As someone, who given the choice, would have always chosen to play a links course than an inland course I have a feeling that I might have missed out on playing some of the great inland courses especially many of those built on the heathland to the west of London.
When the first railways took the wealthy from the heart of our capital to the new emerging ‘golf resorts’ on the coast of Scotland, it created a demand for golf courses that could be played closer to home and the City all year around. Heathland like Links land is not suitable for growing crops and so could be purchased and maintained relatively cheaply. So the great heathland courses such as Sunningdale, Walton Heath, Wentworth and a whole host more were first laid out in what would become known as ‘the stockbroker belt’. Whilst I have driven past the entrance to the Wentworth Estate many times it was on Wednesday last that I first ventured in there invited by The Golf Foundation to attend their Annual Awards Ceremony. The awards were being presented in the ballroom at the Wentworth Club who, as all golfers know, were hosting the BMW PGA Championship.
The great and the good of the golfing establishment gathered promptly at 2.30pm and as they took their seats they were entertained by the Bury St Edmunds School Jazz Band – I listened attentively especially to the girl Saxophonist (as I would as a wannabe sax player) who had rushed from an A Level exam especially to be there.
Seated in the audience were Martin Slumbers the new Secretary of The R&A, David Joy from England Golf, Sandy Jones CEO of The PGA, George O’Grady CEO of The European Tour and the guest of honour, who would present the awards, was former Ryder Cup player and Captain Bernard Gallacher.
There were nine awards to be given out to nine very worthy winners but there was one that stood out to me and is an inspirational example to golf clubs across the country. The Sinclair Award is presented to a PGA professional who has made a significant impact on the development of grass roots junior golf.
The winner was 33 year old Ben Jones an Assistant Professional at Garon Park Golf Club in Southend on Sea. Ben didn’t take up golf until he was sixteen and then turned pro at 21. Ben received a grant from the Golf Foundation of £500, then through a lot of hard work and determination set about growing the junior section at his golf club. He encouraged the siblings, both boys and girls, of those who were already members of the club to attend a free taster session. He works with 40 local schools delivering tri-golf sessions. He organised a free tri-golf festival day for all local schools. He got involved in an obesity project in Basildon designed to get young people active. He organised more free coaching sessions for a local YMCA, for the Royal Deaf Association, for a local learning disability project. The list goes on.
All in all as a result of Ben’s efforts he has introduced some 1600 young people to the game with over 450 returning to the club for further golf. In the 4 years that he has been running the project he has grown the junior section from just 5 to over 120 junior members and a further 100 non-members.
I took time to speak with Ben after the awards and it’s clear his enthusiasm plus no nonsense approach based on a solid foundation of hard graft is the key to his success. Being a member of a club myself where we have consistently struggled to grow our junior section I am very much aware of how in these modern times engaging with youngsters to get them into golf is not an easy task. Well done Ben!
The highest profile award was the Sir Henry Cotton Award which is presented to an individual who has demonstrated meritorious service to junior golf for a sustained period and this year was won by 76 year old Les Hancock, from Wolstanton Golf Club. He was presented with a Silver Salver and an ETIQUS Classic Timepiece by Bernard Gallacher. Les first became junior organiser at Wolstanton in 1967 and has worked tirelessly over the years to get youngsters into golf and help them to also develop the life skills the sport has to offer which is very much a key element of the proposition from the Golf Foundation.
Brendon Pyle, CEO and Charles Harrison, Chairman of the Golf Foundation took time to thank all concerned and especially the long term core funders such as The R&A, HSBC, The European Tour, The PGA, Sport England, BGIA ‘Grow Golf’ Fund and also England Golf who donated a cheque for £80,000. The Golf Club that raised and donated the most money in the year was Royal West Norfolk who raised £2,647.
I’m really pleased that ETIQUS is supporting The Golf Foundation and junior golf as our charitable beneficiary and I’m delighted that in less than 10 months since launch we’ve already raised £7000, will raise at least another £5000 and will be well on our way to £15,000 before 2015 is out. With our ‘fiver for the foundation’ campaign and the ETIQUS Charity Challenge being run in association with The Golf Guide and at selected PGA North Events, we have created a fund raising vehicle that if the efforts of Ben Jones are anything to go by could create an opportunity for thousands of youngsters to experience the great game of golf.
Is that worth a fiver of your money? I hope so.
You can see the progress of our fundraising on www.justgiving.com/etiqus
Thanks for all your support.
Gary Butler – Founder
PS One other Wentworth snippet for you is the story of PGA Professional Ian Ellis currently 1565th in the world rankings. Ian as @necky_fade discovered ETIQUS on Twitter and is a follower. Ian contacted me whilst I was on holiday in Turkey in early May and we spoke on the Tuesday night before my visit to Wentworth. Ian told me that things hadn’t been the best for him in recent years, both on and off the golf course, but now felt he was back on track and delighted that he had once more qualified for the PGA Championship at Wentworth via the PGA regional and national qualifying rounds. He’d narrowly missed the cut in both 2006 and 2014 by 1 shot and was, at the 7th time of asking, confident that at 42 years of age he could break through and make it to the weekend. After bogeying the 17th in the second round meaning he needed a par down the last to make the cut I was really pleased that Ian did indeed hole a nervy four footer at the 18th to make it into the final rounds. By doing so he became the leading PGA Professional at the event and picked up his award on the 18th green alongside tournament winner Byeong Hun An from Korea. So when one of the main stories earlier in the week was about the world number one Rory McIlroy missing the cut I think it’s great that one of the key stories at the end of the week was about a guy who actually made the cut! Well done Ian and I hope this is a stepping stone to greater things in your career.