Encouraging juniors should be on the agenda of every UK Golf Club. Is allowing them to play in adult competitions an effective way to do it?
Young players are the future of our game and, at club level, it’s vitally important that juniors are encouraged to stay in the sport. Allowing them to compete in adult competitions would seem an obvious way to do this – To make them feel part of the club and to provide the chance for older members to give guidance and support. But is it that straightforward?
With regards scratch events, it probably is. If a junior is able to compete on a level with the best players at a club, he or she should be allowed to do so. It would take a real Scrooge to deny a junior the chance of winning the club championship or scratch knockout if he or she has the ability to do so.
But when it comes to handicap tournaments, there’s more of an issue. As a rule, junior players who enjoy the competitive side of the game are improving, and many will be doing so rapidly – their handicaps tumbling. Put those youths against adults who’ve battled to maintain the same handicap for decades and the playing field doesn’t look particularly level.
If a long-time member has the round of his or her life in a significant club handicap competition, they’ll feel rather hard done by losing out to a 14-year-old who’s pitched up and shot level par gross, claiming to play off 15.
And what about the social side of the game? Many adult members play the monthly Medal as a way to meet people and to enjoy the company of like-minded individuals. Not all would be delighted to find themselves paired with a monosyllabic teenager who can’t buy a pint after the game. And prizegiving could be something of a damp squib if a couple of juniors have swept the boards thanks to freefalling handicaps.
Adult members should respect, not resent, the junior section. Perhaps allowing the kids to compete in all adult competitions isn’t the best way to achieve this.
What we think:
Clubs should run sufficient junior competitions for young players to gain competitive experience and reduce handicaps. There should be specific adult/junior events through the season and scratch club events should be open to all with the ability to compete.