England (Midlands) Region
21 Feb 19
Phil Edwards has returned to the club where he learned the game determined to ensure it has a bright future, writes Adrian Milledge.
It’s the second Saturday in February and powerful gusts of bone-chilling wind whipping across the fairways at Coxmoor Golf Club are taxing one’s ability to remain upright let alone keep warm.
Not that a group of mostly beanie and bobble-hatted youngsters on the practice range seem troubled by the conditions.
That more than 20 of them are defying the elements is testament to the popularity of the Saturday morning coaching sessions put on by Phil Edwards, one of the club’s three PGA Professionals.
One of the youngsters, Owen Alexander (right), has been a Saturday morning regular since Edwards ran a taster session at his school.
“I didn’t know anything about golf then,” he says. “I really enjoy it now, have got a handicap and become a member here.”
The 13-year-old is not alone: 30 others have also become junior members at Coxmoor since Edwards joined the club two-and-a-half years ago.
That the junior section is buzzing is in keeping with a club that is defying the doom-mongers who claim ‘golf is on its uppers’.
Membership is fully subscribed, the club can still charge a joining fee, and a new clubhouse costing £1.5m has just been completed (above).
Standing two-storeys high, it affords a panoramic view over much of a course regularly rated among the top 100 in England and where a substantial posse of accomplished golfers learned the game.
It’s a band that includes Edwards, a former Asian PGA Tour member and winner of the Midlands Professionals’ Championship in 2003, multiple England internationals, three Walker Cup players, European Tour winners Oliver Wilson and Greg Owen, PGA Professionals and too many county champions to list.
“Coxmoor has a great reputation for producing very good golfers,” says Edwards. “It’s a top class course with excellent facilities that are always improving.
“The members’ golfing achievements are something the club is very proud of. We always let the juniors know how many good golfers have played here to inspire them.”
For the 47-year-old Edwards, working at Coxmoor represents more than a return to the club where he first brandished a golf club, it also has strong and longstanding bonds with his family.
‘’It’s great to be back at what feels like my home club,” explains Edwards, PGA Midlands captain in 2013.
“My granddad on my mother’s side, Sam Taylor, got me started in golf when I was 13 years old and I joined the club at 15.
“Sam was always passionate about the juniors of Coxmoor, he helped and encouraged many of us over the years, his ashes are here so he’s never far away. Maybe my interest in encouraging juniors to play golf comes from him.”
Junior membership was somewhat becalmed when Edwards arrived but his drive coupled with support from the club, its officials, fellow pros and volunteers has fuelled a revival.
‘’I was quite surprised to see junior participation and representation down at Coxmoor when I started work here,” he recalls, “so part of my role was to try to make the junior section strong again.
‘’The first thing we did to improve the junior membership was to focus on the ones we’d already got.
“We had junior members but they didn’t really know each other and that needed to change. I believe good friendships will naturally create a great junior section - if they have friends at the club they’ll want to be there.
‘’We based our initial coaching sessions on team building, mixing everybody up and having some fun. We had a table tennis competition at one point, snowball fights at another.
“It was all about them getting to know each other better and having a good time, not the golf so much. By spring we’d had a huge increase in attendance and a core of juniors to build on.
“We also put together a junior development team. It includes the three pros - myself, Ben Jones, Craig Wright and our junior organiser Craig Greatorex who does a great job. We set up junior social media groups to keep us all connected and that works really well.
‘’Things are going well, we’re all working hard to build a strong young golf club for the years to come.’’
Should that materialise, then Edwards will be the first to point out it will not solely be due to his efforts, his fellow pros or club officials.
“Growing the junior section is a team effort that involves the club’s members as well,” he says.
“Strong junior sections are needed at private members’ clubs – because today’s kids are tomorrow’s full members.
‘’Happily, our members are really onside with getting the kids involved in the game, especially Richard Jeffs (above right with Phil Edwards) - a former Nottinghamshire first team county captain.
“He’s been a member for 35 years, played with my grandfather, and helps me run the Saturday sessions.
“Richard has always been there for the juniors. His enthusiasm and encouragement are invaluable; he makes every junior feel special, really welcome and they love him being around as I do.”
Edwards can also call on the high-profile support of Oliver Wilson who, despite his success on the European Tour and representing Europe in the 2008 Ryder Cup, remains close to the club.
“Oli gets involved as much as he can,” Edwards explains. ‘’Last year we introduced a very special Oliver Wilson award for the junior of the year. Oli presents the award and plays golf with the winner. That’s the most prestigious award for our juniors.
“We decided not to solely base this award on results but more on traditional values like dedication, attitude, participation, achievement and personal improvement to name a few.
“Those ticking the most boxes will be eligible to win our most prestigious Oliver Wilson Award.”
As well as giving Edwards support in his drive to grow the junior section, the club’s membership is one of two sources Edwards trawls for junior recruits.
“There is a big membership, many of whom have kids,” he says. “So that’s a good place to start – there’s already an interest there.”
By contrast, there is rarely any interest in or knowledge of golf among targets at Edwards’ other hunting ground – local schools.
‘’Continuing to feed the classes is important,” he says. “So we also run taster sessions in local schools and encourage the kids to come along on a Saturday morning to see if they enjoy it.
“Their first session is free, it’s a nice relaxed roll-up targeted at seven to 12-year-olds - they make friends quicker if they’re a similar age.
“We’ve got some talent in this group and many of them have started from scratch and they’re doing well.
“It’s very satisfying to bring a kid through who would never think of playing golf – there’s quite a few members of the group like that.
“I’ve always taught juniors since I’ve been a pro and had success bringing them through into the game. I enjoy that. And what better place to do it than Coxmoor?
“It’s a great course and a friendly club where kids and their parents can feel welcome.
“I know how much the club and golf gave me as a junior. It was a great place for me to learn the game and grow as a young adult, now that I’m back I’m hoping I can give a little back to Coxmoor.
“That was my feeling when I joined. It’s my home club, a place I’m happy to be at. I’ve got a lot of friends here and I hope we continue to see the club grow.”
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