Saunton Golf Club PGA Director of Coaching Tiffany MacKenzie has developed for the Devon club a dynamic ‘player pathway’ that brings in the community’s juniors to enjoy the sport together while also uncovering real and lasting talent on the fairways.
“Our goal is to provide opportunities for children to take their first golf shots and provide ongoing support so that each junior can reach their desired goals. We want to make the most of this area’s talent and turn potential into success,” explains ‘Tiff’, as she talks us through a system which encourages green newcomers and is now producing happy regular golfers on the one hand, but also Devon county squad players and potential golfers for team England.
As a Golf Foundation HSBC Golf Roots Centre, Saunton GC has been supported with funds to deliver Foundation ‘Tri-Golf’ in local schools for youngsters of all abilities, first steps on the pathway that can lead to fun golf learning at the club, supportive coaching and good value membership. Golf Foundation Regional Development Officer (RDO) Tom Sparks helps many clubs in his region to make sure the school-club link can thrive. Tom is one of 10 RDOs nationally who have created the platform to introduce 500,000 kids to golf in schools and the community in the last year, in more than 3,000 schools, while nearly 450 junior-friendly HSBC Golf Roots clubs welcome growing numbers of these youngsters into the club environment.
Saunton GC is certainly an example of a warm welcome. Tiff and her team’s message is that if you’re a keen and motivated young player you can thrive here and this philosophy includes school and community outreach, traditional junior members, academy members, plus a now established scholarship scheme which helps young players with memberships and coaching, arranged by the supportive members of Saunton.
Tiff’s highly organised approach is combined with her natural love of coaching – a facet of her character that has also seen Tiff coaching players of all ages – young and adult – for the weeks during recent Open Championships in support of The R&A, including at Royal Portrush this summer.
This year, Saunton GC has worked with nearby Caen School, Kingsacre School, Southmead School and Woolacombe School, reaching more than 100 youngsters. Both school visits and after-school weekly sessions at the club have been available, and the club also hosted its third successful North Devon Schools Tri-Golf Festival, where 80 children took part.
Letting the youngsters learn on the course
Good club coaches also need good, supportive members. Thanks to Saunton’s members there are also 21 scholarships given each year to deserving local children aged nine to 17 who show a positive attitude and appetite to learn. The scholars are put into three learning groups of up to seven players, who enjoy close monitoring that gradually leads them from beginners to ‘elite’ level.
Tiff said: “At Saunton we want to provide each junior with the tools to give them the confidence to embrace the challenges which are presented by our Championship courses. Technical and tactical development is encouraged with a blend of learning styles, while providing opportunities for juniors to play on the course is essential. It is their ultimate learning environment. I caught the golf bug on the range but fell in love with the game of golf on the course at Bowood Golf Club in Wiltshire.
“Discovery on the course gives juniors new experiences which will stretch their minds and expand their golfing portfolios. That this works is of great credit to the generosity of the committee and members who have been highly supportive of our work from the start.”
At the grass roots, as of June 2019, Saunton currently has 78 junior members, including 51 with handicaps even though 31 of the youngsters are 12 years-old or under.
Complementing and feeding this now established junior membership is the club’s Junior Academy run every Saturday, with five coaching classes of good sizes for a positive but not too large coaching dynamic, featuring Beginners (16 children), Intermediate (2 classes of 8-9 kids) and Advanced (2 classes of 7-8 youngsters). There are 20 girls taking part in the Junior Academy sessions and 12 of the Academy Juniors have come from school projects this year.
Foundation RDO Tom Sparks said: “Working with Tiff and Saunton, it has been a real pleasure to witness one of the best player pathways we’ve seen from ‘first hit’ at school to ongoing development at the club supported by the coaching team and members. The forward-thinking nature of the club is so impressive. Tiff works tirelessly to not only engage schools and community groups in the sport, but also throughout the entire journey of a junior at the club – from beginner to advanced. It’s no surprise to see the club thriving with juniors and the introduction of the junior scholarship programme is another example of their commitment to young people in the area.”