I wasn’t born into a golfing family, far from it. My early years were pretty tough and for my parents simply putting clothes on my back and food on the table was the focus for their earnings. The thoughts of any expense relating to the game of golf were far off and anyway they had football boots to buy and muddy kits to wash first. I’ve always played sport and particularly most ball sports – except rugby. Ironically I would spend many hours on the rugby field despite the fact I’ve never played a game in my life.
My first encounter with the game of golf came at the local park where they had a putting ‘green’. You could hire a ‘bulls-eye’ putter and a rubber ball for a few pence and so I started to putt … left handed …as I do to this day despite playing right handed. When I moved to the senior school I became friendly with a boy whose father, mother and brother all played golf too. They had a practice golf net at the bottom of their garden and eventually, I was able to hit the little white ball more times than miss it and so one day I was invited by them to make up a four ball to play golf on a real golf course – I was 12.
Off we went to Tinsley Park Golf Club, a municipal course in Sheffield. One round of proper golf and I was completely hooked - despite spending most of the round slicing!. I played right handed but with my left hand below my right. Golf became a growing feature in my sporting week but I couldn’t afford to join a golf club, relying mainly on my friend as the stand-in for the family fourball. I badgered my father to buy me the half set of clubs often advertised in the bottom left corner on the back page of newspapers. They were called ‘Pro Master’ and the half set comprised a driver, a fairway wood, 3,5,7,9 irons and a putter. I think they were £19 all in. They were exclusively available by mail order, the precursor to today’s online shopping. When they arrived I was ecstatic – I had my own clubs at last and now I would be able to practice and play real golf. My delight was short lived however, when the head of the 7 iron flew off whilst playing a shot at the 3rd hole at Tinsley and the head of the 5 iron disappeared into the undergrowth somewhere on the back nine. I had 5 clubs left to play with for the next two years with a big gap between the 3 and 9 irons – I would have to be creative in my shot making!
All golfers know the importance of practice but practice where? There weren’t any proper golf practice facilities nearby so the obvious place was the school playing fields. Most nights after school had finished and matches too had been played I would return with a couple of clubs and one ball. My favourite place to practice was the rugby pitch. I would stand beneath the posts at one end of the rugby field and then see how many shots it would take me to get it between the posts and over the bar at the other end. After each ‘holing out’ I would advance 10 yds down the pitch and start again. I didn’t mind taking huge divots out of the rugby field but I never practised on the football pitch! Eventually I would be 10 yards from the posts and I’d try to get it over the bar in one. If successful I’d move forward one yard and try again. Soon I’d be directly under the bar opening the club face as wide as possible to slice under the ball and send it vertically upwards over it. When I could do this with my 9 iron I started to do the same practise with my 3 iron – that practice all those years ago is still very useful today! Like most youngsters it was a thrill and there wasn’t any fear whatsoever, even when I tried the same shots in my back garden using the washing line as the ‘cross bar’ with the back windows of my house just a few feet away.
A few years later, now equipped with a half-set of John Letters' Par Busters I prepared for ‘Uni’ and it was time to take stock of my financial situation. I was the first person in my family to go to University and my parents were not convinced. I was awarded almost the full grant to study. The night before departing to Manchester my father counted out into the palm of my hand the £28 he had to stump up himself – ‘right son that’s me and you straight’ he said. It wasn’t long before the £28 had been spent and the grant depleted – I was on survival terms. I had to raise cash quickly and reluctantly I had to sell my golf clubs, securing £35 from the sale with bag, balls and a umbrella thrown in. At just 18 I thought that my golfing ‘career’ was over.
I’m sure that experience is not unique and there’s many a child who is denied the opportunity to experience our great game simply by the investment required to play it. So it was a privilege last week to be invited to join the Golf Foundation at their annual Pro-Am at The London Golf Club.
The golf tournament, auction and dinner created an excellent fundraising effort from all involved, with more than £20,000 being raised for the charity that makes golf more accessible to youngsters from all backgrounds and helps to grow participation in golf clubs through initiatives including the PGA-endorsed Junior Golf Passport.
Brendon Pyle, Acting Chief Executive of the Golf Foundation said: “We would like to thank every player for their contribution and a fantastic fundraising effort today. Your support and the support from all golfers really is appreciated as our HSBC Golf Roots programme is introducing over half a million young people to golf every year and, last year, created 2,500 new junior members in clubs.’’ The initiative offers playing opportunities and ‘Skills for Life’ elements in schools and community projects and then feeds young people through to golf clubs, preparing them for regular play and, hopefully, a life in golf.
It was a pleasure to play in the event, see the support to The Golf Foundation from some of the great and the good in the golfing establishment and witness first-hand the enthusiasm of Brendon and his team to the cause.
I’m proud of the fact that each sale of an ETIQUS timepiece generates ‘a fiver for the foundation’, that most of the first purchasers are donating more money too and that we have a full programme of events already scheduled for 2015 that will raise about £500 per event to preserve the spirit of the game for the next generation.
Winston Churchill was accredited, albeit wrongly, with the famous quote – ‘A living is about what you get, but a life is about what you give’. You can almost hear him saying it.
Please keep giving to the Golf Foundation a.k.a. Golf Roots HQ - www.justgiving.com/etiqus