JO BILLING is a latecomer to the world of golf – but is making up for lost time by helping the next generation of players.
The Royal Birkdale member is the new county junior organiser for Lancashire Ladies, a role which not only involves the top players in the region but also those just starting out in the sport.
Jo, who lives in Southport, only took up golf ten years ago after tennis and horse riding had dominated her sporting interests.
Now she says she wishes she had started earlier, given the sport’s healthy lifestyle and opportunities to meet and make new friends.
“I’ve not looked back since a family friend suggested I tried golf,” Jo, a freelance energy consultant, explained. “I had a few lessons at a driving range and then went out on the course. I did practice really hard at the beginning just to get the hang of it and it is one of those sports you need to work at to improve.
“Having come to golf later, I thought how nice it would have been to have played it when I was younger. Younger people have less inhibitions, but golf clubs can be daunting so it is important to help the girls learn the etiquette and how clubs work so they become comfortable.
“There is room for the sport’s traditions, but we don’t want to see people dropping out. Golf can be a skill for life and we are lucky to have so many of the big events right here on our doorstep in Lancashire.”
However the problem for junior girls setting out in the sport is often that there will only be a handful of them at any one club and not necessarily all of the same age group.
“The picture varies from club to club and often there are lots of juniors,” says Jo, “but the girls might be only two or three strong - and then they may be quite different ages.”
With that in mind, Lancashire Ladies established the Lancashire Girls Golf Association with the aim of putting on a calendar of events and coaching sessions that would allow the girls to meet others in a similar position at other clubs to forge new friendships and playing partners.
Introduction to golf days and fun nine-hole competitions are used to help break down the barriers for those wanting to try the sport and are even open to those who may not yet have joined a golf club.
“The events get the girls used to playing in and organising themselves for competitions,” explains Jo, “while the Association provides a platform for players to get to know other girls. It is a way to provide the girls at different clubs with their own set of competitions and the chance to make new friendships, which can last for years.
“We are trying to be as proactive as possible and cater for as many of the girls as possible. There will be those who might enjoy playing a little bit but go on to do other things, those who come back to it in 20 years time, those who get completely bitten by the bug or a player like Emily Taylor (Hillside), who has come through the county ranks to earn her playing rights on the Ladies European Tour for 2013.
“While we look after elite golf, we also want to help the grassroots of the sport grow because it’s players at that level that hold the sport together.”
The county is in the process of establishing five training centres around Lancashire which will be used to encourage more girls to play. One will be based at Ormskirk Golf Club, with professional Alison Gray.
Training for the best players in the county continues around the year, with another Royal Birkdale member, Anne Baines, taking on the role of training officer.
“We are very fortunate to have someone of Anne’s experience involved,” says Jo, who is supported by Kate Ainsworth (Pleasington GC) in the voluntary roles. “She is an England selector, too, and the training is very comprehensive, covering not just the technical side of the game, but nutrition and fitness as well.”
While decisions on how to make the best use of the growing social media available to engage with a new audience have yet to be made, the Lancashire Ladies website – www.llcga.org – provides a full guide to what is available.