Not so many years ago, The Ryder Cup within Europe was the private fiefdom of the British and Irish golfers. All that changed in 1979 with the introduction of players from Continental Europe, to augment and revitalise a contest that was threatening to be strangulated by a succession of American victories.
Happily, the perceived wisdom of a re-energised contest was borne out in the shape of European successes in seven out of 12 Ryder Cups between 1985 and 2008. But Europe’s involvement in the revamped product hasn’t ended with the symbolic raising of that famous trophy.
When The Ryder Cup was restructured in 2004 with the formation of Ryder Cup Europe LLP, a partnership between The European Tour (60%), the PGA (20%) and the PGAs of Europe (20%), one of the important outcomes was the formation of The Ryder Cup European Development Trust.
The purpose of this UK-registered charity is to ensure that a portion of the net profits accrued from the Matches is absorbed into the Trust, thereby allowing aid to be distributed by means of grants for grass root schemes throughout Europe.
As a result of this initiative, around €750,000 from a total ‘pot’ of some €2,500,000 has so far been distributed throughout Europe to aid the community of golf at large for this and future generations.
Nations with little, or no, golfing history and tradition have been welcomed into the fold and are currently benefitting from grants allocated by The Ryder Cup European Development Trust. Suddenly, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland and Poland have been brought in from the cold. The day may not be too far away when a professional from any of those countries will represent their continent in The Ryder Cup.
For example, more than 6,000 children have been introduced to golf in Bulgaria in recent years, while the Bulgarian Golf Association gives every child who has gone through the Junior Golf Development Programme an opportunity to continue with further free golf coaching. The eventual aim is to have golf accepted into the school curriculum.
In the Czech Republic, an initiative to increase the number of Junior Training Centres from ten in 2006 to 24 in 2009 has been very successful. Each region in the country now has six Junior Training Centres, more than 1,500 children directly involved in the project, a number which is increasing gradually month by month.
There is a spirit of co-operation between schools located near Junior Training Centres in order to bring more children into the programme and increase the popularity of golf.
The training scheme gives players a clear route to progress to the national squad and the chance to work with Englishman Keith Williams, coach of the Czech national squad. Consequently, the priority has changed in the country to give children an early introduction to the game.
The allocation of funds to the Italian Golf Federation has resulted in the first public golf course in Italy being opened in Turin. A promotional project within the schools curriculum in Turin allows pupils (aged ten-18) to practise golf for free, and also sets up specific workshops for children during summer holidays. In 2009 more than 50% of people playing golf in the first year were beginners.
Many established bodies such as The European Tour and the Golf Foundation have thrown their weight behind The Ryder Cup European Development Trust.
More than 1,800 free golf lessons were dispensed at various European Tour events throughout Europe in 2009, which received outstanding feedback from PGAs throughout Europe.
The Golf Foundation Golf Roots project involved more than 11,000 participants in the game at public venue events. Golf is now taught in 254 schools to in excess of 9,000 pupils, in primary and secondary schools with an aim to develop Golf Roots further to the point where it reaches one million youngsters per year.
Junior Golf Ireland received a donation in 2006, shortly after The Ryder Cup was hosted by Ireland for the first time. The number of coaching centres has risen to 200, with a coaching centre in 30 of 32 Irish counties and with almost 2,000 juniors registered on the coaching programme.
Age ranges from four to 19, with the majority being boys aged between eight and 11. In 2008 Junior Golf Ireland launched a partnership with the Darren Clarke Foundation, offering sponsorship for a ‘skills challenge’ with the coaching centres.
The project also offered coaching clinics at European Tour events, which featured visits from players of the calibre of Peter Lawrie, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Julie Forbes and Suzanne O’Brien, in a bid to encourage the acceptance of juniors into golf clubs and to grow its ‘women in sport’ project.
Former Open Champion Paul Lawrie works tirelessly for his own Foundation and funding was given towards supporting the Foundation for its work in Scotland, including lessons given at The Barclays Scottish Open.
Lawrie worked on a coaching programme with the City Council in his native Aberdeen (check), placing 25 golfers into local clubs in the area for an eight-week coaching programme).
The Kevin Duggan Junior Golf Academy at Luton’s Stockwood Park Golf Centre, which provides free coaching for disadvantaged children, received funding for a PGA trained golf community and development officer and usher in a new generation of youngsters including disabled players.
The cash injection safeguarded the academy’s future and marked a welcome relief for Dunstable pub landlord Declan Duggan who has been the moving force behind the academy which he founded in 2002 as a lasting memorial to his son Kevin who died in 1998.
Since 2007, the Kevin Duggan Golf Academy has worked with Golf Roots and in 2008 and helped to give almost 2,000 lessons to children. More than 65 school sessions took place with in excess of 650 children benefiting from five to six weeks of Tri-Golf.