Growing the game, UK -style

With play stagnant, British programs seek to bring new golfers to the game by reaching out to youths In an effort to grow golf in communities where access has been limited, two UK-based programs, Golf Roots and FIRSTGOLF, are determined to make the sport more inclusive to urban and disadvantaged youths.

"The idea started because we needed to take golf into areas where it was seen as not an option," said Mike Round, chief executive officer of the Golf Foundation, which sponsors Golf Roots.

The foundation is the largest recipient of money generated by the R&A at the Open Championship, receiving ?600,000 for 2008.

With these funds and ?112,500 from Sport England through the National Sports Foundation, ?30,000 from the British Golf Industry Association's "Grow Golf " program and other fundraising, a record 16 cities and urban areas have hosted Golf Roots so far during 2008.

Program organizers say 4,800 students are being introduced to golf in schools, with as many as 1,000 of those proceeding to club-based coaching. A further 4,000 youngsters will have been targeted at public venue events.

The Foundation has also trained 160 community sports leaders, 320 teachers and held an elite volunteer day at The Belfry, where volunteers from each city were trained to help coordinate activity and encourage their peers. This will provide a legacy for Golf Roots to continue if funding of up to ?15,000 per area per year dries up.

"We've had very positive feedback," Round said. "In Sheffield, they have been able to achieve things through golf with hard to reach youngsters, which they haven't been able to with other sports. We're not sure of the reasons for this but have commissioned a study to be carried out by Loughborough University."

He said that part of the investment in volunteer and teacher training is to see the project continue year on year.

"We are allied to local authorities, so even if our funding stops, we hope Golf Roots will continue," Round said.

In Oxfordshire, FIRSTGOLF creator Gill Wilson, managing director of Rye Hill Golf Club, said the program is an affordable and accessible way of introducing golf almost anywhere.

She has teamed up with golf course architect Howard Swan to launch FIRSTGOLF in South Africa as part of the Western Cape government's social inclusion and capital development program.

A showcase short course is due to open at the Fancourt Golf Resort next year and 21 townships have been identified as possible project areas. One venue in Khayelitsha has a piece of land earmarked for a course alongside a college where FIRSTGOLF hopes to offer vocational golf studies.

Participant numbers and finances are yet to be confirmed, but with turf equipment firm Ransomes Jacobsen, irrigation experts Rain Bird and the highly regarded Elmwood College all on board, costs will be spread.

"FIRSTGOLF is not here to reinvent the wheel," Wilson said. "We're here as a catalyst to bring the industry together. These courses don't take up much space. You can have anything from two hectares to four hectares. It can be on a green field site, it can be on a playing field."

Despite the benefits of these programs and support they receive from the R&A, keeping young golfers from all backgrounds playing is the sport's aim and, according to Duncan Weir, director of golf development at the R&A, it is largely up to golf clubs to be proactive in gaining loyalty.

"These programs are first class but they don't always result in youngsters joining golf clubs," Weir said. "In my opinion, golf clubs could do more. They could forge links with local schools or offer temporary membership schemes. All it needs is a bit of imagination and will power."

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