THE past few weeks have seen a boost for junior golf in Singapore, in terms of international results and sponsorship dollars. The Youth Golf Programme (YGP), which started in 1997 and is managed by Youth Golf Network Ltd, has provided practical and theory coaching and playing opportunities for around 4,500 young golfers here. These are young secondary school students who have not had the opportunity to learn the sport at local private clubs due to expensive membership fees. Products of the YGP include Johnson Poh who won an individual and team medal at the 25th SEA Games in 2009 held in Laos, and national women's player Koh Sock Hwee who recently competed at the SEA Games in Myanmar.
Up until 2011, the YGP was run out of Laguna National Golf & Country Club, and 2012 saw it moving its base to Marina Bay Golf Club where the Star Golf Academy runs the golf-teaching programme. Here, they are able to play the course and receive coaching at limited times as well as during the interschool league which is run four times a year.
Each year, the enrolment in the YGP is between 350 and 400 students, and therefore the cost of running training programme and league activities does not come cheap, with the annual expenditure at roughly $250,000. This is raised through donors from the Community Youth Golf Charity and other organisations such as Singapore Pools and the Tote Board. The funds target was not reached during the past two years, and last year the YGP was unable to stage their annual Community Youth Golf Charity event. As a result, playing opportunities were tightened as well as entry numbers for league competitions.
This year has been a different story, with Prudential stepping in with a $100,000 sponsorship which Janice Khoo, chairman of Youth Golf Network, said will be used for professional coaching fees, golf clinics with Asean Tour professionals and the inter-school league. "Prudential supports community projects and also supports kids activities.
"They supported the Causeway Trophy and naturally we tied in with them to extend their support to youth golf development," she explained. She adds: "The Community Youth Golf Programme contributes to the base of the pyramid in golf development, reaching out to the community to those that do not have the opportunity to learn golf as a golf club membership is expensive."
The cheque was presented at the 18th Community Youth Golf Charity 2013 which was held at Orchid Country Club last month. Minister Teo Ser Luck, Patron of the Community Youth Golf Programme, was in attendance and received the cheque together with chairperson Dr Khoo from David Ng of Prudential. Said Mr Teo, "With Prudential supporting sport through the Causeway Trophy in June 2013 and now reaching out to the young in our Community through the Youth Golf Programme, it will cultivate a sports culture among Singaporeans. With the increased interest in golf among Singaporeans, there is a need for corporate sponsorship to make the sport more accessible to Singaporeans."
Other support has come the YGP's way this year from Raffles Country Club (RCC) and Singapore's number-one male professional Mardan Mamat, who will mentor three players in the YGP-Mardan Adoption scheme. Leverett Chua, 14, Syabil Abdul Kadir, 15, and Joey Poh, 19, were chosen from around 380 golfers to undergo weekly sessions with Mardan and they will also get access to use the course at RCC.
Other possible future developments include invitations for YGP juniors to experience playing in some Asean PGA events, recommencing sports psychology for high performance students, and introducing golf clinics with professionals on golf skills and motivation talks.
In a sign that Singapore juniors can be in the mix against others from countries, such as Australia, France, Italy, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea and Thailand, four nine and 10-year-olds recently had podium finishes in Johor, Malaysia. The Kids Golf World Championship Malaysia, held in Pulai Springs Resort and the Palm Resort Golf & Country Club earlier this month, saw Hailey Suanne Loh shoot 267 to finish runner-up in the Girls' 10-year category, three shots ahead of compatriot Inez Ng Xin Yi. In the Boys' 10-year category, Sean Lee finished in second place while Zachary Ong Tze Xu took third place in the Boys' nine-year category.
The event is an offshoot of the US Kids Golf Foundation, which was established in 2001, and in 2012 Malaysia was successful in its bid to host the championship for three years.
The US Kids Golf World Championship was envisioned as a platform to provide kids and their families an opportunity to participate in the game of golf through instruction and competition. Its primary mission is to help kids have fun learning the basics of golf while encouraging interaction among family members to build lasting memories, and the championship offers world amateur ranking points for players who finish among the top of their age group. There are eight boys' and seven girls' categories ranging from seven years and below to 18 years, and while those aged between five and eight (boys) and five and nine (girls) only played nine holes per day of competition, they were required to walk the course.
This year saw 400 youngsters from 19 countries taking part, including Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom. Last year, Singapore was represented by 31 players and this year's 56 is a clear indication of the increasing number of youngsters here who want to play the game at the highest level.
Chris Vonderkall, vice-president of Tournaments with the US Kids Golf Foundation, who was in Johor to oversee the tournament and give away the prizes, said nurturing kids in the sport at an early age grooms them for the competitive environment - if they are serious about taking the professional route - or to have fun as a recreational sport.
Mr Vonderkall added that he had seen many children who started playing golf at a young age being selected for prestigious colleges and universities, and progressing to play successfully at competitive levels.
And for those players who finished among the top in their respective age groups, the championship offers eligibility to compete in other tournaments next year. These include the World Championship Qualifying Event at Bronkhorstspruit Golf Club, South Africa in February, the European Championship 2014 at Gullane Golf Club, Scotland in May and the US Kids Golf World Junior Championships at Pinehurst, North Carolina, USA in July.