Everything stops for tee

Charley and  Barney square up
Charley and Barney square up
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Louis James, of Weeton, has quite a drive. The golf ball lifts and scorches past the nets, which should have caught it. Louis pauses, his body holding the line, a study in golfing form, in miniature.

Louis is only five years old, and about 4ft tall, and coaches can already see his potential.

His older brother Conor, eight, reckons Louis is a “bit of a pain”, but is proud of his little brother’s persistence. “He will keep on trying until he gets it right,” he adds. “And he’s quite a strong shot.”

Indeed, Louis reckons the only troublesome bit is getting the balls to balance on the tee. That’s because he keeps using the tee with the blunted point, head coach Tony Johnstone, used to dealing with temperamental golfers, points out.

Dad Neil is equally delighted with the progress made by these pint-sized Rory McIlroy wannabes of the Fylde coast golf scene – part of the golden boys (and girls) in training at Staining Lodge Golf Course.

“My father-in-law’s a golfer, I never get the time myself, but it’s great to see how the boys are coming on with proper professional coaching,” he adds. “It’s essential to get them out and about doing something active.”

Head coach Tony Johnstone works alongside fellow golf professional Gavin Forsyth to teach players of all ages and abilities. The course is a cracker, in one of the most picturesque villages in the Fylde, although a relative newcomer in golf club terms.

The pair now run a junior academy teaching players from five to 16 all aspects of golf in a structured eight-week course, costing £60, which makes the once elitist game accessible and affordable. They also run a free trial week, and junior classes on Monday and Thursday nights, along with two classes on a Saturday.

The course has rapidly become a big hit for the big hitters of pre-teen and older player ranks, inspired by US Open winner Rory, 22, and other young golfers powering through the sport at all levels.

This is grassroots golfing, and it goes much deeper than just encouraging kids to learn, practice and master the basic skills, putting, driving, short game, long game, course play, but also emphasises standards of behaviour, to help children develop discipline, respect, perseverance, and self-motivation.

Charlie McLaine, 14, an Arnold School pupil, who’s also keen on athletics, is playing against little brother Barney, five, and loves the fact it’s something they can do together. “It’s a lot more fun than some other sports – and I like the fact I can watch Barney develop too,” he admits. “And it’s good exercise.”

Charlie’s already a member at the De Vere course, in Blackpool, and likes the layout of the Staining course too. “It’s quite challenging but it’s also really scenic. It’s got to have one of the best locations ever ... and yet it’s like Blackpool’s best kept secret. You just stand here and look and think wow. It’s also really good value, and the lessons are excellent.”

Charlie, who says McIllroy is his favourite golfer, is looking forward to seeing the Open, in Lytham, next year.

“I would love to see some of the younger golfers. They’re an inspiration, because they show you can make it happen if you’re prepared to learn, and listen, and practice. I’m hoping if Barney gets better he makes me rich!” With the Open back at the Royal Lytham and St Annes next year, don’t forget that it was here, just three years after tying in second place with veteran Jack Nicklaus as a fresh faced 19-year-old at Royal Birkdale, that the late Seve Ballesteros made the breakthrough into the realms of Open champions, leaving Nicklaus three shots in his wake with a roller-coaster final round at Lytham in 1979. Barney’s hero, Tiger Woods, was 21 when he won the Masters – having started taking an interest in golf since he was six months old.

And Beverly Klass, who got her first set of clubs at just under four years old, qualified for the US Open in 1967 when she was just 10 – but later spoke of how it destroyed her childhood.

Eleanor Ridge, 14, a pupil of Carr Hill School, Kirkham, and a promising player, would love to see more female players – and a little more status accorded in the professional ladies game.

“It’s a great game, but it’s still considered a male sport,” she admits. “I don’t like putting – driving’s the best part for me.”

Jake Ashton, nine, of Lytham, and Joseph Arrand-Southern, 10, of Cleveleys, have become friends as a result of the Monday night lessons.

Both admit they would love to compete in the Open, especially if it was on home turf, but Joseph has another dream too. “What I would really like would be to play extreme golf ... there’s a course in Africa where you play off the top of a mountain!