Spread the wealth
Friday, May 29, 2009
ASH, England — Golf needs more clubs like Wentworth and Foxhills.
If we did we would have more Paul Caseys, Anthony Walls and Ross Fishers. Poorer kids would get a chance to experience this great game, maybe even make a living out of it.
Casey, Wall and Fisher are beneficiaries of benevolent clubs willing to give to underprivileged kids a chance to play. All three are enjoying lucrative, successful careers on the European Tour thanks to the largesse of Wentworth and Foxhills golf clubs.
The trio finished in the top six of last week’s BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event. Casey edged Fisher for the title, while Wall placed sixth.
Not bad for three kids previously from the other side of the tracks.
Had it not been for the scholarship foundations set up by these two elite clubs in Surrey, England, then all three would probably be doing something else for a living. Fisher came through Wentworth’s junior foundation, while Casey and Wall were in the same scheme Foxhills operates.
Casey is enjoying his best season as a professional. Three victories this season, including his breakthrough PGA Tour win in the Shell Houston Open, proves that it pays to give talented kids a chance. He said so after winning the BMW PGA Championship.
“The scholarship I got to Foxhills when I was 11 certainly I would have to say is the reason I am sitting here,” Casey said. “My parents couldn’t afford to be members of a club in this area. Four of us every year were given free membership and coaching to Foxhills.
“I think it is great that these schemes are in place. It’s all about the opportunity you are given.”
Wall has had ten good years on the European Tour, with one win.
Fisher learned his golf at Wentworth. He was given the opportunity to use the extensive practice facilities and the three courses to develop the skills that have taken him to two European Tour wins in less than four seasons.
“Wentworth has helped me a tremendous amount,” Fisher said. “I was lucky enough to get in there when I was 13 and just absolutely loved the place from the minute I got there. I owe them a great deal of thanks and gratitude. They gave me my big break at 13 and they have supported me throughout my career. That was the first club I was a member of. That’s where I learned everything I know now about golf.”
Golf still has an elitist image. It’s an image that’s likely to endure. The sheer cost of playing the game means it will always be off limits to low-income families. Middle-income families will be able to afford to play, but not at clubs like Wentworth and Foxhills.
Greens fees for Wentworth are the highest in the British Isles. A round on the West Course before it closed for the greens to be rebuilt cost 285 pounds. Greens fees at Foxhills are cheaper, but still run to 120 pounds.
Obviously such costs are beyond the budget of many families. So it’s good to see elite clubs welcome less privileged kids with talent.
I only wish more clubs in the British Isles would set up similar schemes. Yet we still fight a battle for some of our top clubs to acknowledge certain members of society. We still have clubs that host the Open Championship who not only don’t allow women members, but also don’t have junior sections.
Royal St. George’s and Muirfield are still male only. Children and women get to play, but only with a member. They certainly can’t join.
The sad fact is there are many courses in the British Isles, good courses, which are under used. Go to some clubs on a weekday afternoon and they will be empty. Go to some established clubs on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in the height of summer and there will be no one on them.
Wouldn’t it be great if such courses were centers of excellence where young talent could be nurtured?
More clubs should follow Foxhills and Wentworth’s lead. It would help attract a wider cross section to the game, and it would be a way for our elite clubs to put something back into the sport.