The evolution of golf is no longer restricted by geographical boundaries or an inadequacy of facilities and equipment. That fact is graphically illustrated by the recent visit to the UK of 25 junior golfers from Central and Eastern Europe, a part of the world which has been underdeveloped and undernourished in terms of golf expansion.
The European Tour and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club have provided the funding for the second year of the Central and Eastern Golf Scholarship Initiative in Kent, which enabled the youngsters to make the trip from countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The European Challenge Tour has already made substantial inroads towards improving the knowledge and understanding of golf in the former Eastern block, having staged tournaments in the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia.
The initiative was originally founded by Champion International, a Canterbury-based golf and language school established in the Kent town in l987. Each golfer has been endorsed by the Golf Federation in these countries.
The scheme allows golfers of varying levels of competence to improve or learn the game of golf and develop their linguistic skills at the same time. Thanks to the financial backing of the Tour and the R&A, the juniors stayed at Dover College for two weeks while visiting a number of golf clubs in Kent, including Boughton, Etchinghill, Homelands Golf Centre and Stonelees.
Founder and director of Champion International, Sonia Copeland, commented on the difficulties of starting golf in these areas. She said, “There are very few golf clubs in these countries – for instance only one golf club exists in Croatia – but in spite of this, golf is considered a very important sport to develop.
“Political unrest or economic restrictions hamper progress. Money for junior golfers is extremely scarce, but once juniors start playing, progress will be that much quicker. With this scheme, we can accelerate the numbers of young golfers and ensure they learn the game with the right foundations.
“It is wonderful to assess the progress many of the juniors have made since attending last year, and to watch their enthusiasm and their determination to improve. We are indebted to The European Tour and the R & A for their invaluable support.”
The party of youngsters, with ages ranging from 11 to 17, benefited greatly from the knowledge and patience of Tony Bowers, the professional at Homelands Golf Centre, who spent many hours each day on the range and practice areas developing the skills and explaining the rudiments of the game.
Bowers acknowledged, “The kids have been a joy to teach. They are so keen to learn and I would love to work with youngsters like this group every week. They all understand the work ethic and have a great enthusiasm for the sport. There are some really talented juniors in the group and I am certain that quite a number of them could become very good players.”
The idea of the Central and Eastern European Initiative is backed by BBC commentator, Peter Alliss, who said, “There is a serious shortage of young golfers in most of the golf clubs in Eastern Europe. Golfers everywhere have a duty to help those less fortunate than themselves to help ensure they are given the opportunity to play.”
European Ryder Cup Captain Sam Torrance has also endorsed the plan, saying: “I know the whole world of golf wants to support and encourage these countries.” Emilijo Zubrinic, President of the Croatia Golf Federation said: “What this scheme had established for this year is amazing. We have now established a junior golf pool which consists entirely of all the juniors that attended this initiative last year. There are now 36 juniors involved in this programme and some of them are already showing good results.
“This summer we are preparing a Central and Eastern European Summer Camp with Slovenian juniors, as follow up work on your scheme. We are very appreciative and have been very lucky to be involved in this scheme.”
Maria Wichrowska, whose 13 year old son, Maciej, enjoyed the tuition and fine weather in England, said: “ I am very happy to learn how much my son enjoyed his stay in Dover. My main worry was if he could communicate in a foreign country with his very limited command of English. Apparently there is no problem and he is very enthusiastic and happy with everything, especially the golf.”
Nine of the group came from the Czech Republic, whose group organisers, Eva Jesuova and Katerian Hruba, wrote: “All our juniors came back full of unforgettable experiences. They learned a lot and made new friendships with people from other countries. They all loved the golf and English scholarship programme.”
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