 800 in all, which was fantastic. What was really nice and surprising was that most of them already understood a little about the game, and hopefully they learned much more through attending the tournament.
“Our dream is one day to host a European Tour event. That’s still a while off, but in five years’ time, if everything goes to plan and a slot becomes available then I’m confident we will have a European Tour event in Poland.”
On the immediate agenda is the hosting of the Omega Mission Hills World Cup European Qualifier at the Sierra Golf Club in September.
With acknowledgements to the PGAs of Europe; this article was first published in the The PGAs of Europe Newsletter www.pgae.com