An immense collective effort from coaches, parents, players, junior committee members and volunteers alike to put juniors first at Belvoir Park has seen the club emerge as a breeding ground for future stars of the game.
The Belfast club will proudly boast an Ulster representative in each age category at this month’s Boys Interprovincial Championships while top talent Darcy Hogg, who was Ireland’s youngest player at this year’s Boys Home Internationals, is set for more International action when Ireland face England at Douglas Golf Club on the same weekend.
Hogg’s younger brother, Evan will line out for Ulster in the U-14 Interpros with Under-16 star Sam Allister and Under-18’s talent Luke Kelly all coming off the Belvoir Park conveyor belt ahead of the action at Mount Wolseley.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s something in the water at Belvoir Park but far from a coincidence, this success has stemmed from the club implementing a junior programme some eight years ago and with three supportive professionals on site, results have been swift.
“We’re very fortune to have Head Professional Michael McGivern, Victoria Bradshaw and Chris Carville fully committed to this programme,” says Bruce Hogg, Junior Convenor at Belvoir Park.
“Our youth development programme within the club has brought these kids through over the last eight years and our three professionals are an integral part of that.
“It starts with our cadets aged between 8 and 10 who take part in group coaching with our professionals before being supported on the course by our tremendous volunteers and parents for the first two years of their development.
“When they’re ready, the kids graduate to our blue tee system, a short course with a card in their pocket and a handicap. The Blues are championed by the dedicated Dianne Kenny, a stalwart volunteer, who had inspired the kids every Saturday afternoon as they head out to play on course.
“The whole emphasis on that is to try and get the kids to go low, get their handicaps down to plus figures at a blue level and build their confidence and instil a mindset that they can make the step up when they’re older to a longer course.
“They’ll progress to red tees on the slope and so on as they get older and stronger and hit the ball further. We try to maintain the friendship groups, and age and ability groups as they progress and the results have been really exciting so far.”
Despite the significant progress over the last number of years with the boys, the club recognised a distinct gender imbalance in its junior programme that they’ve worked tirelessly to put right since last year. From just three girls participating, the club’s junior section has been reinvigorated with 25 enthusiastic girls taking up the game; a hugely rewarding jump for all at Belvoir Park, not least, Junior Lady Convenor Marie Canavan.
“Marie deserve enormous credit,” Hogg explains. “We’ve got four girls in their early teens who are progressing quickly and are nearly down to single figures and they’ve been mentored by Marie.
“Marie’s put in an exceptional amount of work into the girls and it extends beyond the golf course. There’s been away days and team bonding exercises that have kept the girls engaged and most importantly, kept them playing golf.
“Marie’s passion for the game clearly resonates with the girls and they’re having real fun while they improve.”
Like any good golf club, success is only ever as good as your volunteers with Hogg highlighting the dedication of parents to the cause at Belvoir Park. Be it ferrying kids to dawn tee-times, away trips or their presence on the golf course itself, support has been unwavering for the junior programme and the club, and its bright talents, have reaped the benefits.
Yet perhaps the most essential cog in this talent producing machine is a selfless culture at Belvoir Park that’s hard to replicate. Gone are the days when a junior’s rights are restricted, their playing opportunities scarce and their importance less regarded. Belvoir Park has flipped that one time playbook on its head, and through the generosity of the members, juniors have been unapologetically put to the fore.
“We’re a very, very busy club with a high demand on our timesheet and the members have made great sacrifices in giving the kids so much time to play,” Hogg says.
“The kids get opportunities to play in five competitions a week during the summer holidays where there’s literally five hours blocked out on the tee-sheet at various times that are convenient to the parents and not just kids.
“It’s not a case of just shoving the kids to the end of the day, or the start of it. They really are prioritised and given a lot of opportunity and thankfully that support from the membership is really paying off.”