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  • Alistair Tait

Top Marks For R&A Student Tour Series

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

Very few playing the R&A Student Tour Series will make it to the European Tour or Ladies European Tour. That could change in future if the governing body can grow the series to make it a more viable option to college golf in the United States.

Throughout my golf writing career, I’ve watched countless talented British and Irish players take up scholarships in American college golf and wondered why we can’t do more to keep young talent in the British Isles.

College golf is the ultimate no brainer for many. If you’ve got the skill of a Luke Donald, a Paul Casey, a Leona Maguire and a large university offers you a free education, then why wouldn’t you take it? Great golf courses, excellent practice facilities and equipment, and the benefit of playing against top class talent on a regular basis are huge draws. Many of the bigger schools have performances centres national golf associations would drool over. What’s not to like?

Well, there are those who might not fancy four years in the United Sates, who would rather stay at home, close to family, friends, a coach, whatever. Many have gone to America only to come back early. Sandy Lyle and Nick Faldo are among the older names to have paid heed to the maxim “Go West Young Man” only to quickly exit stage left.

More recently, Matt Fitzpatrick briefly attended Northwestern University before deciding college golf wasn’t for him. Bob MacIntyre lasted a wee bit longer at McNeese State only to come home early. Lauren Taylor, the 2011 Women’s Amateur winner, spent a few months at Baylor before getting homesick and heading back to England.

The R&A Student Tour Series might just be the answer to those who don’t relish moving 4,000 miles away, but seek an education as plan B if they don’t fulfil professional aspirations.

I covered last week’s R&A Student Tour Series – Portugal at Tróia Golf Resort and was impressed with the circuit. As Maynooth University golf coach Barry Fennelly said:

“The sky’s the limit for where the R&A can take the Student Tour Series.”

British and Irish universities have produced some fine players. Catriona Matthew studied at Stirling University. So did European Tour pro Richie Ramsay. Under the guidance of former European Tour pro Dean Robertson, Stirling players Louise Duncan, who played in Portugal, and Laird Shepherd won last year’s Amateur Championships.

Robertson was in Portugal to see one of his charges, Lorna McClymont, win by four shots over the tough Tróia layout. The Stirling high performance coach is a big fan of the R&A initiative.

“There’s never really been anything previously on a big scale that was an alternative to America,” said former Walker Cup player Robertson, the 1999 Italian Open champion. “The R&A Student Tour Series fills that void. It’s an excellent alternative to college golf in the United States because, as good and as strong as golf is over there, it isn’t for everyone. The series is the perfect way to combine a university education at home with competitive golf.”

Maynooth University coach Barry Fennelly agrees. Two of his players, Ryan Griffin and Jordan Boles, were declared joint champions in Portugal.

“I think it’s a massive step forward for student golf in Europe that we have a tour run by the R&A,” said Fennelly, a former Irish Boys Champion. “The key thing is we’re getting the best players together and giving them the opportunity to showcase their skills, and challenge them on championship golf courses like Tróia.
“We have great programmes at home like Maynooth, Stirling, St Andrews, Exeter and others. Having a proper competition platform like this where we can bring players together is huge for their development.”

Robertson has worked hard during his tenure at Stirling to create as many playing opportunities for his players as possible, including competing in the Prestige at PGA West on the American college system.

“I see huge value in the series long term,” Robertson said. “The standard is good now, but it has the potential to grow and become even more competitive with more strength in depth.”

European Tour pros Edoardo and Francesco Molinari stayed at home and got university degrees rather than opting for college golf. Ditto for Daan Huizing of The Netherlands. If the R&A can also attract elite players studying at universities/colleges that don’t have golf programmes, then the Student Tour Series will definitely attain higher marks.

#JustSaying: “This series is a chance to play some really good courses after four years at Alabama. It’s just so cool having this opportunity in Portugal.” University of St Andrews student Ben Fuller

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