Golf in Ukraine is still within its infancy. For over ten years however, that phase has become less and less significant, as new blood and fresh thinking has ushered in drastic and impressive progress for the sport in the Eastern-European country.
Working in close and tight unison, the Ukrainian Golf Federation and the PGA of Ukraine (a CPG Member Country), have created a partnership and way of working that is quite remarkable and could act as a strong case study of Collaboration that many other countries could, and should, aim to model. This sense of Togetherness has meant the number of golfers in Ukraine is on the rise (significantly) and the number of trained and qualified coaches and PGA Professionals are increasing too, illustrating that these two actors go hand-in-hand for golf development.
Marina Lavrenchuk is one of these fresh faces responsible for such success. As General Secretary of the PGA of Ukraine, she has been instrumental this year in a number of key initiatives, particularly around the education and assessment of coaches and members of the association. Having only joined in February 2021, she may be new to the role but she inherits an-almost blank canvas to paint and direct a bright and successful future for golf in the country. And in just 10 months, that progress is well underway…
CPG: You started in February this year, but how have you found the role so far and what are you starting to become involved in?
ML: When I joined, the PGA were at a very early phase of development. Most structures and initiatives were in their formation or early development phase, so it is still a very interesting stage for the organisation. Before this I was also involved in such work with the Ukrainian Golf Federation on some of their amateur golf projects so I do feel I can bring the experience and fresh thinking needed to drive progress here at the PGA of Ukraine, and it really helps that it is an ambitious organisation with an exciting direction in place.
In essence, my role is to create a strong and reputable administrative body for golf in the country. We are here to promote and develop high-quality training programmes and settings for our members to thrive. By doing so, we create high-quality members and coaches who carry the flag for golf in the country and drive participation collectively. A lot of this work has been underpinned by my academic research during my PhD too, so there is some strong thinking and data behind what we are trying to achieve.
CPG: What is it that the organisation is trying to achieve? Can you tell us more about the association?
ML: The PGA of Ukraine’s mission is to promote golf by implementing the highest standards in education, by raising the level of competitive golf and by representing ethical values arising from the traditions and history of the sport. This is underpinned by lots of activity including the organisation of educational sessions and courses, delivery of national and international tournaments, protecting the legal rights of our members and promoting the game in close collaboration with the Ukrainian Golf Federation.
Founded in 2017 by Denys Riabtsev, Ihor Zatravkin and Vitalii Tereschcenko, the PGA of Ukraine is now lead by myself and the current standing President – Ruslan Garkavenko. In the same year of its conception, we introduced our first Professional tournaments, including our own PGA Championship. Now in its fourth year, this has developed into a 2-stage event that culminates in a final and brings some of the best PGA Professionals in the country into one place to compete. This year, we were also delighted to become a full member of the Confederation of Professional Golf [CPG]. To have that international recognition has been a key milestone and we are very much looking forward to working with their team in various ways to help grow the game nationally and internationally.
Moving forwards, we will continue to develop these current plans and initiatives but a big goal is to ensure we build a strong commercial programme with engaging and collaborative partners who share the ethos of the PGA of Ukraine. This will ensure we can invest back into the game properly and help drive professional development and participation across the country as well. Aside from that, then the obvious one is to grow our member numbers and increase the quality of education for each. This really underpins everything we do.
CPG: You mentioned joining CPG earlier. Why is that important to you?
ML: CPG are a hugely reputable voice and organisation in golf and continue to drive standards across the game. By becoming a member, it recognises our organisation as being on the same level of standards as those more established PGAs such as Germany, Spain and Italy, of which are all members of the CPG too. It is a huge moment for us.
We hope through the CPG, we can drive our progress forwards even more and achieve the strategic goals we have set out. It will benefit us through support in education, knowledge sharing with other members, tournament opportunities and commercial partnerships and the Business Club, as well as other ad-hoc business support and advice that is so valued.
CPG: What does a current PGA of Ukraine member look like?
ML: The PGA of Ukraine has 35 members today (October 2021). At the beginning of 2021, there were 30 members. It is small gains but relative to the size of the sport right now in Ukraine this is huge.
The typical PGA of Ukraine Professional is first and foremost a golf coach. They spend so much time teaching the game and sharing their knowledge with others to ensure all ages enjoy and continue to participate in the sport. This is across various means: individually training club members, golf-clinics in groups at events, coaching in schools, coaching with the National Golf Team etc. Roughly 28 of our Professionals are doing this on a full-time basis but we do have a small number who are also pursuing careers in business and management, working at clubs and facilities to drive commercial success at those venues too.
Through their coaching, the PGA Professional is certainly influencing amateur golfers and the game but there is a lot of work to do to build our reputation and that of our members in the coming years. We believe all of our members will strive to become the leading influence in Ukraine for golf.
CPG: Let’s turn our focus to women’s golf in the country now. How is that progressing?
ML: The introduction of the sport over ten years ago has given enough time to build a strong foundation for women and girls to try and learn golf. Dozens of initiatives have been implemented and a whole movement of golfers has been created.
It is fantastic to see. In 2021 alone, we had 827 women registered on Datagolf, 191 of which are under 18 and 564 are between the ages of 19-50. We also have seven female members of the PGA of Ukraine too. Those demographics are crucial to longevity of the sport and so it is great to see a large proportion of each playing golf.
CPG: Do you consider yourself as a female influence?
ML: It is hard to say, as I have been in the position of General Secretary for less than a year. However, I have more than fifteen scientific articles written and produced during my PhD research. My PhD was in physical education and sport in specialty – Olympic and Professional Sport, where I studied at the National University of Physical Education and Sport of Ukraine. This research has been so far the only work of its kind for golf in Ukraine so I certainly could call myself a trailblazer of some sort! In all seriousness, my role certainly brings expectations but I think I have a responsibility to influence women and young girls – my story demonstrates that women are taking a leading role in Golf development.
CPG: Despite you only assuming the role this year, you must feel right in the thick of things as a leader of an organisation. What has that been like? What challenges and opportunities have you faced?
ML: There are challenges on a daily basis but I am starting to learn that that is a fact of the job. Being a young organisation too, there are also a lot of learnings in the way we operate and the way we do things but that is really a natural consequence and one we accept and try to make better next time. The growth we have seen makes it all worth it though. Being able to see more PGA Professionals join the organisation and more golfers learning to play the game is a fantastic feeling and only backs up the work that we do.
The pandemic obviously threw a curveball into the mix, as it did for everyone. We instantly went into a remote working environment and had to operate virtually, which was hard for all involved as we wanted to be out and about driving change and creating opportunity. However, this has emphasised to me and the team the importance of staying connected no matter what form that comes in and this has really become a more important team ethic we have adopted.
CPG: What inspires you?
ML: Working side-by-side in projects with other highly qualified specialists is a big one for me. The former General Secretary of UGF, Sergey Kozyrenko, and my scientific advisor Oksana Shinkaruk, give me a lot of experience and knowledge and I always strive to be like them. For example, I often ask myself what decisions did they make? How do they go about dealing with challenges? How do they conduct themselves? Things like that.
CPG: What advice would you give to those other PGAs who want to create a more inclusive and successful operation within their own organisation?
ML: Make a decision and stick by it but back it up with hard work and then even more hard work. That is the way to get things done. I also advocate building a team of professionals around you to support the mission. You cannot do everything yourself and it is the people around you that you lean on for things that make success happen. This can come from external sources of too and don’t be afraid to collaborate with other leaders. The UGF has been instrumental in the success we have had, and we could not do it without them. Embrace that notion.
CPG: Finally, what is next for you?
ML: I would really like to continue to improve my own golf game of course! Professionally, then I would lie to continue the research I did during my PhD and help grow the academic research and knowledge available for golf in Ukraine. If I continue to learn and develop myself as a person and as a professional, it will help me to better understand golf and the role of coaches. This knowledge will be useful for preparing education programs and teaching at the university in the future, and ultimately help continue the success that Ukraine is seeing long in to the future.