A nine-year old girl from Oldham and a 12-year-old boy from Lymm, Cheshire, have won the world’s first ever X Factor-style search for young golf stars.
Katie-Jane Stanley and Jake Williams wowed a panel of celebrity judges at the Playgolf Manchester complex as 13 youngsters competed in the grand final of ‘Talent Hunt’ – a competition which had scoured the North West for the most promising natural golf talent in the region.
Just as in the TV talent show ‘X Factor’, the finalists went through a nerve-wracking audition in front of judges, hitting golf balls and explaining what they’d learned during four weeks of intensive ‘boot camp’ golf training with the Professional instructors at Playgolf Manchester.
Judges including Setanta Sports TV presenter, Charlotte Jackson; Chairman of Selectors for GB&I junior golf Peter McEvoy OBE; Playgolf Manchester General Manager, Craig Whitfield; and event organiser, Andy Hiseman, then had the difficult job of picking two winners – finally opting for St Mary’s RC School, Failsworth, pupil, Katie-Jane and Lymm High school pupil, Jake.
The winners each received a year’s scholarship to Playgolf Manchester awarded under R&A amateur status guidelines, plus the opportunity to play regularly at local golf clubs.
Said Andy Hiseman: “It was a stunning event. We have proved that this is a magical formula to unlock junior golf talent, wherever you are in the world.
“Searching for a golf star in this way has proved to be an innovative and highly emotional experience for all concerned. Competitions like X Factor, Pop Idol and Britain’s Got Talent are ingrained in modern society and ‘Talent Hunt’ has proved to be a great way to make golf contemporary with young people.”
Playgolf Manchester, the North West’s favourite golf facility, played host to ‘Talent Hunt’ from initial auditions right through to the final. General Manager Craig Whitfield said: “’Talent Hunt’ has been an incredible success and we’re delighted for the two winners.
“Katie-Jane and Jake not only showed great ball-striking ability, they also had to demonstrate character and ambition. Both youngsters have fantastic potential and we’ll now be working to unlock that promise and see how far they can go in the game.”
Head judge Peter McEvoy, OBE, who has enormous experience of the junior game through his work with GB & I and his patronage of the Peter McEvoy Trophy, said: “I was hugely impressed with all of the finalists – but Katie-Jane and Jake each had a spark about them which convinced us that they could develop into potential world-beaters. They certainly have the talent.
“This initiative was all about spotting raw golf talent at an early age and giving it the opportunity and resources to blossom. ‘Talent Hunt’ at Playgolf Manchester has certainly proved that this can be done in a very entertaining and dynamic way.”
McEvoy will be monitoring the winning young golfers’ progress during 2009, to see if they show the potential to break through onto the international stage.
‘Talent Hunt’ began with open auditions when more than 550 youngsters faced the judges in September. 66 talented young golfers progressed to ‘Boot Camp’ – four weeks of intensive tuition at the Playgolf Academy, based at Playgolf Manchester, during October and early November.
A delighted Jake Williams said afterwards: “I’m ecstatic. I used to play squash but I swapped it for golf a year ago. I’ve never won anything like this before, it’s amazing.”
Meanwhile, Katie-Jane added: “I’m really pleased. I was the third person to be interviewed right at the start of the competition and I got through to the end. It’s brilliant.”