As the world’s top female professionals geared up for the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St Andrews Old Course yesterday, girls from the local area were invited to spark their interest in the sport at a special clinic with two-time Ladies European Tour winner Carly Booth and 2007 Solheim Cup captain Helen Alfredsson.
A total of 20 girl ClubGolfers from Tayside and Fife and a further 20 juniors from St Andrews
Links Trust Junior Golf Association descended on the St Andrews Links Trust Driving Range adjacent to the Old Course, where former Kraft Nabisco champion Alfredsson and Booth, who played in her first LET event at the age of 14, handed out valuable swing tips and on-course advice.
The aspiring young girls were welcomed to enjoy the hugely beneficial session by Scotland’s national junior golf programme, ClubGolf, as part of its activities around the only women’s major on British soil. The event was organised by the Ladies Golfing Union and global sports media organisation IMG, supported by St Andrews Links Trust.
Booth, who was herself just the tender age of 15 when she represented Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup, was hopeful that having access to established female tour professionals can inspire these youngsters to stay with golf for the foreseeable future.
“I hope they learned a lot from us” said Booth, whose boyfriend and fellow tour professional Tano Goya was also in attendance.
“We tried to give them as much info as we could to enjoy the game. It is not always about the swing, it is about learning all different kinds of shots. Especially being from Scotland, it’s not always about having the perfect swing but adapting to the weather and hitting a variety of shots.
“As a ClubGolf ambassador, it’s brilliant to see more and more girls getting involved in golf. There were always very few girls playing when I was growing up and I was always playing against boys and a lot older girls and ladies, so it is nice to see so many girls out here today trying to become golfers themselves.”
Alfredsson was equally optimistic about the influence professionals can have on children of all ages. She said: “For me, clinics like this made me want to stay with golf. We travel all over the world and meet lots of friends so you hope you would say something that makes them think: ‘That sounds so much fun.’
“But also we want them to see that golf can be fun. It’s not all about being serious, and that is the key ingredient. You have to practice hard but you have to have fun, otherwise it is not going to work.”
The timing of the event could not have been better to build on the burgeoning strength of the girls’ game, with First Minister Alex Salmond recently announcing that more than half of new junior girl members in Scotland (61%) have come through the ClubGolf programme.
Mr Salmond was given first-hand experience of the benefits of girls being introduced to golf through ClubGolf when he played with 2013 Scottish Girls Champion Connie Jaffrey in the Ricoh Women’s British Open on Tuesday of championship week.
He was hugely impressed with the way Connie conducted herself on the golf course and equally awed with the quality of her play, which included no less than five birdies and a tee shot that earned her longest drive amongst the female pro-am competitors at the 14th.
He said: “Connie is a lovely young girl with a great swing and is full of promise. It was a great thrill for her to be playing in the Ricoh Women’s British Open Pro-Am in the Home of Golf.
“Hosting events like the Ricoh Women’s British Open is great for golf in Scotland. It’s inspirational for so many girls across the country to see the very best professionals in the world playing here in Scotland and obviously provided a fantastic opportunity for Connie, who did just great.
“This is a game for everyone and it has to be a game for everyone, for men and women, young and old, and ClubGolf does a great job in giving as many people as possible the opportunity to experience this fantastic game.”
Also in that group was top Scot and current world No.10 Catriona Matthew, who, as a ClubGolf ambassador, is delighted to witness talent like Connie and her North Berwick compatriot Clara Young coming through the ranks.
“It was great to play with Connie, she played really well. It’s great to see these young girls coming through the ClubGolf ranks. Connie has played really well and, with Clara Young from my club North Berwick also doing well, it is great to see more girls coming up and it’s nice to be able to give them a bit of encouragement.
“The work ClubGolf is doing is fantastic. It is difficult knowing how to get girls involved in golf but ClubGolf has really got it and is getting them started at an early age and ensuring they have friends to play with, which is important.
“It’s great to have a big event like the Ricoh Women’s British Open in Scotland. It is on TV and is getting a lot of media attention with Inbee Park going for her fourth straight major. The more media exposure the women’s game can get the better.”