Go-ahead club nurturing the next generation of golfers

Craig Pollard, head teaching professional at South Chesterfield Golf Club.
Craig Pollard, head teaching professional at South Chesterfield Golf Club.

Long gone are the days when kids interested in golf had to make do with their dad’s old, outdated, oversized clubs to practise with.

Now, equipment is tailor-made for children as young as five years old. And if the boom in youth golf at the South Chesterfield club at Grassmoor is anything to go by, the youngsters are lapping it up.

Declan Brown (centre), the club's most improved player of the year, flanked by his successor as junior captain, Tom Short, and junior vice-captain Joshua Watson.

Declan Brown (centre), the club's most improved player of the year, flanked by his successor as junior captain, Tom Short, and junior vice-captain Joshua Watson.

Less than three years ago, the club had only a handful of juniors on its books. Currently, it boasts about 70 juniors, aged 17 and under, attending specialised coaching sessions, and 40 of them are fully-fledged members.

Much of the credit for the transformation goes to Craig Pollard, the club’s 38-year-old head teaching professional. He made it one of his missions to boost interest in golf among the younger generation when he arrived from the nearby Tapton Golf Club in 2015.

“We started off by holding free have-a-go sessions, encouraging youngsters to come and give golf a try,” says Pollard, a fully-qualified coach and PGA professional, who lives in Wingerworth.

“The response was so good that we were over-run! We were extremely busy, so we had to make it more structured and ask for people to sign on in advance.

“Now we have seven sessions a week, with some of the juniors just coming along for the coaching, while others want to take it further and go on courses etc.

“We even have children as young as five receiving coaching. It’s a great age to learn and a lot of fun. The rules of the sport are more relaxed now, and the clubs and equipment are lightweight and tailored to age and height. They’re not swinging great lumps of lead that used to be their dad’s any more!”

So successful has the whole initiative been that the club even has its own junior committee now, set up by parents of the youngsters and headed by chairman Paul Watson, while a firm link to the main committee of the club is provided through junior organiser Stef Holland.

“The parents have been so keen and enthusiastic,” says Pollard. “They have really picked it up and run with it.

“They have organised competitions, got sponsors for the juniors’ shirts and even run a Christmas party, which is over-subscribed, complete with a raffle with more than 30 prizes.

“I run the coaching side of things and give support and guidance. But the parents do a lot of the organising and administration, such as putting fixtures on the website and keeping handicaps up to date. They are a good set of parents and have done a great job.

“The club as a whole has been very supportive of the junior section too. The club wants it to grow and thrive, and are providing funding as well as the use of facilities.”

The success of the junior section reflects well on the long-established but go-ahead club on North Wingfield Road, which now has a total of about 400 members, including ladies.

Coaching for the youngsters focuses on all aspects of golf, from putting and swing to short game, fitness and preparation. They learn about the rules and etiquette of the game, how to play different competitions, gaining a handicap and how to obtain inexpensive equipment. And of course, they get out in the fresh air and meet and make new friends.

“For the first time in about seven years, we also entered an U17 team in the Derbyshire League,” says Pollard. “They played against teams from two or three other clubs and competed very well.

“On an individual level, our junior captain, 17-year-old Declan Brown, who has been playing for three or four years, was named the most improved player of the year for the entire club after dropping his handicap by nine shots from 28 to 19. That’s quite something, and he’s pretty proud of it.

“Another of our juniors, eight-year-old Benjamin Wharton, reached the grand final of the Wee Wonders British Championship, which was held at St Andrews.”

Junior membership at South Chesterfield is split into three different options. For £25, they can join for six months or for £55, they can join for 12 months, both carrying a few restrictions such as not being able to play on the course at certain times. A fee of £110 guarantees full membership for a year, with no restrictions and even allowing entry into adult competitions as well as junior ones.

The increased numbers prove that the take-up has been good, and Pollard is confident that the future looks bright for the club thanks to the love of golf being fostered among its youngsters.

“The junior section is really thriving,” he says. “It has given the whole club a bit of a buzz, and there is a good feel to the place.

“We want to keep it going forward and make it bigger and better. With the great team of people we have here, I am sure that will happen.”