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  • Alistair Tait

Enthusiastic golf lovers only, please

The success or failure of the R&A’s proposed community golf facility at Lethamhill in Glasgow rests on many things, much of it measurable in pounds and pence. However, there is one intangible the governing body must take into consideration: make sure it's run by people who love golf.

Not only people who love the game, but who can convey that love to others too.

Many of us are fortunate to have met people working in the industry who’ve managed to pass on their own enthusiasm for the game. I still think back to club professional Paul Cotey at Merry Hill Golf Club in Kitchener, Ontario, when I took up golf. His passion for the game was obvious to anyone fortunate enough to meet him. It certainly was to me, and part of the reason I grew to love this game.

I’m reminded, too, of the late Bob Torrance, after a fellow Woburn Golf Club member messaged me to say he’s taking lessons from one of Torrance’s former pupils. Scottish teaching professional Michael Sweeney is now coaching at the Pete Cowen Academy in Dubai. I first met Sweeney in 2008. He was an assistant professional at Turnberry, who was fortunate enough to get lessons from Torrance.

Anyone who met the legendary coach knows how much he loved the game. When Bob wasn’t out on the European Tour teaching major winners like Ian Woosnam and Padraig Harrington, you could find him at the Inverclyde National Golf Training Centre near his home in Largs, Scotland. He would be seated on a red plastic chair giving lessons. Every. Single. Day. Rain or shine.

“I’m up here every day when I’m not at a tournament,” Torrance told me the day I shared with him at Inverclyde. “Why wouldn’t I be here? This is what I love doing. I still love the game even after all these years. I’m still learning about the golf swing.”

Sweeney couldn’t believe he was getting lessons from a legend.

“Bob could see I was serious about learning and he took me under his wing,” Sweeney said. “His enthusiasm is unbelievable. I’ve improved no end, but I still find it hard to believe one of the world’s best golf coaches has endless time for me.”

This game is blessed with people who are in it because golf got a hold of them young and wouldn’t let go: individuals like Torrance and Cotey, now the club professional at Petawawa Golf Club in Ontario, who help inspire others to love the game too.

However, we’ve all had experiences of grumpy golf club secretaries, club stewards and even club professionals who seemed to go out of their way to make us feel as uncomfortable as possible. How many times have we visited a golf club in the past and experienced the barely hidden contempt many club officials had for visitors?

Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people” certainly did seem to be on the reading list of some club stewards and secretaries of British golf clubs when I first experienced golf back in my homeland after returning from Canada. It was a bit of a culture shock to come up against a barrage of what seemed arcane rules and regulations administered by officials who seemed to have previously worked in the prison service.

Most golf clubs are thankfully much more relaxed now than they were 30 years ago. They’ve woken up to what might have seemed a revolutionary idea: they are part of the service industry, and members and visitors expect service or they might go elsewhere.

From looking at the graphics, plans are for the Lethamhill centre to be light and airy, not dark and forbidding like many traditional clubhouses. It should be a welcoming experience for those wanting to try this stick and ball game. That welcoming experience also needs to come from the personnel who run the centre.

Now the R&A doesn’t have to go out and hire a teaching professional of Torrance’s class to run its Lethamhill facility, but the governing body must ensure it gets people with the same love for the game. Maybe when they advertise for positions at the facility the job ads should read: Golf lovers wanted who can imbue their love for the game to newcomers and beginners. Others need not apply.

#JustSaying: “I do get a buzz out of helping people. What I really like is that if you get somebody from the start, a complete beginner who can’t hit it, who’s topping it or sclaffing it along the ground, and you get them to hit it out of the middle of the club face, and get them to get the feeling of a proper strike, that’s a huge boost. It’s very rewarding.” Michael Bannon, Rory McIlroy’s coach

Image courtesy of the R&A

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1 Comment

Feb 17, 2021

I hope it's successful. It could encourage many others to follow the much needed model

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