14 Jan 2009

Tiger Woods started playing golf famously early and Sandy Lyle was also a precocious child talent, but a group of West Wales youngsters are following in their footsteps by earning golf certificates as young as five.

Whether they will go on to become Major champions is another question, but the group at Glyn Abbey golf club outside Llanelli are learning the game with set targets through the Golf Passport.

The Golf Development Wales scheme at Glyn Abbey is celebrating its first birthday, having an impact thanks to the driving range and 9 hole starter golf course funded by the Ryder Cup legacy fund.

Glyn Abbey golf coach Leighton Medway is the man behind the lessons at the club which has seen the whole group reach at least level one since last January, while his son Jarrad along with Josh Theodophilus have both reached that stage at the age of just five.

Eight-year-old Rhys Iddon is already going for level four of the passport qualifications which work towards being able to earn a handicap and play golf anywhere.

"This is great work and emphasises the really good contribution Glyn Abbey makes to junior golf," said Golf Development Wales manager Hannah James.

"It shows how a little support can go a long way if people are prepared to take up the opportunities for development."

Level 2 PGA coach Medway started the course last January and in the first year has been bowled over by the success.

"Woods has changed the world and brought in kids of a young, young age. Now we have three Saturday morning groups between the ages of four and 12," he explained.

"The teaching is indoors over the winter, on the driving range and course in the summer. It is a really good structure, the Passport is a good incentive for learning and the kids are doing really well which makes us strive to do it more.

"We want to be different in Glyn Abbey and do good work. My little boy is only five and he has got his first certificate. There are two boys who come over from Neath every week, which is a compliment.

"The kids are good characters and seeing them do so well at such an early age is really rewarding. We have support from the Golf Foundation, Golf Development Wales, the Ryder Cup and lottery so it is important to be able to show what the money is being used for."

Children start with the Tri – Golf Equipment, fun, effective plastic clubs and sponge balls with velcro targets, before working their way up to the proper club and ball.

However those who are ready can start the passport at Level 1 with the real golf equipment. The Passport tests their ability to carry out a series of golfing skills and they have to pass each category to earn a certificate.

"They hit from the tee and from fairway to green and have to answer some safety questions so they do not hit someone in front. It is a good chance to get the right etiquette in early," said Medway, who works alongside Welsh PGA Pro of the Year Darren Griffiths.

"They learn skills with a tick for each to finish the row, such as putting, chipping, hitting the ball in the air and playing on a full size course.

"They have gone from hitting the ball in the air to playing the three par threes in less than 18 and then it gets tougher and tougher.

"They have to hone their skills. Last week they needed to chip within a flag length so we have spent the last three weeks preparing them for it and a few have achieved it now.

"They have to be able to play to get a certificate going up to level five and then they are ready to get a handicap.

"There is a girl who joined because her brother was here, but now she can hit the ball 60 yards at the age of nine. There is an eight year old boy Rhys who is now going for his level four, it is great to see."

The scheme is certainly proving to be a passport to success for the youngsters at Glyn Abbey.

For clubs wanting to run the passport scheme contact your local Golf Development Officer. Details can be found on www.golfdevelopmentwales.org