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  • Alistair Tait

Student Tour Series Fills Important Gap

The R&A couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the R&A Student Tour Series – Spain. Playoffs were need to determine the men’s and women’s winners, one clinched with a chip-in eagle, the other with a clutch birdie.

It was exciting stuff, and a fitting end to the last tournament before the Grand Final in Fife next month, when the top student golfers tee it up at Dumbarnie Links, and the Castle and Jubilee courses 4-6 April.

Players from 25 universities/colleges across Europe teed it up in the R&A Student Tour Series – Spain at Infinitum Golf in Tarragona, Spain. I make that five more than teed it up at Troia Golf Resort in the Portuguese leg last month.

Proof the governing body has a deeper mine to tap when it comes to good golfing talent studying in Europe.

Lorna McClymont (above) won the women’s title, her third in a row following victories at Troia and Carton House in the Irish event last year. The affable Stirling University student birdied the par-5 the final hole twice on the last day. Once to get in a play off with Darcey Harry, and again in sudden death to take the top prize. Trinity College player Eoin Sullivan went one better: he eagled the final hole to break out of a deadlock with Stirling player David Brookes.

McClymont, a member of Milngavie Golf Club, is luckier than Sullivan. The plus 5 Scottish international attends the University of Stirling. She is a recipient of top coaching and development from former European Tour player Dean Robertson, the 1999 Italian Open winner and Stirling high performance coach. Robertson’s excellent programme is matched by Maynooth University, run by former Irish Boys champion Barry Fennelly. St Andrews, Birmingham Halmstad and other higher education facilities also have programmes to help players develop their games while they study.

Sullivan was in Spain on his own. He isn’t part of structured golf programme. Trinity College doesn’t have one. The Carton House member tries to keep up with his golf development while studying for a business and economics degree.

“This tour is brilliant for me because I’m not part of a programme,” Sullivan said. “I’m doing it on my own with my parents helping me. To get this sort of competition on such great courses like Troia and here (Infinitum) is great because it helps keep me competitive when I normally wouldn’t be playing tournaments while studying.”

The Student Tour series only travels to venues that have hosted European or Ladies European Tour events. Troia has staged the Portuguese Open, while Infinitum hosts Europe’s best next month with the staging of the DP World Tour’s ISPS Handa Championship in Spain. Infinitum, formerly Lumine Golf, holds the European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage.

Women’s runner-up Harry is also not part of a golf programme. The 18-year-old is in her first year at Royal Agricultural University, where she is studying equine science.

“It’s a great tour,” Harry said. “I wish I’d known about it earlier because if I had then I might have played Troia too. There is no golf team at my university, so to get this experience is brilliant.”

The plus 4 handicapper from Royal Porthcawl made her debut in the series, thanks to the largesse of Robertson and his Stirling team.

Harry’s participation was slightly in doubt since her parents had slight reservations about her travelling to Spain on her own. That’s where Robertson and the Stirling team came to the rescue. The squad welcomed her into their midst, involving her in practice rounds, team meals and treating her like one of the team. That was noticeable on the evening after the final round. Six young women, Harry and five members of the Stirling team, sat around a table in a Tapas bar that night, with McClymont and Harry sitting next to each other chatting amicably.

England’s Abbi Rowlands also made her debut in the Tour Series. The plus 1 handicapper from Foxhills Golf Club attends the Golf College in Lindfield, West Sussex, but joins Loughborough in September. She shared the first round lead with Harry. Like her Welsh counterpart, she had no idea the series existed until just before Troia.

“If I’d known earlier, I’d have played in Portugal,” Rowlands said. “I want to try to turn pro after I finish my studies, so It’s good to know this exists for me the next two years of uni, and I can get competitive golf while I study.”

As I said after the Portugal event, a stronger university circuited has been needed in Europe for many years. American college golf will always prove a strong attraction for the game’s best amateurs seeking a back-up plan should their dreams of professional golf not work out. However, not everyone wants to go West. Many want to stay at home and study. The fact they can now do so and get competitive golf through the Student Series plugs a huge gap that’s existed for many years.

#JustSaying: “The only thing a golfer needs is more daylight.” Ben Hogan

Photograph by Getty Images courtesy of the R&A

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