PART of new Hampshire Golf captain Lawrence Cherry’s “mini-revolution” will see him being able to blood new players in the new South East Challenge League.

England Golf’s South East Group voted to scrap the U26 league – which had been reduce to just five teams from Surrey, Essex, Kent, Bedfordshire and Hampshire in 2022 – at the end of last year.

In recent years, Middlesex, Hertfordhsire and Sussex have all dropped out of what was originally a two division league format with the winners meeting in an October final. Hampshire won or shared the trophy three years in a row from 20214-16 under Neil Dawson, Cherry’s predecessor, before Essex dominated the competition until last summer.

The incoming captain believes the replacement Challenge League will help Hampshire bring through the next generation of young players, gaining experience along a pathway to the first team eventually.

Lawrence, who is a member at Stoneham GC, but works as the assistant secretary at North Hants GC, explained: “The U26 competition has been scrapped as some counties were struggling to field teams, although not in Hampshire’s case.

“The new Challenge League will see any players eligible for their county able to play – which will help those on the fringe of the first-team, regardless of their age – play a good standard on good golf courses.

Over the last five years, players have had to be over 18 to play Colts golf in the South East matches, which has prevented counties from blooding their best juniors before exposing them to first-team golf as was common over the previous 20 years in U21s golf.

Lawrence, who wil alsol manage the Hampshire team in the new Challenge League set-up, added: “I’m definitely glad there is still something for those players to compete in.

“We will have four matches this year and the Challenge League should build some togetherness between the U18s, those who would have been Colts in the past, and the first-team.

“With no age restrictions, this will hopefully test the players and motivate them to push for first-team selection,” said Cherry, who took over the Hampshire captaincy from North Hants’ Neil Dawson last month.

“I will be working closely with our junior manager Dave Matthews to ensure the teenagers are ready but this league will hopefully give the youngsters some exposure to the next level of county golf.”

Another factor that Cherry believes will strengthen the county is the adoption of a new selection policy for all of teams.It mirrors one already developed by Hampshire Junior Manager David Matthews, which has been adopted for the U12s, U14s, U16 and U18 teams in 2023.

The selection tool takes into account results in the equivalent fixture the previous year, as well as current form, and a player’s current strokeaverage, along with other statistical data which the coaches and captain can access.

The final part of Cherry’s jigsaw to create a team good enough to challenge for regional and national honours again is a shake-up of the coaching set-up.

Tournerbury’s Kevin Flynn – one of England Golf’s regional junior coaches – take over as Hampshire’s new head coach, assisted by Portsmouth Golf Centre’s Simon Andrews, who was the first-team’s swing coach under Dawson and his predecessor Colin Roope.

Flynn already coaches a number of the first-team squad as individuals, including Cherry’s new vice-captain Toby Burden, and Stoneham’s reigning Hampshire, IoW & CI Amateur Champion James Freeman, who is doing the PGA degree at Birmingham University.

Experts in strength and conditioning have also been recruited to improve the physical condition of the players to help them perform at their peak.

Lawrence added: “We have not done that for quite a few years but we have with the juniors in the past. We are going to have some of the juniors around some of the first-team sessions to encourage and inspire their development, as well as first-team only ones.

“The new training set-up is a culture that we want to spread throughout the county – every team will have all of these innovations available to them, from the juniors to the Challenge League and first-team.”

Kevin Flynn Hampshire Head Coach

New Hampshire head coach Kevin Flynn will oversee the first-team and the new Challenge League side



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