With around two-thirds of the golf clubs in Iceland not having a regular professional, the Golf Union of Iceland knew it needed to provide some support to those clubs, which are mainly based outside the capital region around Reykjavík.
With the help of the R&A, they introduced the Roving Pro programme, which sees PGA professionals travel to clubs around the country to introduce juniors and new players to the game at two-day golf events.
Brynjar Eldon Geirsson, general manager of the Golf Union of Iceland, and Ólafur Björn Loftsson, sports director for the Golf Union of Iceland and the national coach, take up the story about the success of the programme.
Why did the Golf Union of Iceland introduce the Roving Pro programme?
Geirsson: We have 60-plus golf clubs, and around 40 of them don’t have a PGA professional working on a regular basis. Most of the pros are in the Reykjavík area, and they would travel to two or three golf clubs every year to help out, but it wasn’t strategic or consistent. They would just do half a day, and the members would buy all the time up, so there was no time for the kids or new members. We tried to spot our weakest areas where clubs needed help and had a hard time finding pros and knowledge, and we started to think, How can we help those smaller clubs to build up juniors and new members?
How does it work, and has it been successful?
Geirsson: It's been going really well. We connect the PGA pro to a golf club for what we call a golf day, that is actually two days, and they work with kids and members there, get some knowledge on board and give tips. It is basically an open house. We saw the downsides of just focusing on one group. When it was just juniors, we saw parents that had an interest in trying out golf just sitting in the parking lot. So, we thought, Why not just invite everybody? Our goal is to deliver four to six days like that every year in our weakest areas.
How has the programme helped to increase junior participation in Iceland?
Loftsson: I think 90 percent of all the national squad players come from the big clubs, so the Roving Pro programme has been beneficial in working with all the smaller clubs to focus on juniors during the golf days, and we see a lot of potential. One of the downsides for juniors in the capital region is that golf courses are packed with members, so they struggle to get on. In the other 40 clubs around the country, you can play as much as you want and you can play 24 hours [during Iceland’s extended daylight hours in the summer]. So, it’s really easy for us to put the emphasis on the juniors when we have the Roving Pros turning up. There are 23,300 registered golfers in Iceland, and 15 percent are children and teenagers.
What is it about the Roving Pro format that appeals to junior golfers?
Geirsson: We have a great setup of different stations that you get to try in a fun, guided way. Really, it's trying to get them on the golf course, so they can play holes while the golf course is shut. You can just walk to the second green and experiment. If you want to try a bunker shot, go ahead. This is an advantage of going to those smaller areas. It’s easy to shut an entire golf course. We also have a lot of great golf gifts and a barbecue. It’s a great event in every way.
Has the Roving Pro helped to discover junior players with potential?
Loftsson: We’re not trying to get to that elite programme until the age of 14 or 15, but what we need is more kids from all around the country to be active at the age of 11, 12 and 13, just before we take that step of picking out the best players who want to pursue this as their dream. So, I think this helps let them know that anything is possible.
What other benefits have come from the Roving Pro programme?
Geirsson: The golf clubs can invite a local person to come to the golf day and learn to teach the basics – build them up to become a future pro at that area.
Loftsson: What's been really positive is the support of the Golf Union to new professionals from those areas outside Reykjavík. So, we've been giving financial support to future pros to study the PGA programme. Two years ago, we graduated two or three pros from those areas, but in the current graduating class, we have closer to 10 from across the country.
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