Louise Marshall - RBS Volunteer of the Year

Louise Marshall was shortlisted for the 2013 RBS Volunteer of the Year award for her commitment to junior golf at Elgin Golf Club over the previous year. This case study will focus on how she helped to establish and make a success of the club’s ClubGolf programme.

1.    Challenge
Elgin made the decision to establish its ClubGolf programme in 2011 and Junior Convener Louise Marshall was charged with that task, starting from scratch.

2.    Requirements
The ClubGolf Regional Manager, Audra Booth had remained in regular contact with the club, recognising an opportunity to promote the junior golf programme following the appointment of a new club council. Her persistence paid dividends when she presented to Council, which showed the interest and appetite to become more involved. This became the catalyst that led to the establishment of ClubGolf at Elgin Golf Club.

3.    Approach
After contacting Booth, Marshall instigated the entire programme. This involved arranging for coach training (10 were qualified initially), working closely with Active Schools to involve Elgin in their operations and ensuring the club met all ClubGolf requirements, including appointing a Child Protection Officer and complying with the national strategy. 

Louise also contacted the Head Greenkeeper to establish a six-hole short course within the existing 18 holes to add to their practise facilities, upon which ClubGolf and competitions could take place during Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings. Any use of the course by the junior section and the reasoning behind this has been constantly communicated to members.

To bolster the club's eight-week ClubGolf coaching programme and build on the basic skills delivered in the first instance, the club offered to provide a further eight weeks of coaching free of charge for those who went on to become junior members.

A chaperone scheme was instigated so that young children would not be taking to the golf course unsupervised. Along with member volunteers, parents were utilised for this task, regardless of whether they were active golfers or not, being paired accordingly.

For Louise, one of the most important aspects of her work in the junior section was accepting the tasks at hand with enthusiasm and a "can do" attitude, and taking care to have that mind-set spread to the ClubGolf team she established.

As she explained: "You have to be enthusiastic and you have to have a desire to see things move forward and question why things are the way they are, and is that the best they can be. My enthusiasm has spread to others, so it does help to have that kind of approach."

4.    Results
The establishment of the six-hole short course gave Elgin's youngsters a good grounding in course etiquette and competitive play before crossing over to the full layout. Louise is confident those children involved in competitions over six holes are now equipped with the knowledge of basic rules and score-keeping, which will enable them to graduate to nine holes in 2013.

The chaperone system allowed children to take to the course with confidence, but also taught them valuable lessons about etiquette and the social side of the game. It also invited parents into the club, some of whom have become social members as a result. Becoming directly involved has also resulted in growing enthusiasm among the parents and allows for more regular feedback on their child's progress.

Clear communication with club members has seen a great deal of positive feedback for Elgin's ClubGolf programme. Clearly defining the benefits of the work at the club has warded off any ill-feeling among members about junior-only course use and actually helped to bolster volunteer numbers.

"Everyone is supportive," said Marshall. "We've seen this is something that is sustainable and will stay for the foreseeable future and members are now coming forward and asking if we need a hand."

Perhaps the most visible result of the adoption of ClubGolf is the creation of a junior section that's, in Marshall's words, "buzzing with activity". Having expected to introduce between 8-10 members to the club in the first year, the club easily surpassed that target with 27 new junior members. Another 16 were added to the list in 2012, resulting in the addition of a very healthy new junior membership of just under 50, a direct result of the Club's involvement with ClubGolf.

5.    Benefits
When asked the way in which ClubGolf and Louise Marshall have benefitted his club, Elgin Manager Gary Abel simply explained: "Louise has transformed the club." Provided that its new recruits are retained, the club has a steady stream of juniors who will potentially continue to full membership in the years to come.

Current trends suggest the future is bright in this respect; all junior members who joined in Marshall's first year (2011) have been retained thus far.

Marshall also highlights an increased sense of pride amongst adult members at Elgin with what has been achieved within the junior section. This has enhanced relationships between the various sections at Elgin and allows juniors to feel just as important components in the club structure as their older counterparts.

The revenue from improving membership is already being re-invested in the section through purchase of coaching equipment, provision of team transport to strengthen team spirit and a reduction in junior subscription fees, agreed by the membership at the recent AGM; this was recognised as an important issue in terms of membership retention within these age categories.  

In addition, an opportunity to improve significantly the practise chipping facilities presented itself during the development of housing adjacent to the clubhouse in 2012.  The ClubGolf Programme was a key driver in seizing that opportunity to gain improved practise facilities for the future.

6. Future
Looking back on two successful years in the ClubGolf programme, Elgin is now ready to pin-point solutions to issues they have identified that can potentially arise at different stages in a child's development.

As Marshall explained: "We have a group of players who are old enough to have handicaps but don't and another who do have handicaps but don't play competitive golf. Next year, we want to focus on why this is and try to make inroads in these areas. We are not diverting our attention away from ClubGolf but we are expanding the net slightly to focus on the needs of the whole spectrum of ages and abilities.

"With the appointment of Michael McAllan as Head Professional in 2013, plans for structured coaching across all player categories will be introduced. This will recognise that providing our junior section with opportunities to participate, be it in coaching or in play, is an important part of young players' development".

"We are also starting to think about how we can better integrate the juniors into the body of membership and the clubhouse, so they are more visible and even better accepted. They already have a junior lounge but we would like to do more in 2013 by reviewing access arrangements within the Clubhouse."

Marshall hopes that each of these approaches will help the club to retain junior members for the future.

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