HAMPSHIRE’S Future Champions Tour has been dubbed a great success by the county’s junior organisers who are keen to grow the grassroots game – and hopefully find the next Justin Rose for good measure.
A series of events for players aged U12 – both with and without a formal handicap – have played a series of events this summer – where the emphasis has been on having fun and gaining experience of playing in competitions for the first time.
Assistant county secretary Chris Harrison, who took on his role at the start of the year, has assisted Richard Arnold in creating the competition, which was staged at Southampton Municipal, New Forest GC, and Blacknest GC, near Alton.
And no sooner had the last putt been holed and the prizes awarded – with a Hampshire Golf memento for every participant – then the county began looking forward to producing a bigger, and better Future Champions Tour for 2024.
Richard said after the presentation held at Ampfield Golf & Country Club: “When I became county secretary in 2021, it was one of my priorities to increase the opportunities for younger golfers across Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands.
“This year has been a learning experience, but we have been delighted with the number of boys and girls we have helped attract to our first four events – 50 in total.
“We tried to identify suitable venues – those clubs that are very family-friendly with the right facilities and a suitable course, in terms of the kind of holes the kids can play more easily.
“We have had new players turn up at every venue – one per month over the last four months, and we have had a number that have played in more than one event, with their parents happy to travel to take part.
“The youngsters have had a lot of fun, the parents have enjoyed being able to walk around the courses with them, and the clubs have been delighted to host us.
“We know they will be happy for us to return next year, and if we can find a sponsor, even better.”
Richard told the players that took part at Ampfield – one of the oldest and finest short courses in the country: “I am sure that in another 10 years time, you will be playing in our county first-team which will just be fantastic for the county.”
Chris Harrison, who played for Hampshire in 2009 and 2010 before turning pro, said: “We are already looking at having more events next year, and we certainly want to look at getting this initiative going on the Isle of Wight, which has some suitable venues.
“The Channel Islands have really strong junior sections – both on Guernsey and Jersey – so they are catering for that need already.
“But we have already had one player come over to take part. We want to offer a positive experience of taking part in competitions from as early as they want to take part.
“We have had 50 players register and play this summer and it will help the county identify players with potential – get them the right kind of coaching from the PGA professionals we work with, and help us fill the age squads we currently run, starting at U10s and U12s.
“Surrey have been successful with their Rookie Tour and their U12s and U10s have been competing for the Paul Casey Cup for the last 15 years.
“We have had an U12s and U10s competition as part of our junior championship over the last few years – we just want to increase the numbers and the standard of competition, which we are sure the Future Champions Tour will help us do.”
Hampshire Golf has produced some of the country’s best amateur golfers over the last 15 years – from European Tour players Sam Hutsby, Jack Singh-Brar and Brandon Thompson-Robinson to Walker Cup players Harry Ellis, and Corhampton pair Scott Gregory and Neil Raymond.
The latter also won back-to-back Brabazon Trophies at the English Strokeplay titles in 2011 and 2012 – a year after Rowlands Castle’s Darren Wright won the Brabazon at Hoylake, the venue for this year’s Open.
Wright, who like Gregory, Ellis, Raymond, Hutsby and Singh-Brar and Rose represented Great Britain and Ireland as well as England as internationals, is still one of only 10 players to have won the English Boys’ Strokeplay (Carris Trophy) as well as the men’s.
Harrison, who started playing golf at Southampton Municipal GC when he was 10 years old, said: “My son is just six and he loves playing in the Future Champions Tour events already.
“I used to play at the muni in the nine-hole competitions. In the 1950s and ’60s – even the ’70s – most of the county’s best juniors played at the muni, before joining Stoneham when they got older.
“I only got involved with Hampshire when I was in the Colts team for the U21s. I qualified as a PGA pro and worked in Dorset before taking my current post at Hampshire Golf,” added the former Stoneham member.
“It’s a passion of mine to work with our junior development programme and our junior manager Dave Matthews and the team mangers for the U12s, U14, U16s and U18s.
“I have played with many of Hampshire’s best amateurs – who have played on the biggest stages all around the world. The thing they nearly all have in common is they got to the top by starting at an early age, and finding the right coaches, as well as getting help after being selected to play for Hampshire.
“But like most things in sport, it is about the numbers and the greater the pool of young talent you can draw upon, the more likely they are to succeed.
“Yet whatever happens, they can learn to love golf, find their level competition-wise and enjoy the game for years to come, playing with friends and family, for fun or in the monthly medals and open competitions.”
RISING Hampshire Under 12s star Henry Atkinson experienced compeition at the highest level in the States earlier this summer and finished inside the top 10 in San Diego.
The youngster from Wellow GC played in the U7-U8s age group at the IMG Academy Junior World Championships in California. The Lyndhurst kid’s dad Luke and coach Nathan Cook accompanied Henry on the trip to California, back in July, after he qualified through the British Junior Golf Tour, last September.
Henry said: “It was great meeting other children from all over the world who love golf as much as I do, and I can’t wait for the next one.”
The eight-year-old shot three-under in his second round at Oak Glen Golf Course, after starting with four birdies in a row.
The plan is to play in the World Junior Championship in Marbella in February, with more than 250 juniors from around the world set to take part in Spain.
Nathan, who also caddied in California, said: “This competition was a truly great experience for Henry and me as his coach. It was fantastic for him to be involved in a world event and leave knowing he can play competitively with the very best.
“Henry’s hard work and training paid off. He played some fabulous golf and nothing phased him. It was a very proud coach moment and an experience we will remember forever.”
Henry is one of the youngest members of the county U12s squad but has consistently been near the top of the leaderboard at Hampshire Golf”s junior training days, both in the skills challenges and medal rounds.
•The US Kids World Championship holds UK qualifiers for its finals held at the world-famous Pinehurst resort in South Carolina every year. Meon Valley’s G&CC Harry Ellis qualified for the international event when he was just nine – 12 years later he became Amateur Champion, earning invites to the 2017 Open, and in 2018, the Masters and US Open.
European Tour winners Aaron Rai and Tyrrell Hatton both came through the UK Wee Wonders tournament for kids aged 5-12, with the finals held at St Andrews every year from 2000 onwards.