Olympic dreams for PGA Professional Michael Stanford

Olympic dreams for PGA Professional Michael Stanford


2023 promises to be another exciting year for Irish golf, particularly with dreams of Olympic gold on the horizon.

In June PGA Professional Michael Stanford will lead a nine-strong Irish golf team to the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin as Ireland pursue Olympic glory.

Stanford is a well-renowned coach across the PGA but becoming Head Coach of Team Ireland for the summer games is a challenge he is relishing and final preparations are well underway.

“It’s very exciting, I have been involved in golf for thirty years as a pro but never anything like this,” said the Northern Irishman. “Seven thousand athletes will be in Berlin in total so it’s a massive thing compared to a normal golf tournament, it’s so much bigger.

“There are nine golfers on the team with various competitions within golf, foursomes, singles strokeplay, nine and eighteen holes for different capabilities of player.

“We checked out the golf course, it looks really nice and we have a schedule of what we are doing and what to do. We are staying in Dusseldorf around three hours from Berlin so there will be a lot of travelling involved and I will arrive before the athletes to make sure everything is in shape.”

Stanford’s ascent to becoming Head Coach of Team Ireland has been rapid. The resident professional at Kelly’s Golf Centre in Warrenpoint began teaching golf lessons to people with special needs in Newry in 2020.

His enthusiasm only grew and he quickly founded the Newry Aces golf team who have gone on to have great success, winning three gold medals and a bronze out of the five categories at a qualifying event for the Special Olympics.

“My team come to me every Tuesday in Newry. When they started with me it was just to give them an activity to do. As it progressed we thought we would have a go at the world games,” Stanford explains.

“We went to St Margarets for qualifying and out of our five pairings, three came away with gold medals which was unbelievable.

“All three don’t go to Berlin unfortunately, their names go in a hat and are drawn out so only one from my club will go.

“That player will be Derval Savage.”

Stanford has had a storied career in the golf industry. Formerly a tournament director for the PGA before taking general manager roles in Dunmurry Springs and Clandeboye. He then became the head professional and director of golf in Lough Erne before moving to Kelly’s Golf Centre where he has entered his third year of coaching.

Admittedly he has added a new dimension to his coaching since teaching golf to people with special needs and has managed to keep his students engaged by demonstrating movements and feel rather than the use of verbal methods – something which he has transferred to his normal day to day coaching in Kelly’s Golf Centre.

“It’s a very different experience for me coaching. What I have found coaching the Special Olympics team is that they are very much into learning from demonstrations and feelings. It’s been great for my own coaching because I have to modify what I normally do in a golf lesson so the penny drops with the Special Olympic athletes. They are very good at replicating things if you show them and get them going through the motions.

“I find myself increasingly using the methods I use with the Special Olympics athletes in my own coaching in the PGA and it has vastly improved my coaching and hopefully I continue to improve, every day is a learning day.”

Stanford has also just commenced a role as tutor/assessor with the PGA to add to his already packed schedule, becoming just the third PGA Professional in Ireland to be appointed. While he describes 2023 as a year where he will be ‘spinning plates’ he has a burning desire to keep busy and is looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s fantastic, I delivered the level one course for first year PGA Pros. I remember thinking I knew a bit about the golf swing, but until you start with the PGA you haven’t a clue how to teach it and I hadn’t a clue when I started!

“The PGA provides an excellent foundation in how to coach the game and how to structure lessons, even when you deviate away from it in your own coaching career the structure remains the same.

“To get your message across and make sure people understand what techniques you are trying to teach is difficult. I do zoom calls and meetings with the outside body that are delivering the tutor assessor course.

“As a training drill I had to assess a cycling coach! It was good doing it from that because it’s all about communication and getting what you’re trying to say across. You can have a mountain of knowledge but if you can’t get that message delivered it’s no good.”

A hectic 2023 beckons for Stanford, but it could be a golden one.


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