From its beginnings in 2007 to its popularity today, Surrey Golf’s Nike RookieTour has become the largest junior golf tour of its kind in Europe.
It has been described as the jewel in the crown of Surrey golf and all involved are rightly proud of its success. It has given hundreds of youngsters a head start in both their sport and in life by letting them play competitive golf, develop their skills and most of all have fun within their peer group. The Nike Rookie Tour players have twice been featured on Sky Sports.
Created in 2007 to broaden the competitive experience of the under 14 age boys and girls within Surrey, the Nike RookieTour has grown quickly. Under 12 and under 14 boys play 18 hole events in both scratch and handicap divisions. Since 2011 a dedicated girls division play 18 hole handicap events, with on average 20 girls registered to compete.
The Tour provides competition appropriate to age outside of home clubs. The juniors develop skills, self-discipline and confidence by playing against those of a similar age and standard. But they also build new friendships and play in a ‘family’ atmosphere.
There were 12 regular season events played across Surrey this year, leading to a special finale ‘The Race To The Stars’ where the top 12 boys and top 6 girls from each Order of Merit are invited to play. For 2015 the event will be held at the Royal Automobile Club later this month.
The Tour chooses tees and course length appropriate to age and ability. But for those juniors who have a handicap higher than 36 or no handicap, they can play in a separate Young Improvers Group. These YIGs players, as they are known, have 5 of their own events held on 9-hole par 3 courses. Their average age is 8-10 but there is no lower age limit and they do not even have to be a current member of a club. If a child is good enough, they are old enough. They are given a YIGs RookieTour handicap for these events which are managed by the Tour. But once they obtain a club handicap of 36 or better they progress to the main under 12 and under 14 Tour series events.
This year 227 players from 53 Surrey clubs registered for the Nike RookieTour. An average of 110 players entered per event, the highest number of entries being at Hoebridge where 130 players entered. The Tour is promoted within golf clubs, golf centres and driving ranges. Events sell out very quickly which does mean some youngsters don’t get to play in all the events they want.
The quality of competition is exceptionally high. There are 32 single figure handicap players in the under 14 division, with two players at 3 handicap. Often the scoring is so close that count back is used to separate the players The race for the Order of Merit titles has been intense. With many players still in with a chance to claim the title right up to The Race to The Stars event.
The Rookie Tour also acts as a player pathway to the mainstream junior opens. All of the Surrey under 12, under 13 and under 14 squads either come from or already play in the RookieTour. The Tour thus plays an important role in developing Surrey stars of the future. It provides a means to identify talent for coaching and inclusion into Surrey junior teams which have had outstanding, often unrivalled success, at this age group. The U12, U13 & U14 teams have so far played 15 County matches and apart from the U14’s losing a friendly at the start of the year all the teams remain undefeated, with the U12 team having never lost a match since their conception 3 years ago.
The opportunity to have regular competitive practice in Rookie Tour events has fed the success of the county teams.
Juniors who play in RookieTour events come from a broad spectrum of backgrounds but have the same fun, get on so well and the RookieTour fosters friendships that may last a lifetime. Parents who week in, week out help out, ball spot and taxi drive are invaluable to the Tour. But, as Rookie Tour Committee Chair Steve McNeill says “we develop the parents as well as the kids and help and support them through the process. The parents trust us to help their children, as such we are a family”.
There are firm rules, although parents are allowed walk the course and watch there is a 25 metre rule to ensure the players make their own decisions. Likewise golf etiquette and lines of discipline are spelt out to the competitors. “We sometimes take the mickey out of them and they throw it back at us, which is great, but they know not to cross the line” says Steve “and so they play in a happy atmosphere.
An outstanding competitor to come from the ranks of the RookieTour is David Boote. He became the first Rookie Tour player to compete in a European Tour event when he teed up in the ISPS Handa Wales Open at The Celtic Manor Resort and was selected for this year’s Walker Cup squad. David, a student at Stanford University in California, played on the Rookie Tour in 2007 and won the Under 14 scratch Order of Merit. He went on to captain Surrey, Wales and Great Britain and Ireland Juniors. He attended the Nike RookieTour annual prize giving and gave the players a motivational speech which inspired them all to improve.
The Rookie Tour has been a model for other English counties to develop their own leagues as Essex, Hampshire and Bucks, Berks and Oxon have done. It is a fantastic success for Surrey Golf, but it is only made possible by the generosity of Surrey golf clubs who host the events free of charge. The Tour is grateful to them – West Byfleet, Horton Park, Addington Court, Goal Farm, Broadwater Park, Foxhills, Banstead Downs, Merrist Wood, Redhill and Reigate, Effingham, The Drift, Camberley Heath, Betchworth Park, Windlesham, Top Golf, Hoebridge, Reigate Hill, Pine Ridge and Cuddington.
Any families interested in finding out how their children can join the RookieTour for events in 2016 can firstname.lastname@example.org register an interest and also follow @rookietour on twitter.
The boys and girls who belong to the Nike Rookie Tour have become players who do their county credit. As Steve McNeill says “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”