HEXHAM have won the England Final of the Home Nations Junior Team Championship, a triumph which is a healthy reflection on the care the club take to make competitive golf appealing to youngsters who might otherwise be lost to the sport.
Having won the Northumberland League and the North championship this season, Hexham’s juniors took their place among representatives from 12 English regions contesting the national final at the Five Lakes Resort in Colchester.
A dramatic finish in Essex will be televised by Sky TV in the New Year and the Hexham juniors go forward to the Home Nations final at Antequera on the Costa del Sol in March.
In Colchester, the five best scores from each six-man team counted – one gross and four nett. Battling gusting winds and rainstorms, the skill and determination of the Hexham players brought them a total of 372 – the same as a Leicestershire club, Beedle Lake.
The contest was decided by using the nett sixth score as a tie-breaker, with Duncan Storey’s gross 89 for an 81 giving Hexham the edge over the 91 gross, 83 nett signed for by Beedle Lake’s Ryan Soutin.
Josh Stancer’s one-over 73 for Hexham was three shots clear of the next best gross score in the tournament, posted by Henry Saunders from the Kent club, Eltham Warren. How the 17-year-old Stancer, a pupil at Queen Elizabeth High School and a former striker with the Newcastle United football academy, came to be a member at Hexham is a testament to the admirable ethos of the club.
Stancer’s father Mark, now coaching at Parklands, used to be the golf operations manager at De Vere Slaley Hall in their European Tour days.
After12 years at Slaley he changed jobs four years ago, when he also started looking round for a club for himself and his son to join near their home in Corbridge.
He said: “I chose Hexham mainly because of the way they structure their competitive junior golf and that has brought nothing but good for Josh, who started playing in tournaments at Hexham when he was 13.
“I am delighted he has come through their system. It was a lot different for me when I started playing golf.
“I was hitting balls on my own in a field one minute and being pitched into a full scale 18-hole tournament the next.”
Around ten years ago the then joint junior liaison officers at Hexham – Ian Crawford and Steve Mullins, Curriculum Leader PE at Queen Elizabeth High School – worked with the former club professional, Ben West, to find a way round a problem which can apply to beginners of any age.
Crawford, the 2008 club captain, said: “At the time we had plenty of juniors joining but with a relatively high drop-out rate.”
Everybody wants to encourage youngsters dreaming of becoming the next Rory McIlroy or Paula Creamer.
But as Crawford put it: “How do they get used to playing a full course if they do not have a relative or family friend who plays golf who can take them out during the quiet spells after school?”
Hexham brought in a three-tier approach, starting youngsters in six-hole tournaments from forward tees off a 54 handicap.
“We started giving them coaching and course etiquette guidance on the way round,” said Crawford. “Some times we could be out there four hours with them.”
All Hexham’s juniors then progress to 11-hole events off the ladies’ tees. Only after that, and once they have a 28 handicap, are they deemed ready to play in full 18-hole junior and senior tournaments.
The club stages a successful annual Junior Am-Am with the proceeds supporting half-price coaching for juniors from head professional Andy Paisley and assistant Chris McDonnell.
Stancer said: “It’s a system that works, the coaching is excellent, nobody is excluded and all the youngsters at Hexham feel part of one big happy family – the camaraderie among the junior section is fantastic.”
Hexham’s victory rounded off a memorable season for Matty Lamb, who has become the Scottish Under-14 Champion, the England Under-14 runner-up, an England international and the first player to win both the Northumberland Schools Under-16 and Under-19 titles in the same year.
Hexham’s initial counting scores at Colchester were (gross-nett): 73-69 Stancer, 77-73 Marcus Mellor, 78-77 Lamb, 81-75 Ali Harris and 83-77 James Dunn. Storey returned the “non-counting” score which, in the end, counted most of all.
SEE tomorrow’s Journal Sport for a report on the launch of an exciting new northern series of “X Factor” tournaments aimed at spotting talented under-16 golfers in Cumbria, Northumberland and Durham County.