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Blog No.1: Jumping for joy – why The Masters can put a spring in our step

By Brendon Pyle, CEO of the Golf Foundation

The Masters and us… We are delighted to welcome this special friend into our homes again this week: Amen Corner, the 12th, Rae’s Creek… I can’t wait.

And in the middle of our second national lockdown in England, its timing couldn’t be better!

Golf has kept many of us on an even keel over the past five months, welcome respite in the Covid-19 restrictions, leading to an unexpected growth in participation that has been the ambition of the sport for many years. As golfers, we were all disappointed we couldn’t play because of the latest lockdown in England; however, the unique occasion of an Autumn Masters almost half-way through the lockdown provides some genuine cheer, offering hope, optimism and a new window on the sport for the wider public.

From the Golf Foundation’s perspective, we are currently looking at new ways of introducing young people to golf in schools and it has been my pleasure to roll up my sleeves and deliver some of the activities alongside my local PGA Professional. Seeing youngsters new to golf literally jump for joy at hitting the ball in the air, and take so readily to a sport that they have only ever played as crazy golf on a seaside holiday, reminds me of the potential interest we have while young minds are open to new experiences.

Building on the interest in golf over the summer, we have a fantastic opportunity to show that golf can be a modern, relevant game, designed for everyone. Hopefully, this positive mood will only be buoyed by events at Augusta in readiness for a return to play hopefully in December, but certainly as we approach 2021.

I write this on the same news day that a breakthrough appeared to have been made for a vaccine for Covid-19.

Resilience in difficult months

Like the rest of the country, our team at the Golf Foundation has had to be patient and resilient in recent months. Our working mantra has always been to offer a great golf experience for young people wherever possible: from keeping youngsters and families active back in April through our #LockdownKnockdown fun skills garden challenges (supporting The R&A’s popular #GolfAtHome activity) to working closely with golf clubs and schools to offer golf where it could be enjoyed safely at all times (including creating group coaching safety guidelines for PGA coaches).

Our team of committed Regional Development Officers (RDOs) were disappointed that they couldn’t take their usual place in the Spectator Village as a guest of The R&A at The Open, in July. Our team usually creates one of the high-energy buzzes of that week as we welcome hundreds of families new to golf, and school and club groups, to have a try at the game. The Ryder Cup was also postponed of course.

But now, this week we will see defending champion Tiger Woods in his red shirt, no doubt making a charge up the leaderboard on those familiar fairways at Augusta; with many Mums, Dads and children glued to the TV set. Could it be that Tyrrell makes a move dressed in his hoodie? Or will Jon Rahm bounce his way to the title with shots like these.

Golf enjoyed a Rahm-like bounce or two from May until this recent lockdown. It’s not easy to measure in emotional terms of course but there does appear to have been some shift in public opinion on the value of golf’s physical and mental benefits (certainly this would be reflected by the increase in numbers of golfers playing at clubs across GB&I, not seen for the past decade).


Making our game more attractive

This evidence suggests perhaps that the old sticks with which we beat ourselves, that golf takes too long, or is too expensive, are convenient excuses. Is it perhaps the reality that golf competes with so many other interesting activities and we have to start recognising this, and making the sport more attractive to modern consumers: participants from all backgrounds and cultures, and creating a more inclusive sport?

Working with Sporting Equals, an organisation dedicated to racial equality in sport, by December we will have the results of our research into perceptions of the sport from young people living in various diverse communities. This will help to guide our future approach to making golf more accessible to all young people.

For 2021, we are particularly excited about the innovation of GolfSixes League, which in 2019 appealed widely as a pilot project to 2,500 boys and girls and their parents at 233 golf clubs (59% of parents volunteered to help at league fixtures, 38% of which were non-golfers).

GolfSixes League is a team game, six holes, six-a-side, boys and girls learning the game during the week with their PGA coach before the weekend match played against other clubs in their team kits. They love the ‘Texas Scramble’ pairs format. Just this week, one of the young players reported to us: “It’s a brilliant feeling when you hit a good shot or hole a putt, and the families and fellow golf members walking with you all clap or cheer; I love it!”

The teams were 28% girls, creating a 35% increase in membership at the clubs involved across England, Scotland and Wales (49% increase in England at 161 clubs). This success has meant The R&A has invested to support GolfSixes League 2021, and the programme is expected to double in size.

In addition, the fun team format played with friends in just over an hour lends itself perfectly to attracting a new adult audience, who might normally put a team sport before golf, or to attract the more social golfer amongst us. Hence, we are excited to be working with the Sports Management students at Bournemouth University who are looking at the feasibility of men and women retiring from other sports taking up golf via GolfSixes League, and also students on university campuses wishing to play more socially once the Covid restrictions are lifted.


Joining in with GolfSixes League

Any golf club which is interested in joining in with GolfSixes League 2021 should consider joining us as an accredited HSBC Golf Roots Centre, which has multiple benefits for golf clubs including discretionary funding and expert one-to-one support and resources. This step can create, on average, an increase to club business income of £5,800 per year. 

The appeal of #GolfForGood

We are proud that our discretionary funding can also reach a wide range of wonderful local educational/social/health projects which wish to introduce the life skills benefits of golf to young people.

Funded by HSBC and The Gerald Micklem Charitable Trust, during the last year or so 15 organisations have benefited from our ‘HSBC Golf Roots PLUS’ funding. Current projects include the Coalfields Regeneration Trust in Wales, Special Olympics Sandwell, the Bath Rugby Community Foundation and Inspired Sports Solutions in Birmingham. (See more here.)

Our team loves this #GolfForGood value of this work, and we are proud to add this social media hashtag, which was created by our friends at the European Tour, to this messaging. Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn raised thousands of pounds for the Golf Foundation and UNICEF UK on his historic #Wentworth2Wales walk in August. Thomas is very #GolfForGood – thank you Captain!

In the summer, it was great to see the Golf Foundation’s playing ambassadors competing: Felicity Johnson and Meghan MacLaren in first the Rose Series one-day matches and later on the Ladies European Tour, and our schools ambassador Graeme Storm back from a long injury and playing on the European Tour again.

When Tiger Woods appears on our screens today he will draw the focus of millions of pairs of eyes on his every move once again. Tyrrell Hatton, Jon Rahm and others can also play some magic golf that will inspire lots of kids watching, and their parents too.

Tyrell Hatton & Kids at The Open

The players do what they do, and we in the golf industry need to think in a way that can recreate the magic of golf to a wider audience.

Despite the virus, golf has stood up well and we are showing people – from playing golf at home to welcoming new players of all ages to our clubs – that golf can be great for our physical and mental wellbeing. Such positivity presents us with the opportunity to convince more people from outside of the game that golf is relevant, inclusive, and welcoming for them.

We don’t all deserve a Masters green jacket but we do all deserve the chance to enjoy golf.

And we may not all jump for joy like kids trying golf for the first time, but let’s hope that the Masters puts a spring in our step!

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