GOLF’S league of nations tee up on Merseyside next week.
A total of 35 countries will be represented among a field of 288 for the Amateur Championship, which takes place from June 13-18.
Hillside and Hesketh golf clubs in Southport will host the two-round strokeplay competition to decide the 64 players taking part in the match-play shoot-out at Hillside.
Players from countries as diverse as Iceland and India, Brazil and Taiwan will be competing – a reflection of how the work of the sport’s governing body, the R&A, has helped spread the golfing message.
In the same way as the profits from Wimbledon help fund the grassroots development of tennis, the excess money from the Open is fed back into golf – but with notably more successful results and from a smaller budget.
Duncan Weir, Golf Development manager for the R&A, oversees an annual spend of £5million which is spread across projects ranging from backing new events in fledgling golfing countries to providing coaching support.
The principle underpinning the R&A’s work is spelt out in simple terms: to encourage more people to play golf in more places, more often.
“We support organisations in countries as far spread as Algeria to Costa Rica, Paraguay to Turkey,” explained Weir, a former leading amateur himself who played in the British championship on a number of occasions, including at Formby in 1984 when Jose Maria Olazabal overcame Colin Montgomerie in the final.
“We now have 140 countries affiliated to the R&A.
“As examples of what we are involved with, we are supporting a new event in Bulgaria for countries in the Balkans this month, providing missionary coaching to Tanzania, helping with equipment and green keeping knowledge, while closer to home we have supported a project in Wales aimed at getting more people into golf.”
Weir says the job is not all about delivering a production line of future professionals, but acknowledges that success at the highest level sparks raised levels of interest in the sport back home.
“When we are supporting golf in, say, Malawi where there are not a great number of courses nor players, or a track record of producing top level players, we aim to get people into golf with better equipment, better presented courses and better techniques. But if a player went on to do well in an Amateur Championship or the Open, it would set off a great deal more interest back in Malawi.
“Andy Murray’s success has done a lot for tennis in Scotland, with people showing levels of interest in playing that wouldn’t have happened without him. Role models in sport are a big help.”
English golf isn’t short of role models at the moment, given Luke Donald and Lee Westwood’s thrilling battle for the world number one spot, but victory in the Open would help spread the message even wider.
Although the R&A is growing the game globally, it does not neglect projects closer to home with nearly half the budget invested in Great Britain and Ireland.
“We want to make it easy for people to get into golf,” adds Weir, “and encourage them to stick at the sport. Tuition always makes things a bit easier – with lessons people play more consistently, therefore enjoy it more and are more likely to play more often. We also look to encourage people to join clubs because they are then more likely to play more often.
“Golf has become much more of a global sport – as reflected by the number of countries represented at the Amateur next week and the Open. Our job is not necessarily to create the ideas, but to support those who have good ideas to promote golf both at home and abroad.”