A group of budding Ian Woosnams at The Valleys Golf Centre, with VGE coaching volunteer Wyn Hughes, left, and VGE Director of Coaching David Pocock.
A South Wales initiative is delivering the legacy of the 2010 Ryder Cup by giving children from every background the opportunity to try golf – with the support of the country’s greatest ever player.
Former world number one and Masters Champion Ian Woosnam has personally invested in Valleys Golf Enterprise (VGE), a social enterprise taking the sport into schools and out to women at academies throughout the region.
Set up by seven volunteers, the group has managed to raise nearly £350,000 of funding, more than £30,000 of which will come from the EU-backed South East Wales Community Economic Development programme (SEWCED) which is run by a six-Valleys local authorities’ consortium of Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen.
As well as offering every school a free taster session where children are given their first experience of playing golf, VGE has created academy structures with junior coaching, in partnership with the Golf Union of Wales and Golf Development Wales.
It also recently established a centre of excellence at the Valleys Golf Centre in Ferndale, Rhondda, which has an 18-bay driving range with coaching for all ages and abilities run by Professional Golf Association coaches.
“The aim of the project is to unlock and realise the potential of future golfers and raise the young people’s confidence and future aspirations, as well as breaking down barriers to participation, regardless of social background, ethnic origin, sex, age or ability,” said Managing Director Colin Gardiner.
“We want to give the stars of tomorrow the opportunity to shine. The first step in this journey is giving school children the chance to try golf - a sport which has the potential to help build numeracy and literacy skills and social and behavioural skills - as well as acting as a platform to encourage a healthy lifestyle.”
And as Woosnam prepares to play in this week’s (10-13 April) Masters tournament in Augusta, the former Ryder Cup captain said he hoped that along with his experience and VGE’s drive to develop golf at grassroots level, a pathway would be created for aspiring Welsh golfers to reach the very highest levels.
Children to the fore in Valley’s golf initiative 2
“I’ve been very impressed with the work Valleys Golf has been doing in getting children excited by golf and giving them the opportunity to learn how to play this great game,” he added.
“I know how hard it is to reach the very top of the sport and I’m really looking forward to help bring future Welsh champions through the ranks.”
Wales’s current number one Jamie Donaldson, a possible contender in at Augusta National, is also supporting the project. “Golf is a great game for children to get involved with, and this is offering the chance to those who may think that it’s not a game for them,” he said.
VGE’s academies are at Rhondda Golf Club, Virginia Park in Caerphilly, Cottrell Park in the Vale of Glamorgan, Cwmbran’s Pontnewydd Golf Club and Parc Bryn Bach in Tredegar. Coaching is available for children aged from four to 14 at group beginner classes, after school clubs, holiday camps and individual lessons.
“Once we have given them the skills to play, we work with golfing partners and local golf clubs to provide them with access to courses so they are able to continue their development,” said David Pocock, VGE’s Director of Golf and recently awarded PGA Region Development Pro of the Year
“This will allow them to progress into playing golf at club level, and possibly county level and onto national level. Ultimately, it’s their choice how great a golfer they wish to become. We aim to provide the skills, information and support needed to play golf at any level.”
SEWCED - supported by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government – has invested over £7m worth of funding in 100 social enterprises since it began in 2010, helping to create 90 full-time jobs.
VGE has been allocated over £11,500 through the programme from Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council and nearly £19,000 from Torfaen County Borough Council.
Programme Manager Gareth Voyle said the investment had gone directly into deprived areas to help encourage sustainability among a wide range of social and community organisations and their services.
“One of SEWCED’s aims is to promote social inclusion through cultural and heritage activities, as well as sport,” he added. “Feedback VGE has received shows that golf is a sport which that many of these youngsters would otherwise possibly never had a chance to try, and for that reason alone, SEWCED is delighted to support this project.”