“The children don’t seem to care about the rain,” said one drenched Mum. “It’s been, ‘Where’s Rory… where’s Tommy?’, and, can we have another go at the putting?”
Unlucky with the weather at the weekend, but we had plenty to celebrate on the final few days of a busy week at Royal Liverpool GC, where thousands of children and families visited the ‘Swingzone’, completing a landmark project supported by The R&A called The Road to The Open.
While the would-be Champion Golfer of the Year Brian Harman was calmly plotting his way around the course, in the Swingzone it was Luke Donald, Minjee Lee, Zane Scotland, Graeme Storm and Nick Dougherty meeting families in support of the Golf Foundation to inspire the next generation into the game.
For this national children’s charity, The Open story started back in the Autumn of 2022 in the planning stage of the project with England Golf and supported by The R&A, before in March the Foundation brought its beginner-friendly format Golfway to 40 school and community groups in the Wirral, Merseyside and Lancashire area, including more than 20 primary schools and five special educational needs schools (every school now has access to Golfway kit); training teachers in every school to deliver the fundamentals of golf including practical life skills learnings that are simple and fun to absorb but can help in the wider lives of the children involved.
These teachings (including how to keep calm and focused in the challenge, staying positive, respecting your opponents) were also part of the activity at The Open for the whole week in the Swingzone right next to Royal Liverpool’s 14th fairway, as the charity was guests of The R&A.
A total of 40 local groups could make the trip to Royal Liverpool to play high energy Golfway sessions, while all family members at The Open could also try a ‘longest putt’ to enter a daily draw to win state-of-the-art Titleist Scotty Cameron putters (Titleist and FootJoy supporting the Foundation). More than 6,400 people enjoyed Golf Foundation activity.
Visitors were also able to enjoy free golf lessons courtesy of The PGA (more than 3,000 in total), while England Golf staff and volunteers supported the Foundation in the Swingzone as all concerned in this partnership seek to continue the legacy of the famous championship and make a lasting impact throughout the region.
Of the 40 groups visiting the Foundation, 18 were from golf clubs, 19 from schools, and three were community groups, including a group of girls from the Muslim Golf Association who clearly enjoyed their session. Amir Malik, Founder of the MGA, said later: “The girls had a fantastic day with the Golf Foundation and seeing The Open. They didn’t stop talking about it all the way home and were looking forward to telling their families, and also to their next go at golf.”
During his visit, European Ryder Cup Captain Luke Donald was in charge of another team of excited golfers – this time a little younger and smaller. Luke said: “I think golf teaches great lessons to young people, including patience, perseverance, honesty and integrity, and it’s great for the children to experience a little of this, and be around it through golf.
“It’s really important to get exposed to the game in a fun way like this. Having learned some new skills, the children will have great memories leaving the course today.”
Girl-power with Minjee Lee
Meanwhile former US Open Champion Minjee Lee led a session with youngsters from Chorley Golf Club, and her generosity in supporting the boys and girls was hugely appreciated by the Foundation staff. Minjee threw herself into the games, running back and forth as she played ‘Finders Keepers’ and ‘Bullseye’ with her young girls’ team.
Minjee attended the stand alongside HSBC Ambassadors Brian O’Driscoll and Tim Henman (HSBC has been a key supporter of the charity) and the trio were a big hit with the audience of families present.
DP World Tour professionals Zane Scotland and Graeme Storm (who are both now broadcasters with the BBC) also supported. Zane, The R&A’s Diversity Ambassador, made a key impact at The Road to The Open in a visit to St George’s Primary School in Wallasey recently, encouraging 10 and 11 year-olds in their very first hits on the school playing field. Meanwhile, Graeme is a fantastic Golf Foundation ambassador: he has been visiting schools in his area in the North East of England to coach youngsters for some years now.
Golf Foundation CEO Brendon Pyle said: “All week we have been welcoming hundreds of youngsters and families to have a go at golf, right beside the course at Royal Liverpool, a fantastic opportunity courtesy of our strongest supporters, The R&A. The 40 or so schools we have introduced to golf in this region are just a part of our quickly growing and highly inclusive national programme for schools, supported superbly by our charity’s President Nick Dougherty.
“Our team of seven Regional Development Officers never stopped encouraging the children to have a try from the first Sunday of the week to the last Sunday at a very wet 5pm.
England Golf, The PGA and EDGA did so well, and others helped too. In quite different ways Luke, Minjee, Zane and Graeme have all made a significant impact in encouraging our youngsters from different backgrounds to try golf or take an interest. I would also like to thank Brian O’Driscoll and Tim Henman, who as HSBC Ambassadors have supported us many times in recent years, always with a smile, a great sense of fun, and always spurring on the boys and girls. They are superb role models in sport for everyone. Finally, our part in The Road to The Open wouldn’t have been so successful without the fantastic work of our RDO for the region, Gavin Forsyth, so well supported by his colleague and expert in schools Andy Leigh.”
Trophy’s message for SEN schools
Brian Harmon from Savannah, Georgia, picked up the key trophy on the course during the week, but our Road to The Open project yielded award winners too. A class of youngsters with special educational needs from Bidston Village Primary School, Prenton, were presented with the Golf Foundation’s ‘Open 4 All’ trophy after winning their ‘GolfSixes Mini League’ event at local council-run course, Arrowe Park, the home of the excellent Wirral Golf Academy. Similarly, Gayton Primary children received the Primary trophy for GolfSixes at Royal Liverpool. A third trophy for secondary schools will be contested in September.
The Bidston children were thrilled to receive their trophy. Teacher Miss Fallon said: “This has been incredibly exciting for our children. To play our own golf and then to have a look around The Open itself delighted us, and for the children to receive this wonderful trophy with the school name engraved on it is brilliant. We are sure golf can be a great new game for our school.”
Kevin Barker, Director of Golf Development for The R&A, said: “The Golf Foundation really makes the most out of the opportunity presented by The Open and the Swingzone. It’s great to watch the staff on the stand, working with the children, making it fun. This is very impressive and I’m full of admiration for what the team does for the whole Open week, and the manner in which this very important work gets done.”
In other Swingzone activity, the Golf Foundation team was delighted to support the work of EDGA as the international organisation introduces people with a disability of all ages to the benefits of golf. As EDGA supported regional charities for the week, our staff joined an excellent session with young people from the Limbo Foundation (which provides limb different children, families, and their friends with support to do all the things they love), helping EDGA’s development specialist Mark Taylor as he showed the youngsters just what they could achieve with a club, a ball and a target. The team was pleased to share their playing spaces with EDGA during the sessions.
Young volunteers support
Young Ambassadors for the Golf Foundation and England Golf: Olivia Whittle, Kennedy Murphy, Zara Wartnaby, Ryka Verma and George Coope were great in their support on stand, and volunteers Abi Frodsham and Isobel Smith (who is 12) deserve special praise for their help in local events.
A key final but highly important strand of The Road to The Open, is working with young people on careers. The DP World Tour has taken its Golf Futures programme, which is supported by The R&A, into area schools with the support of the partners of The Road to The Open, to highlight careers in golf. Following successful workshops for four secondary schools, students were then given a unique behind the scenes tour of The Open itself at Royal Liverpool, seeing how a major golf championship like this is run, before themselves volunteering to do some of The Open’s key jobs, for example helping with running scoreboards.
In terms of growing the game strategically, the Golf Foundation co-sponsored, along with Sporting Insights and the British Golf Industry Association, the annual golf industry lunch, now called the Stephen Proctor Lunch after our late and much-missed Trustee, at which new Golf Foundation President Nick Dougherty was one of the speakers. Nick spoke with eloquence and passion on the importance for all golfers to put something back, to help more kids try and learn golf, and how schools can play a central role in helping to evolve the sport going forwards.
Golf Foundation Chairman Stephen Lewis said: “Nick spoke so well about the power of golf to help transform the lives of our young people, something all our Golf Foundation team believes in wholeheartedly, and The Open is where we see just how exciting golf can be to so many families and their youngsters.
“This work can’t happen without partnerships, and our charity is so fortunate to be able to work so closely with The R&A and all our partners in ensuring that everyone who visited the Swingzone at Royal Liverpool had lots of fun and were hopefully inspired to take their golf further.”
See you in Troon in 2024…