Knight forsakes comfort zone for island life challenge

Knight forsakes comfort zone for island life challenge


On first hearing, Eugenie Knight’s new job sounds like her previous one – there’s a heavy emphasis on coaching youngsters and encouraging women to play golf. Likewise, the location of her previous and present workplaces – both are situated near the coast and beaches are within easy reach.

There, though, the similarities end. In short, by swapping Cornwall for the island of Borneo in the South China Sea, the 27-year-old has taken a quantum leap in her career and out of her comfort zone.

“It is a complete change of culture and totally different to what I’ve experienced in life so far,” she admitted. “But I’ve always loved a challenge.”

It's a challenge, however, that has been on Knight’s radar for some time.

“Chris Gill, the head pro at Newquay Golf Club, was based here when he played on the Asian Tour and alerted me to a job in Borneo,” she recalled. “He thought it would be perfect for me and, although it appealed, the timing wasn’t right. I was still keen to keep playing so I didn’t go for it.

“But, having cut down my playing commitments this year, I had no hesitation in applying for a coaching role at the Golf Academy Borneo when it was advertised. Obviously, I was delighted to be successful.”

Accepting the role in the Academy at the Sutera Harbour Resort in Kota Kinabalu meant bringing the curtain down on nine years working in Cornwall that, inspired by a successful spell as an amateur representing the county, began with four as an assistant pro to Mark Rowe at Carlyon Bay Golf Club and was followed by five under Tony Pitts at St Austell Golf Club.

“Aside from playing in tour events around Europe and the UK I’d always been in Cornwall,” she explained. “This is the first time I’ve left home, so yes, this is a huge step in terms of both my career and leaving my comfort zone.”

Kota Kinabalu is the sixth biggest city in the Malaysian portion of what is the world’s third largest island and, a handful of days into her new job and surroundings, Knight is bubbling over with enthusiasm for what she has already experienced and what lies ahead.

Daily temperatures of 30˚, sumptuous scenery, a rich tapestry of wildlife, aside from the unwelcome insects in her apartment, friendly people plus an appetising fusion of Malay, Thai and Asian cuisines all fuel the feelgood factor.

Ditto the team at Golf Academy Borneo which comprises two pros from Great Britain and Ireland, Neil Douglas and Toby Wood, and Ricardo Petersen from the PGA of South Africa.

“The guys have all been really welcoming and helpful,” said Knight, who is understood to be the most highly qualified female pro on the island. “And my coaching diary is already beginning to fill up. There’s a big demand for coaching here, so I’m expecting to be busy.”

Not least next month when 200 schoolchildren from China are due to arrive at the resort for a programme of intensive coaching.

“They will be here for the whole month being coached five days a week, mornings, and afternoons. They will have a coach with them so that will help if there are any language issues, although I understand most of them speak English – which is the case here. Nevertheless, I’ve got started on learning Malay and it’s been going well so far.”

Closer to her new home, Knight is already in line to coach the MALGA (Malaysian Amateur Ladies Golf Association) Girls Squad.

“I’ll be coaching girls of mixed ages up to 21-year-olds,” she explained. “The brief is to train them up and it’s in line with a government programme focusing on local schools that encourages kids with the natural ability to have a go at golf.

“The programme is scheduled to last five years and focuses on locating talent throughout the state of Sabah in Borneo. It involves the training of local school teachers to teach the basics of golf and that will provide a pathway for me to select the top talent. The goal is to create an elite squad that will go on to represent Malaysia at a national level.

“Although I’ve only been here a few days, it’s already clear to me there’s a lot more help from governments to get youngsters playing golf than I’ve been used to. It’s clear they are more proactive regarding sport and its benefit here.”

Knight is also tasked with encouraging more women to take up golf; then there’s the question of her own game. Despite winding down her playing commitments in the UK, she has not mothballed her clubs.

“I’m still keen to play,” she confirmed. “At 27 I’m a bit young to give up. There may be opportunities on the China LPGA Tour. It’s organised by the China Ladies Professional Golfers' Association, so I’ll investigate that.

“All the events are held in China, which is four to five hours away. Australia is also four hours away and Thailand is relatively close.

“I love travelling so Borneo is a great platform for visiting new places and, as a gregarious person, I enjoy meeting new people. Above all, I love new challenges, which is what I’ve got now. It’s a really exciting time.”


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