‘Working Together’ has been a phrase used in and around the Confederation of Professional Golf for a number years – a ‘mantra’ in some ways showing that the collective energies and thoughts of multiple organisations and individuals are perhaps better than a single entity’s.
This thought process is likely not better shown than by Association’s relationship with the global amateur golfing body, The R&A.
For a large proportion of the Confederation of Professional Golf’s history, the two organisations have worked alongside each other in the arena of golf development across Europe, but also in every corner of the globe, carrying out golf missionary work in places such as Latvia, Brazil, Argentina and India.
The missions are put together by The R&A’s ‘Working for Golf’ department led by their Executive Director – Working for Golf, Duncan Weir. Duncan is responsible for distributing a proportion of the funds generated via the Open Championship each year and is based at the Home of Golf and The R&A, St Andrews, Scotland.
IGPN recently had the opportunity to speak with Duncan about how the relationship has grown over time and is now stronger than ever…
IGPN: The R&A is tasked with distributing funds for golf development across the globe – how do these funds get spread across the game?
DW: We spend up to £10 million a year on golf around the world – 50% goes into governance for example, looking after the Rules of Golf, Rules of Amateur Status and Equipment Standards.
The other half is spent with many of our affiliates. We have 149 as we speak and we support them in various ways. It could be by sending Golf Professionals to teach teachers, sending golf equipment, or it could be sending greenkeeping machinery, or even supporting an international championship they are running. Equally our support could cover a whole range of initiatives, all of which are covered under our ‘Working for Golf’ remit.
IGPN: Where does the £10 million of funds come from?
DW: I think I should probably highlight that The Open Championship is The R&A’s only source of income – it’s a significant source of income but it’s our only one. So the sport is largely dependent on the success of The Open Championship annually, and without it we wouldn’t be in a position to help golf, work with the Confederation of Professional Golf and do all the things we try to do on behalf of golf.
IGPN: The R&A and the Confederation of Professional Golf have worked very closely together for a number of years now so how did the relationship come about and how has it grown over time?
DW: The relationship between The R&A and the Confederation of Professional Golf I’m sure pre-dates me in my role and would go back from what I’ve read into the early nineties when The R&A started making a significant surplus from running The Open Championship.
Today’s relationship is regular, productive, and harmonious. We now send Golf Professionals all over the world to not just teach golf, but to also teach the teachers and leave a legacy.
Not all of those coaches would be well known to the golfing public, as we don’t always send ex-tour players. We’ve engaged one or two, but generally speaking the Professionals selected are experts in the delivery of quality education – all of which is coordinated by Tony Bennett [Confederation of Professional Golf Director of Education & Membership]. My colleague, Alison White, and I work very closely with Tony in making sure we get the right people for the right missions.
We are actually now starting to see evidence of success in that there are players who have benefitted from coaching delivered by Confederation of Professional Golf Pros who are now featuring in international championships. It’s taken a few years to reach this point but it’s a very good relationship and definitely an aspect of our work which gives us job satisfaction.
IGPN: How have you seen the effects of the development work carried out along with the Confederation of Professional Golf’s Golf Development Professionals evolve over time?
DW: I’ve seen at events like the World Amateur Team Championships, the Eisenhower Trophy for men, and the Espirito Santo Trophy for women, some countries which ten years ago you wouldn’t have expected to have been playing let alone contend, make the top half of the field. You’ve have countries like Poland finishing in the top-20, Slovakia did very well last time – I think those examples reflect the increased standard of play in many of the countries that The R&A and the Confederation of Professional Golf jointly support. There’s hard evidence of great progress being made in many countries.
IGPN: How important is it that The R&A use PGA Professionals in development work?
DW: I think it’s crucial because Golf Professionals aren’t just expert teachers of golf – they are ambassadors for the sport in countries where in many instances they may not have Golf Professionals, head greenkeepers, or golf club managers.
It’s easy for us sitting in the UK to think that all countries are as developed as we are in a golfing sense, but the fact of the matter is that many are not, and the role of the Golf Professional was, is, and will remain very important to the future health of sport.
IGPN: Why is it so important to invest resources into the sport?
DW: We need to be thinking about the next generation of golfers – there are over 32,000 golf courses worldwide and we need to be playing our part in generating golfers to fill them.
It’s also understated what golf can do for health and well-being. We’re currently working on a study to help demonstrate what golf can do for health, how golf can add ‘years to life and life to years’ so to speak.
Golf has many pluses – but in some parts of the world it can be perceived rather negatively. But our contrary view would be that it is a sport for life, it can be played by people of different levels of ability because of its handicapping system, which is unique you might say, and we think golf has a great deal to commend it. The IOC certainly gave it a big tick by readmitting it to the Olympics in 2016, which we’re all looking forward to in Rio de Janeiro.
The other point I would make is that we have to work hard to bring new people into golf because all the other major sports are doing likewise. We’re competing with other sports often for the same people so we’ve got to do our bit and we’ve got to do more.
IGPN: What are the main issues being faced in developing the sport across Europe and beyond?
DW: In general I would say there is a lack of opportunity to play in many of the countries affiliated to us – in some countries with big populations there are very very few golf courses. There are often no Golf Professionals and it can be very difficult to get hold of equipment. In addition, lessons are often hard to come by. In many countries golf is also highly seasonal – you’re outdoors and reliant on reasonable weather.
So golf faces many challenges but I think access to the sport in many parts of the world remains difficult for reasons of both cost and lack of facilities, which are often inter-related.
There are some perceptions in some countries that golf is not for them, it’s too expensive, it takes too long, etc., and it’s our job to work away and try and cut into some of those perceptions and convince people that golf is good and can be for life.
IGPN: What do you think the future holds for golf development?
DW: I think we’re seeing glimpses of the future by looking at the increasingly international composition of tournament fields on the major tours. Any look at the websites of the European, LET, PGA, LPGA Tours will show just how international golf has become at the very highest level – that means it’s happening underneath those tours as well.
So I think you’ll see many different countries producing players capable of excelling at the high-end of the game and equally those players from countries not historically associated with golf becoming role models in the countries where they hail from.
For more information on The R&A and its ‘Working for Golf’ programme visit www.randa.org.