KENT, ENGLAND | Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, was standing by as wind-battered competitors in his Duke of York Young Champions Trophy at Royal St. George’s were handing in their first-day cards. A 4-handicap player himself, he knew better than to probe too deeply into how the individuals had scored in the buffeting conditions. If they wanted to tell him, that was fine. And if they didn’t, no matter.
The Duke understands juniors and the junior game as well as anyone. Indeed, even before he started his event back in 2001, he had a clear vision as to what he wanted to achieve. Alarmed at the extent to which young players in the UK were turning professional without knowing too much of what they were doing, he wanted a tournament in which they could look at their rivals of the future and draw comparisons.
“As a rule,” he said, “youngsters spend a lot of their time playing events where there is a massive gulf between the best and the worst. It’s better that they realise sooner rather than later that there are any number of hugely talented individuals out there.”
The Duke was equally anxious that his DOY Young Champions should in itself provide a glimpse of the professional arena. It is played over great courses and, as you would imagine, his charges revelled in the chance to play over the links which will host next year’s Open championship.
At the inaugural DOY Young Champions Trophy there were only a handful of competitors, all of them from Europe. This year, there were 58 who homed in on Royal St. George’s from countries as far afield as America and Japan. Indeed, when it came to the official dinner at the magnificent Leeds Castle, the Duke was able to make cheerful mention of how, back in 2001, the dinner had taken place in a very small room whereas now they needed a banqueting hall.
There is another message the 50-year-old Duke wants to get across via his tournament, one which he and his associates spell out all the time. Namely, that whether they like it or not, the youngsters need to accept that they are not all going to make the grade and that they should have a back-up plan.
“You want to give youngsters the chance to play golf to the best of their ability,” says the Duke, “but if they can keep on with their education at the same time, for heaven’s sake let’s help to make it happen.”
There was an evening during the tournament when Ian Henderson, the golf master at Wellington College – Wellington offers a selection of golf scholarships via the DOY Foundation – was even more to the point. He suggested that it was tantamount to cruelty to have children home-schooled or plucked from their schooling at the earliest possible age in order to give them more time for golf. In his eyes, an education is no less important for the boy or girl who makes it in the professional ranks than for the one who falls by the golfing wayside.
The great thing about the Wellington scholarships is that the relevant boys and girls can escape the age-old business of being torn between trying to stay in with their school teachers and their national unions. The schools do not want them to miss classes while the unions persist in summoning them to training sessions.
Though they cannot understand why more of the national bodies are not like the English Women’s Golf Association in holding the bulk of their sessions in school holiday periods, the staff at Wellington will usually let the children away with their blessing. Not only that, but they will help them to catch up with schoolwork on their return.
The DOY Young Champions Trophy is liberally peppered with players who are making good choices – and it shows. As the Duke said, it is just a pity that TV and the magazines do not give more time and space to this level of the game. “The TV companies could be getting good footage in the bag of champions in the making,” he notes. From the ranks of this year’s Ryder Cup side, Rory McIlroy and Ross Fisher are both past DOY players.
Even as the Duke was speaking, the next day’s draw-sheet was being prepared. In it, the trio in the lead and out last consisted of Ireland’s Dermot McElroy and the excitingly gifted Maguire twins, Leona and Lisa. At 15, the girls have already played in the Curtis Cup and won senior Irish titles.
Right behind the Irish three-ball, there were more players who would have made for fascinating TV in the eventual winner, Iceland’s Gudmundur Kristjansson, a French player by name of Kenny Subregis and Anthony Paolucci from the States.
Yet it remains more important for the Duke that he is doing the right thing by the players, which he manifestly is.
Just as surely as he has provided a championship title which they all want for their CVs, so he is succeeding in his mission to have them looking beyond their next golf shot.