Cookridge Hall Golf Club have won a top national award in recognition of the warm welcome and encouragement they offer to juniors and beginners.
The Leeds club, which takes the sport to about 1,000 youngsters each year, are the 2014 winners of England Golf’s prestigious GolfMark Club of the Year award, supported by Cobra Puma Golf.
Their success was announced at a gala dinner at the England Golf County Conference at Staverton Park in Northamptonshire. The runners-up were Norwood Park Golf Centre in Nottinghamshire and Strawberry Hill Golf Club in south-west London.
Cookridge Hall's junior organiser Ray Agar said: "We are very honoured and it’s great to know that the hard work of the whole team has been recognised.”
GolfMark is an England Golf initiative which identifies junior and beginner-friendly clubs.
This award, now in its sixth year, recognises GolfMark clubs which have shown an outstanding and innovative contribution to developing the game through a range of activities.
Cookridge Hall was the first club in Yorkshire to achieve GolfMark - in 2007 - and at its last two assessments it has been awarded High Achiever status.
Agar added: "If you successfully achieve GolfMark, you are going to have a forward-thinking club, which is willing to listen to people, to welcome them and make them feel wanted.”
The club sets out to encourage children as young as five and six to try golf and offers them a playing pathway.
It has links with about 50 local schools, including one for children with special educational needs, and it gives taster lessons to around 1,000 youngsters each year.
They’re invited to the club for free coaching sessions and can then join the academy, transferring to the junior section when they’re aged around ten or 11.
When the youngsters are ready to go on the course, they’re carefully assessed and start each hole at an appropriate point for their skills - for example, from 100, 150 or 200 yards from the green.
“That way they all get to the green in roughly the same number of shots,” said Agar. “They have to enjoy it, as well as learn skills, if they are going to get something out of it.”
He gets tremendous support from the club’s owner, Adam Frontal, and from the seven teaching PGA professionals – particularly Paul O’Donnell and Jonathan Pearson, who run the Junior Academy.
There are also around 25 adult volunteers who get involved. “The team is great and very innovative - people have ideas and are willing to put them into practice,” he said.
Current initiatives include discussions with a local high school to set up and support a golf-related post 16 course; and with one of the three Leeds universities to establish a golf-related foundation degree course.
The club has close links with all three universities and encourages students to take up golf – and also trains all the primary trainee teachers at one university to use tri-golf in schools.
It offers Get into Golf courses for adults, which prove particularly popular with users of the Cookridge Hall Fitness and Health Centre, and it encourages the parents of academy and junior members to take up the game.
“If the whole family are involved, they are more likely to stick with it. We are trying to promote family golf in a big way,” said Agar.
Craig Verrinder, UK and Ireland marketing manager for Cobra Puma Golf, presented the award, and said: “We are delighted to be able to recognise Cookridge Hall for their outstanding efforts in providing a golf facility that truly supports the development of the game.
“Golf is changing, and the ability to offer venues that are inclusive and fun for golfers of all abilities is key to enhancing golf participation within the community.
"Cobra Puma Golf are proud to continue supporting the GolfMark programme and helping see golf grow across the UK.”
Richard Flint, club services and development director for England Golf, added: “Cookridge Hall Golf Club are to be congratulated for their excellent work to attract and retain new golfers. They are flexible and welcoming and have created a really inclusive club.
“England Golf continues to invest in resources, such as GolfMark and the County Golf Partnership network, to ensure golf clubs can benefit to maximum effect.”