A Junior Revolution

Wakatipu Junior Golf Club
Simon Boland the Coordinator of WJGC working with a couple of youngsters at the NZ Open Futures Festival at the 2020 NZ Open.

A revolution is finally happening in junior golf in this country, and it all started back in 2014 in Queenstown. Take a bow Simon Boland and the Wakatipu Junior Golf Club, which are the catalyst and blueprint for what is being gradually rolled out throughout Aotearoa by NZ Golf.

Let us go back to how it all started. Boland the WJGC Coordinator said, “The concept originated from a lack of support for junior golf in the area. There is a general perception that golf is not cool for young ones and even not particularly well known, so we had to find a way to raise the profile and make it fun and cool for those who tried it. We reasoned if our coaching classes are fun and progressive they will tell their mates and get them to give it a go.”

“I had been looking after small groups at Queenstown Golf Club (Kelvin Heights) for some years and decided that a junior only club should be created for the purpose of gaining support from local business and funding avenues. I took this concept to the board at Queenstown GC for discussion, and John Stephens the Club Manager suggested we take it further and create a club for the entire Wakatipu region.”

The club would cater for juniors under 19 y.o. with the aim of increasing participation, making golf fun and producing lifetime golfers. So a board of trustees was established, including a representative from the three clubs Queenstown, Arrowtown and Frankton. They then did the work of forming the club as a Charitable Trust which is the basis for raising necessary finances.

Boland added, “The club would run as a Virtual Golf Club with no home course or facility. NZ Golf made a rule change to allow a provision for this type of composite club. However, that approval was their only input.”

The annual fee is just $125 which is also the cost for parents wanting to join. For that small cost members have full playing rights at the three clubs. Parent members have the same rights providing they are playing with their children members. The fees go towards retaining the essential services of the coordinator Simon Boland and also helps with the heavily subsidised coaching and travel assistance programs it delivers.

“The clubs benefit from increased participation and more parents then taking up memberships,” Boland said “Long term, the result is more people playing golf plus more equipment sales and coaching lessons.”

Membership numbers have grown from 45 to over 200, including 60 with handicaps. The free Saturday coaching clinics are held at Frankton Golf Centre with anything from 25 to 40 attending each week.

Boland outlines some keys for success.

“The role of coordinator is essential for organising and implementing the programs, particularly with the schools. Going into schools ad hoc with no progressive program may not grow the game. It needs to be in school and ongoing leading to the Saturday clinics.”

“Another key is getting clubs to put aside any historic parochial attitudes and agree to work together for the good of growing junior numbers in their area as a whole. The ‘we don’t want our course overrun with young children‘ attitude is not conducive to growing the game. Junior access here in Wakatipu is limited to targeted times that do not interfere with the normal use of the course.”

Boland also outlined the progression pathway children attending coaching sessions at any venue should be aware of to aim for.

  • Community Coaching Clinics-Free Saturdays
  • Join the Club
  • Saturday club golf, putting in cards and getting a handicap
  • Play events and club golf
  • Performance golf

It is impossible not to be impressed with the success of this concept as is evidenced by the talent that has already emerged and blossomed in this region through the six years.

Wakatipu Junior Golf Club players Sumin Kang(left) and Jan Ebbinge.
Wakatipu Junior Golf Club players Sumin Kang(left) and Jan Ebbinge.

Sungwoo Han, Jack Turner, Callum Judkins, Terry Kim have been Otago Age Group and Senior Men’s representatives while Danielle Bailey has been an Otago representative.

Younger ones who represent Otago are Sumin Kang 15 years old, Yoonae Jeong(12), Liam Judkins(16), Noah Novacek(13), Nico Chiefetz(15), Jan Ebbinge(15), all hold handicaps under five. Two other aspiring 12-year-olds are Ricky Kang 7.8 handicap and Josh Harris 8.4.

“Creating lifetime golfers whilst promoting physical education and the life skills associated with the game is allowing young ones and others who follow, to play the game at the highest level,” Boland enthused.

So where to from 2014? It was not until June 2018 that someone else saw the light. That, someone, was Shelley Duncan, Golf Director at Otago Golf Club. She tells the story, “Being aware of Wakatipu Junior Golf Club, I spoke with Simon (Boland) and I could see you needed the right people on the ground at each club otherwise nothing happens People just don’t have time unless they have a vested interest.

“Fortunately, we have parents with that interest who want it to work. Without this, it falls entirely on the Club Professional and that is unfair as generally, they don’t have time to run a junior program alone. However we in Dunedin are putting in the time on Sundays and it is working, so we are happy to do it,” Duncan explained.

Thus the virtual Dunedin Junior Golf Club was formed, but with seven clubs on board. Duncan stresses it took some time and effort to convince all clubs of the benefits. DJGC has a coordinator working from home for 10 hours a week managing the club. Membership has rocketed to 212 in two years. Members, children and parents pay $120 a year for access to all clubs- Otago, St Clair, Chisholm Links, Taieri Lakes, Belleknowes, Port Chalmers and Island Park. The free coaching sessions on Sunday mornings are held on a rotational basis at each club.

“We get around 40 juniors each Sunday. Usually 20 for coaching and 20 playing team golf like American foursomes,” Duncan said. “Add to this some who come with their parents and play. The knock-on effect is such that I now have nine girls attending my Tuesday coaching which has not happened before.

“People who say golf is a slowly dying older person’s sport are talking rubbish. We have several outstanding Juniors such as Callum White, Will McLaughlan, Baxter Meder, and Parker Aluesi. Also, we have 12-year-old Kairangi Koni on a 7.5 handicap. Plus it is nice to see five and six-year-olds playing.”

So with these two beacons of revolutionary light leading the way, NZ Golf finally followed suit with the ‘Love Golf Futures’ programme in 2018. The aims are admirable.”It is about enriching the lives of young people through golf.“ The program provides young people access to a variety of golf courses, regular coaching including after school and holidays, regular playing opportunities. Plus affordable membership options for young people and their families.

Already we are seeing benefits with under 19 trends on the rise. In 2020 memberships are up 7%, rounds played are up 13%. Since the launch of ‘Love Golf Futures,’ there are already several hubs similar to Wakatipu established and growing.

Futures Canterbury includes Charteris Bay GC, Ellesmere, Greendale, Hororata, Lincoln, McLeans Island, and Tai Tapu. It already has 193 members. 67% of the young people and 85% of the parents are new to golf and over 90% of juniors are actively engaged.

Futures Waikato includes Hamilton GC, Riverside, Cambridge, Ngaruawahia, Te Awamutu, Horsham Downs, Hukunui and Huntly. This hub has 186 members. Impressive stuff. Also worth mentioning are Futures Geyserland with 91 members and the fledgling Whanganui with 25 members.

Early, yet promising days with more potential Futures Hub projects in discussion across the country according to NZ Golf CEO, Dean Murphy.

What is somewhat obvious is the absence of Greater Auckland, Greater Wellington and Hutt, and Christchurch City Hubs plus the many other major cities across New Zealand. The aforementioned gives all the necessary detail to get the ball rolling. The proof that it works is there for all to see.

It is clear that the Wakatipu Junior Golf Club is not only a shining beacon on the NZ golf scene but a blueprint for the whole of the country to replicate. Latch on to the Futures program or simply replicate WJGC. Form those hubs of three or more clubs, appoint a coordinator, form a trust and every District, City and Town will be in a position to enjoy the success of Wakatipu and Dunedin.

Simon Boland is as passionate about growing junior golf as you will find anywhere. For Boland, a 50 hour week which includes golf work is normal during summer. While much of his time is unpaid it is water off a ducks back for him.

“I am sure many of the young people joining these programs will have the opportunity to go on to achieve much success within the game of golf,” Boland concluded, “Some have done that already. We all know how tough it can be but if their excellent work ethic continues, the sky is the limit.”

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