09 May 2019 | Participation |

A junior league of their own

by Golf Australia

MyGolf Junior League | Golf Australia
Participants enjoying the MyGolf Junior League program

Junior participation being key to the growth of golf isn’t even a question. But exactly how do you get youngsters not just interested but engaged enough to persevere, to improve and eventually to progress within the game? How do you take them from having a swing to taking part in a full round, learning etiquette and forming friendships with playing partners?

That’s where the MyGolf Junior League comes in. Played over five Sundays in February and March in regions all across the country, it’s an extension of the MyGolf junior introductory program and gives children their first taste of competition within a friendly and forgiving environment.

“It’s a big jump from doing a MyGolf program to then getting a handicap and playing junior pennant,” says Tony Collier, Golf Australia’s Regional Development Officer for Ballarat and Wimmera Region.

“MyGolf Junior League fits that gap really well. They play a modified nine-hole event, a two-person ambrose, so it takes the pressure off them playing every shot from the proper markers and they enjoy it so much more.”

Twelve-year-old Gemma Gale came to MyGolf through one of its school programs. Having not come from a golfing family, she had never swung a club beforehand but enjoyed it enough to continue into a longer MyGolf program with Ballarat Golf Club professional Angela Tatt, and eventually into the Ballarat MyGolf Junior League.

“It was good to play with kids my own age,” Gemma says. “I just kept playing more and more and got into it and absolutely loved it!”

Gemma loved it enough to continue with one-on-one coaching at Ballarat, and continued to improve throughout the five weeks of the Junior League. She played with the same partner, Jack, each week and the pair didn’t just form a friendship, they were able to develop strategies to help them around the course.

“Having the same partner every time, we knew our tactics and got better as we went through,” she says.

Collier believes the social aspect is an important one, particularly for girls given the disparity in male/female participation is reflected in the junior ranks.

“It’s the friendships that really make it work for them,” he says. “You might have a girl member at one club and two girls at another and they sort of fall away, but if you get them together regularly… if they play every event, there might be a dozen opportunities where they come together.

“It’s very noticeable that at the start, a lot of the girls don’t know each other but then if you put them in the group to meet new girls, their friendships start to develop… It increases their chances of sticking to golf by a fair bit, we’ve noticed.”

But don’t dismiss the importance of friendships when it comes to the boys. Eleven-year-old Ben Crellin, who also takes part in the Ballarat MyGol Junior League, has also enjoyed the chance to make new friends and hang around with existing ones.

“I’ve been enjoying it really well,” he says.

“It’s quite fun doing it, going out with some of my friends, and playing golf against some other teams.

“I have made a few friends through golfing and through MyGolf… some of my friends I already know play as well.”

Meaghan Densley, the Regional Development Officer for the Mornington Peninsula and South East Melbourne, runs a MyGolf Junior League in her area as well.

She sees the benefit not just for the kids but for the clubs as well.

“The golf clubs have provided the courses for us free of cost to encourage junior participation,” she says. “This is their opportunity for kids going from lessons to on-course competition.”

Both the Ballarat and Mornington Peninsula leagues have seen significant growth in participation in this, their second year.

“We had 24 kids playing MyGolf Junior League in the inaugural year, and this year that’s jumped up to 36,” says Collier. “So we’d like to think that would keep going.

“The first year’s always a bit of a trial and error because it’s an unknown, but we were probably lucky that we pretty well nailed a concept that we thought would work and it did.”

Though this is Densley’s first year running the Mornington Peninsula league, its first iteration last year saw similar success.

“All kids who played last year have gone on to be selected for their Junior Pennant or they’ve continued playing at their courses,” she says. “That’s exactly what it’s meant to do: encourage them to participate, to play and to be part of the competitions.”

In the Ballarat region, Junior Pennant isn’t just the next step along the path, it’s part of the day, with the pennant players teeing off first, the MyGolf Junior League players then following, and a field of younger, less-experienced players after them.

It helps MyGolf Junior League become both a feeder system and an easy source for emergency call-ups to Junior Pennant. But the three-tiered structure also has benefits for both players and parents.

“If Junior Pennant is struggling for a player, we can call up some players from the MyGolf Junior League, because some of them have handicaps,” says Collier.

“Then we fill their spot from some of the reserves. So it’s a good little buffer for each competition, because if you have just a standalone, sometimes it’s harder to fill in the gaps on short notice.”

For the MyGolf Junior Leaguers, it’s a chance to see what they could become with practice. And for parents, it’s one trip where it could have been two or more.

“The kids on the bottom one or two levels can see what they can aspire to and it can actually help motivate them,” says Collier, “and with quite a few of them, their siblings are playing above them as well.

“We’ve got quite a few families where they all play but they might be at different levels, so the whole family can come over and help as well.”

Andrew Crellin, Ben’s father, has another son Nicholas playing Junior Pennant. “It’s quite handy from my point of view,” he says, “because the boys are on the same courses at the same time, so it makes  it easier for transport.”

It’s a format Densley hopes to implement on the Peninsula.

“It makes a hectic day but the environment and atmosphere is cool,” she says. “I had a chance to see it and that’s my aim: to do something similar to that.”

Of course, bringing it altogether requires quite a few hands on deck. Ballarat needed a team of four to bring it to its current level: Ron Adams, the Ballarat District Secretary, helping with the Junior Pennant; Andrew Milligan, the Ballarat District Junior Coordinator, bringing together the administration and the structure; and Andrew Cartledge, the Ballarat Junior Golf Academy professional whose midweek junior program has 94 kids.

“If we only had one or two of us, it’s too much,” Collier says. “On one of those Sundays, three people is the minimum you want, because there’s a lot going on in different areas to make it run smoothly.”

And even then, it wouldn’t be possible without the support of the parents.

“You need an adult in the group to have supervision,” says Collier. “And they’re really great as well because a lot of them are golfers and they’re just giving little extra tips, with the etiquette, the structures and the scoring. It’s been really good having them.”

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