Monday, January 22, 2007

Growing the Game – Day 1 – Future Links

Friday at the RCGA annual meeting

On Friday I was invited to come out to see the launch of the Long Term Player Development Guide for Golf in Canada by the Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA). Through a wonderfully funny mix up I ended up at the Future Link committee meeting (and will touch on this too) instead of going to the presentation. Through the help and insistence of Dan Pino and Alison King of the RCGA, I ended up instead with a one on one sit down with Dr. Stephen Norris. Dr. Norris is Canada’s leading expert on long term development of athletes – an fascinating man - I was very lucky to have this opportunity and I smartly recorded the whole thing. At the end of our conversation about the plan, I felt like Canadian Golf had finally made the first real step towards trying to develop players and the long term health of the game – something I believe should be a priority for all of us.

First the Future Links Program

The reason I want to talk about the Future Links program is because it is the RCGA’s current program aimed at growing the game. Their goal is to bring children to the game, make the game more accessible, make the game more affordable, help provide the foundation for teaching the game to kids and to provide competition for the developing players.

On their web site they state that “CN Future Links is Canada’s national junior golf development program designed to “Ensure The Future Of Golf”. Conducted by the Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA) in partnership with the Canadian Professional Golfers’ Association (CPGA) and Canada’s provincial golf associations, the program consists of multi-level instruction and rewards, clinics, camps, support materials and special programs to raise awareness of junior golf and address the issues of accessibility and affordability.”

I have personally watched one of these programs in full swing at Bell Bay Golf Course in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. Ted Stonehouse, the director of golf, and his staff have drawn upon the community and his suppliers help to pull together one of the best junior development programs I have ever seen. The kids get 6 weeks worth of lessons, a hat, golf balls, lunch each day, a free game of golf at the end, all for around $60. This is a program designed specifically to grow the game, but more importantly Ted and his staff teach the fundamentals and turn the game into fun. It is a program like this that produces long term golfers.

There is also an offshoot of this program that works in a very similar fashion called the “Girls Club” – with the obvious difference being that this is focused on bringing specifically girls to the game. Why is a second group doing almost the same thing you ask? Girls are more likely to register in a golf program that is for girls only, than a program that is open to both genders. Girls are more comfortable learning to play golf if there are other girls their own age and the competitive nature (common with boy’s junior golf) is removed. They want to make friends through golf.

At the committee meeting I attended I was able to learn some fun facts about the Future Links program. It depends on a volunteer system for its success and an individual, like Ted Stonehouse, is the key to a successful program. The CPGA and RCGA are working jointly, but surprisingly they are not “yet” working with provincial organizations – but indicate that is a goal. The National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) was asked to become a partner and declined. They have set up there own “bring a child to the course week” instead, but we all know a one week program (poorly promoted I might add) is not the way to draw new players to the game. Too bad they declined (more to come on this later) because access to the courses is an essential component of growing the interest in kids.

The Future Links Committee runs 6 major Future Links Championships a year which player earn the right to play in through a series of 65 tournaments that offer qualifying points. CN is fond of this section of the program because this is where they receive some excellent local coverage for all the assistance they provide the program. The committee mentioned that they wanted to reduce some of the cost in running the championships and get a little more of there budget (between 700,000 and 800,000 a year) back into grass roots programs such as the clinics. In my opinion participation is far more important than developing future PGA Tour players so I was very pleased to hear this strategy for the long term.

The Influence of Sweden:


gary slatter said...

Ian, good stuff. Not enough Ted Stonehouses around. We do the same at our club, except we don't get the $60.00 per junior!
RCGA and their huge budgets are scarey, good luck!!!!
We hosted a First Tee group from Washington DC last week. All black kids (my wife asked one if he wanted some balls - "I only play ProV" was the answer from a ten year old who can't hit out of his shadow.) They had great outfits and clubs, stayed in the hotel 3 nights, etc. Now that's a program with too much money to spend!

Bobby in Mexico said...

I wonder if the NGCOA declining to participate in the program has more to do with the organizatio distrusting the RCGA and less to do with its own designs. Everyone I've spoken to says this program could be great, but no one trusts the RCGA to actually implement it. That's sad, but apparently the truth. It is a case of wanting to see results....

Ted Stonehouse said...

Thanks for the kind words Gary and Ian. The RCGA continues to be extremely supportive of programs like ours at Bell Bay, from equipment to promotional material, and program support. The provincial associations have been and will continue to be focussed on "Provincial Initiatives" but I have found that if a club or professional puts together a strong junior program with the apropriate focus and development, the Provincial Association when "asked" is often willing to support.

We as Canadian PGA professionals, have a wonderful opportunity provided we are willing to put the time and effort into the program, and are not affraid to think outside the box. One challenge is to convince ownership that this is a game growing necessity, which means that we may run a program that makes a small net income, but really grows the game for our future.

I would love to have the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Norris for his perspective.

Keep up the great work Ian.

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