Golfers on Stirling Golf Club’s practice putting green, just south of Sterling Castle and northeast of Glasgow, had their own ideas on how things should be done. Not for them looking at a putt from all angles and calling for second opinions. Instead, they introduced “golf on the run,” clattering balls as hard as they could before retrieving them from neighbouring hedgerows. Only when they were reminded that the object of the exercise was to get the ball in the hole did they change tack.
On what was International Women’s Day, the players in question – out-and-out beginners from the nearby Queen Victoria School – had signed up for some free coaching from Heather MacRae as part of the PGA’s #welovegolf initiative. (The same initiative was simultaneously on the go in each of the other home countries.)
McRae, a former British Women’s Stroke Play champion who attended San Diego State University before winning twice on the Ladies European Tour’s Access Tour, had presumably let the putting contingent off the lead on the grounds that they were unlikely to do themselves a mischief. She, meantime, was giving individual attention to a second crop of children on the range.
Here, there were as many misses as hits but, all of a sudden, there was a cry of “Oh my God!” from a child who had hit the shot of her dreams. The ball soared and its owner swung through to a fine finish before whizzing round in a full circle to see if McRae or any of the other members of the class had seen this magic moment. Alas, I was the only witness.
As such, I said to sundry representatives from the Scottish PGA, Golf Scotland, and a few other organisations, “That one’s played before. Take a look.”
It was not surprising to learn that Stirling has signed on 75 new members this year alone and now has a waiting list, while the retention of members is up at 97 percent.
She was the second girl along the line and now everyone had their eyes glued on what she would next. She missed shot No 2 with room to spare, while following attempts only got worse as she started flinging herself at the ball with ever greater haste. At least, as someone said, she was not wasting time on practice swings and preliminaries.
Clearly, the girl’s one good shot had been an isolated affair but, just as surely, it could have been the blow to prompt the beginnings of a love affair with golf. Which is only what Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, had been saying after visiting schoolchildren during the recent Saudi Invitational.
So bad was the weather at the Stirling Golf Club that there were times when you wondered whether the 12- to 14-year-old pupils of the Queen Victoria School had simply decided that golf had to be a better bet than double maths. It turned out to be a brilliant departure for the lot of them, largely because Stirling GC did so much to make them welcome. In keeping with which, it was not surprising to learn that the club has signed on 75 new members this year alone and now has a waiting list, while the retention of members is up at 97 percent. (A few facts which will have many a UK club refusing to believe what they are hearing.)
With regard to McRae’s role as a regular teacher at the club and elsewhere, Shona Malcolm, secretary of the Scottish PGA, pointed to how there are currently as many as 20 women teaching professionals in Scotland, most of whom took part in a brainstorming session at Gleneagles last year. “They’re doing fantastic job and, like Heather, they’re all taking the bull by the horns when it comes to initiatives such as #welovegolf.”
Before the day was over, McRae had held three clinics involving around 20 newcomers. An indoor putting challenge, a nearest to the pin on a simulator and tea and biscuits (the last-mentioned a vital ingredient when kids are involved) were all part of arrangements.
Though the #welovegolf campaign has been around for some time, it tends to go somewhat under the radar at a time when publicity is more likely to attach to the latest ideas on the horizon. A pity, though it is not something to worry the aforementioned Shona Malcolm. “Our approach,” she says, “is to make the golf happen.”
Top: Heather MacRae (right) and girls from International Women’s Day at Stirling GC, Scotland. Photo courtesy Heather MacRae
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