PGA Professional Pennock at the heart of dementia initiative

PGA Professional Pennock at the heart of dementia initiative


It could’ve been a scene from any golf club from Great Britain and Ireland as a small group of golfers clipped shots of varying standard down the practice ground. Only this was no ordinary session at Seckford Golf Club, to the east of Ipswich in Suffolk. For PGA professional and Suffolk PGA secretary Tony Pennock it was one of the most fulfilling and exciting days of his career as he oversaw the launch of an initiative for golfers living with dementia.

It was also an afternoon of raw emotion for Pennock – a former PGA in England, East captain – who has extensive first-hand knowledge of the disability. “My mum has had dementia for 11 years,” he said. “It’s been the most dreadful journey you could ever imagine and now my dad’s been in a home for two years with it too – he was her carer before. My mum and dad don’t know who I am; it just breaks your heart.”

But Pennock, in his words, is ‘a doer’ and witnessing his parents’ dementia prompted a desire for him to find some positives in a situation that he was finding extremely hard to deal with. Initially this led him to his beloved Ipswich Town. The EFL club had a café at their Portman Road ground where people living with dementia, as well as their carers, could meet and celebrate their football passion by looking through memorabilia and chatting about the good times from the 1960s, 70s and 80s when the Blues won trophies home and abroad.

Ex-Town and England stars such as Terry Butcher and Mick Mills visited to enjoy the warm environment that Pennock absorbed and contributed to. Tony began taking in a multi-point putting board for attendees to try and one thing led to another after he also got to know Wendy Chard from the private care company Home Instead. The pair got chatting about what else could be done with golf for people living with dementia. After all, as the general manager of Seckford Golf Club, he was in an appropriate position from which to drive forward an initiative.

“I’m not the expert and don’t have this facility, so it was really, ‘how could we get together?’” said Wendy, head of community engagement for Home Instead. “Tony was so enthusiastic. He’s been really good, really supportive…he keeps saying ‘Yes’.”

The end result of those discussions is a once-a-month golf-oriented event at Seckford. The mayor of Woodbridge, among other local dignitaries, was on hand to cut the ribbon for the launch at the start of November before the party headed for the practice ground and the putting green.  Some had played golf before, others were less sure but the enjoyment of all was obvious. Even the mayor, in full regalia, had a crack!

In among the group was Lyall, a man of Carnoustie who – as a young lad – could recall seeing Ben Hogan in his hometown during the week of the American star’s triumph on the fabled Scottish links back in 1953. Lyall grew up as a keen golfer but had not picked up a club for “some years” before needing little persuasion to turn up at Pennock’s session. “When we were school kids, the council allowed us to play the Burnside course for nothing,” he said of his childhood days back in Carnoustie. “We used to go and go play any time we felt like it.”

At Seckford, it was as if Lyall was back on the hallowed turf of his youth, compressing sweetly-struck 7-irons down the practice ground. With a grip that Hogan would’ve appreciated, he turned his shoulder back-and-through time and again to wow a receptive ‘gallery’ stood behind him.

“Most of the shots went roughly in the direction they were supposed to go,” the canny Scot said with a chuckle. “Swinging the club after such a long time, it’s great. I did enjoy it – very much. I think I’ll come back.”

Lyall’s pleasure at the exercise was evident by the size of the smile on his face. Everyone seemed to be deriving pleasure from the session…probably no one more than Pennock, who, along with his wife Jacqui, had devised the day, recruited volunteers from Seckford (and beyond) and provided refreshments, including a magnificent cake.

“It was quite honestly one of the best days of my life,” said Pennock. “I’m so proud of my club, our supporters and staff. I’m even quite proud of myself.”


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