Winning over a new generation

Maria Nolan
Maria Nolan
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CATCH ‘em young!

As a matter of expediency, that is now the watchword at golf clubs up and down the land.

With reports of club membership dropping, it has become more and more important for them to foster youth development, the idea being that the junior players of today are not just members of the future – but a means of safeguarding the future.

At the forefront of encouraging kids of all ages to take up the sport is Stanley Park golf course in Blackpool, which is run and managed by the Mack Trading organisation,

They have seen the need to cater for youngsters – the lifeblood of the future – and they have actively encouraged the activities of the Sharon Brookes Golf Academy, who use Stanley Park and the Phoenix Golf Centre.

Sharon does a sterling job not just as a coach – she acts like a queen bee/mother earth figure, encouraging youngsters who would not normally get to play the game.

She has time for every one of her young charges, who think the world of her, and her enthusiasm for the game has rubbed off on the children who have come under her golfing guidance.

A testimony to the tremendous job she does in putting golf to the forefront of so many young minds was apparent at the annual prize presentation of her academy.

There wasn’t a spare place to be had at St Kentigern Church Centre in Blackpool as the youngsters gathered – not all of them to go on to the stage to get prizes – and the kids, whether they were winners or not, were enthusiastically supported by parents and grandparents.

Maria Nolan, general manager at Stanley Park Golf Course works closely in tandem with Sharon to ensure that players new to golf get all the encouragement they need and feel involved in a group where everyone, regardless of ability, is treated equally, with the emphasis on fun and enjoyment.

Maria said: “Mack Trading is very much a junior-orientated company.

“We try to make golf a family environment, which it has not been in the past – we want to make it open to the whole community to play golf because that is vital.”

Maria says that for far too long there has not been enough support to juniors in the past, but Mack Trading wants to ensure that will change.

She said: “What we are trying to do is to help youngsters make progress in golf by playing off shorter tees and playing in competitions based on their levels of ability, so that they don’t feel they are discouraged and say: ‘Oh, I am losing again.’

“If juniors don’t progress and aren’t encouraged, there is no future.

“The days when you can’t come into the club-house because you are not a member or are not suited and booted, that is all in the past.

“Golf should not be snobbish – the game is for everybody.

“These barriers need to come down and that is what we are trying to do.”

Maria insisted that the game could not survive without young players being encouraged and said that some golf clubs were in ‘dire straits’.

She said: “There are loads coming through under Sharon and they are amazing.

“I have been playing golf all my life, but some of them are a lot better than I am already!

“It is great to see, though the hardest part sometimes is to keep them in golf, because there can be a drop-off in interest, but Sharon and myself are very confident they can be developed in the right way and let them learn the ethics of the game at the same time.

“It is all right children playing on a range, but they want to play from tee to green, see the bunkers and the water hazards – we give them that opportunity at Stanley Park.

“The good thing too is that the parents come down to see and support them, and it’s fantastic.”

Stanley Park only had 13 junior members in 2010 – by this year that figure had swelled to 79.

Mack Trading won the tender to run the course over 18 months ago under a 15-year agreement – it is one of seven courses that the company runs throughout the United Kingdom.

There have been some improvements to the course already, particularly to the greens, but as Maria points out: “Rome wasn’t built in a day and as with all the courses that Mack Trading run we try to make them better and develop them into better courses, with a better environment.

“We have to take it step by step – it is a parkland golf course and we have to work with what we’ve got.”

Maria hails from Iceland and her love of golf was ingrained from an early age.

Her father John Nolan is a golf professional and she first swung a club at the age of three.

And Iceland is not quite the golfing out-post it may seem to the uninitiated.

Maria said: “The population of Iceland is 300,000 and it has the most golf courses per person!”