Langford’s students are making the golfing grade

Langford’s students are making the golfing grade

30/05/2024

Aside from forging successful careers as professional golfers, DP World Tour winner Jordan Smith, PGA Cup player Ashley Mansell and Carris Trophy victor Ben Amor, are linked by a common factor. All are alumni of South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, their golfing skills honed by Pete Langford, a PGA Professional and its head of golf.

Smith, Mansell, and Amor, however, are just three to emerge from the conveyor belt of talented young golfers nurtured by Langford since 2002.

In what is akin to the golfing equivalent of a small acorn growing into a large oak tree, Langford’s role as a part-time coach at the college has subsequently morphed into a full-time one.

“I did my PGA training at the Bristol Golf Club and worked there for four years prior to this,” Langford recalled.

“My boss at the time, Simon Panes, was starting a golf academy at what was then known as Filton College and asked me if I wanted to become involved.

“There were six golfers and the role involved coaching them for a couple of hours on Mondays and Fridays.”

Encouraged by Panes not only to get involved but also grow the initiative, Langford did not prevaricate.

So much so that 22 years on Langford has created what he describes as the perfect job for himself at the sixth form college in Bristol.

“That was the exactly how it worked,” he continued. “I saw the potential all those years ago and that was what I wanted to do.

“There are some teachers in the family, so I knew about schools, colleges, and teenagers a little bit. So here we are.

“There are close on 30 golfers at the college. There are first and second-year squads as well as a development one and I’m employed full time by the college.

“My role is obviously a lot different to that of a club pro. I worked in the shop at the Bristol and coached there early in my career but now I’m dealing with young golfers who are all good players and keen to progress.”

Indeed, aside from coaching, any similarities between the 50-year-old’s role and that of what is perceived to be a traditional club pro are entirely coincidental.

Whereas a club pro is on call most days of the week and can coach from dawn till dusk, Langford sees his charges on just three of them and at specific times.

The students, aged primarily between 16 and 18, are studying for their A levels or BTEC qualifications and their golfing timetable is built around the academic one.

“Golf time is Monday and Wednesday afternoons and Friday mornings,” Langford explained.

Furthermore, based at the college campus in Stoke Gifford, north Bristol, Langford does not have a home course at such. Not that he is short of quality venues when it comes to coaching or seeing his young charges in action.

“The first-year students play at the Thornbury Golf Centre, which has just had a 22-bay Trackman range installed, which is fantastic.

“I take them and Kelvin Aitken, who is an experienced PGA pro and has been a large part of the academy offer for many years, takes the second years to the Players Club. This has two excellent 18-hole courses, a par-three one and a good short game practice area.

“Kelvin and I have very different personalities and skills to offer the golfers. From the organisational to the inspirational, the stats side to the technical coaching, and while both being avid mentors, we complement each other well. It really is a team effort and one that has led to a lot of success.”

Another difference to Langford’s role is the need to be mindful that most of, if not all, his students are coached by PGA pros at their clubs.

“That's something we’re sensitive towards. The students come from all over the region – Wiltshire, Devon, across the Severn Bridge – and obviously play at a variety of clubs when they’re at home.

“But because we see them multiple times a week, we see the stuff the pro at their club probably won’t see.  We see them practising, for example, and how good they are at focusing on what they need to practise.”

In addition to monitoring their practice and coaching them, Langford sees them in competitive action via what is known as the AoC (Association of Colleges Sport) Intercollegiate Tour, a series of events involving colleges from across the country.

Given the drive and energy Langford has invested in making golf a key factor in the options South Gloucestershire and Stroud College offers its students, it was perhaps inevitable he would be instrumental in setting up the Tour.

“Back in 2008, myself, Andy Schneider from Solihull College, and Stuart Blair from Myerscough College, agreed we each had a good golf academy and needed fixtures.

“We got other colleges involved and our inaugural event involved teams from the north and south regions, and it’s continued from there.”

Six regions were involved at one stage, but funding issues have resulted in a decrease in golf programmes at colleges; a consequence perhaps of sixth form colleges occupying no-man’s land when it comes to financial help to promote golf.

As things stand, England Golf helps fund golf in schools and the R&A follows suit with the game at universities but South Gloucestershire and Stroud College and the like miss out.

“Everyone wants a slice of the pie. So, it’s a source of frustration, especially as I think we do a great service for these youngsters, and it really works. The fact we have been here for a long, long, time bears that out.”

In that respect, support from his employers has been essential, likewise help from AoC Sport.

“We're still here thanks to the backing of the college. And getting the AoC on board for the past couple of years has really helped with the admin side of things and taken a bit of pressure off.”

The help of the AoC in the guise of former Welsh international badminton player Cathy Vigar was very much in evidence at Kingsdown Golf Club, Wiltshire, where 66 youngsters were playing in the season’s final event of the Intercollegiate Tour in the south region.

The Tour is contested by young golfers from colleges in two regions – North and South – and comprises four rounds, two of which are staged in October and the remainder in March.

The events in each region are played on the same date and offer qualification for the grand final which this year was staged at Kedleston Park Golf Club, Derbyshire. In addition, youngsters can earn a place in their 12-strong regional team that contests an annual Ryder Cup-style match run by the AoC.

Langford calculates close on 200 students play in the events across both regions and stresses the input of PGA pros and volunteers is essential for the Tour to function effectively.

A dozen schools from as far afield as Kent and Essex were represented at Kingsdown, and Langford added: “At least two thirds of them have links with PGA pros.

“Neil Matthews, the Welsh national coach, is here, as are Ollie Leett from Clevedon and Matthew Ellis and Paul Johnson from Hartpury University.

“The scenario is replicated in the North where James Whatley at Morley Hayes in Derbyshire is a key figure and the links with PGA pros are just as strong. The bottom line is PGA pros are essential in respect of what we do and our success.”

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