Women are welcomed into Thrive. Men become part of the Wolfpack and juniors play as a Centenary Park Shark.

Golfers tend to join clubs without ever being part of a team but recognising the flood of interest from new golfers in the wake of the pandemic, Centenary Park Golf Course in Frankston south-east of Melbourne sought to approach things slightly differently.

Led by PGA Professional Jack Donaldson who operates Impact Golf Performance at Centenary Park, the group dynamics and enhanced connection to the golf facility are engendering an enthusiasm that Donaldson says can’t help but be infectious.

“With team sports being shut down, a lot of men and women who traditionally would have been a part of football and netball and those sort of sports have gone, ‘You know what? I want to do something. And being locked down for a year, I need to start a sport’,” says Donaldson.

“We have the ‘Get Into Golf’ program and then we have development programs that enable people to feel like part of a team.

“The women’s program is called Thrive. The logo for that is basically a flower with a golf ball in the middle of it and women have really loved that, love to feel that inclusion in the program.

“The men’s program is called Wolfpack. It’s that pack mentality – a bit more masculine than a flower – and it’s been really cool to see men embrace that and the mateship and camaraderie they develop being in those programs.

“And then the junior program is called the Centenary Park Sharks.”

Akin to martial arts disciplines that reward levels of progression with advancing colours of belts, Donaldson encourages development within his junior program with different coloured hats.

Based on the Titleist Performance Institute program, juniors start out with red Centenary Park hats and progress to white, blue, green and eventually black.

“Red is a lot of locomotive skills – running, jumping and basic posture – and then we go into white, which is the fundamentals level, dialling in posture, grip, athletic weight shift,” Donaldson explains.

“Blue is basically the play stage, introducing kids to the golf course, and then we go to green, which is the training stage for the older teenager who does drills and stations and things like that.

“Finally, black is the elite level for kids who take the game quite seriously and want to play at a competitive level.

“The good thing about those caps as well is that motivation to get the next one and we some retention in our junior programs because they want to go up to that next level and get the cap that their friend may have already earned.”

And it is not only the juniors who Donaldson manages in transitioning from beginning to the golf course.

A crucial element in his adult program comes towards the end, guiding his newcomers not only in technique but providing a grounding in how to feel comfortable on the golf course.

“I block out times on a time sheet in an afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday to provide an environment where they know there will be people of similar abilities and they can just ease their way into the game,” adds Donaldson.

“It’s like a lot of traffic coming through, ‘How do I merge into the traffic?’ It’s our job to make that golfer’s journey easy.

“I tell people that the most important thing is to understand how to look after the golf course and to be aware and respectful of other people on the golf course.

“If you are playing slowly but know to let other people through, those golfers will appreciate that awareness and are much more likely to make you feel welcome on the course.

“The rules are just a byproduct of playing the game. You’ll learn them as you go, but you don’t have to know them all. We’re just looking to have a good time and enjoy ourselves.

“Golf can be whatever you want it to be. If you want to go and play three holes and then go and have a drink with a friend, or go to the driving range, or play 18 holes competitively, it is whatever you want it to be.

“I really drive that home as much as I can. That this is a game for everybody and it’s what you want to make of it.”

Meeting the market

The over-riding question arising from the COVID-infused golf boom centres on how to turn newcomers into life-long golfers.

Rather than a reliance on the heritage of the game and the traditions it is built on, Donaldson says it is beholden on the golf industry to meet the market that has suddenly emerged rather than expect it to come to us.

Whether it is offering more group-based lesson environments that people can participate in with friends, making time available to transition them to the golf course or simply embracing the new ways people want to experience golf, every opportunity is one worth exploring.

“I actually had some girls come to the range, they would have been in their early 20s, one looked like a bit of a punk and one had Converse on,” Donaldson says.

“They were out on the range and pumping music and I actually excused myself from a lesson to go over to them.

“They might have been thinking I was coming to tell them off but I said, ‘Can you please come back? Because this is awesome.’

“That’s the sort of stuff that we’ve got to encourage. The right attitude in the pro shop and the engaging and welcoming personality is crucial.

“We’re not exclusive anymore. We can’t use that word. We’ve got to be inclusive, being welcoming to people of all walks of life. It’s being adaptable to different people and understanding that golf is not a certain type of clothing and attitude anymore. It’s quite vast in that the people that it caters to.”