Nick Dougherty Vows to Get Kids Into Golf
FOR as long as I can remember, I have been droning on about the importance of getting golf into schools.
And, finally, somebody with a lot more influence than I have is on board. I always knew that there was a reason that I liked Nick Dougherty - he is the man behind Unleash Your Drive, an ambitious initiative to use golf to help improve the mental wellbeing of children in all schools in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Dougherty has launched the project in his role as president of the Golf Foundation charity, and he is to be lauded for doing so.
He told BBC Sport: "This is not about growing the game, it's about growing a brighter future for kids. It's about having fun, learning new skills and improving mental toughness.”
Regular Golfshake subscribers will know that, these days, golf is all about fun for me. Of course I enjoy playing well but I have reached a point in my life where I get enough simply from being out there.
And I want more people to feel the same way. If you can get children interested in the game the chances are that they will stick with it for life.
The Golf Foundation is a registered charity that introduces children to golf from all backgrounds. The programme, which is already up and running, will cost an estimated £15m to roll out across all 32,000 primary and secondary schools.
Dougherty knows that there might be some schools that will not welcome his initiative with open arms but he stresses they can all benefit, regardless of their finances or how much outdoor space they have. And remember that most schools still have playing fields that could be used to hit golf balls. And those that don’t, do have gymnasiums where nets can be installed.
Dougherty said: "I want to reach the schools that need it most, first. You don't need access to a golf course. You don't need PE teachers to deliver the lesson. All you need is your classroom.
"Although, if schools choose to go to a golf course, then a pathway to progress is built in."
He wants to get them hooked initially through "plug and play" video lessons, which measure the impact on pupils’ wellbeing. They will be delivered by Dougherty. with the children using oversize equipment and light balls to hit to targets.
"Mental toughness is built into each lesson," he added. "You might find it takes some children a few goes to hit the ball but once they do, you can challenge them to get the distance right, or hit the ball in the air, or over a river marked out by cones.
"It's teaching the life skill of improving and adapting.
"The game will grow off the back of this but it's more about getting golf to work for kids. It's about kids having fun and if they never touch golf again, that's fine. It's about creating a positive experience."
To help fund the initiative, which is the culmination of five years of research and development, a new fund-raising incentive has been created. It will ultimately see 72 golfers, of any level, play in the 'Unleash Your Drive Final' at Wentworth in August 2024.
The top three from that event then qualify to play in next year's BMW PGA Championship Pro-Am at Wentworth.
Dougherty, who has been president of the Golf Foundation since 2021, also hopes to attract private sponsorship and government money to fund the initiative.
"If we all pull together, we can make a difference," he said. "I've been met with a load of support from players such as Rory McIlroy, Leona Maguire, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood. The R&A and DP World Tour have got behind it too. We need to push the government to help us because they have a budget for this kind of thing.
"It's a scary ambition. But I wasn't going to be a name on a piece of paper. It feels part of my duty because I've benefitted from the game and so have my children.
"It's about leaving something behind that made a difference, leaving the sport in a better place than I found it.”
Amen to that Nick.
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