INCREASED participation in, and overall enjoyment of golf are the key aims for Sarah Claridge at Skibbereen & West Carbery Golf Club, having been appointed club professional in January.
A fully qualified PGA professional with 22 years’ experience, family links saw Gloucestershire native Sarah decamped to West Cork two years ago. Having operated at Smugglers’ Cove Golf Range in Rosscarbery since then, she is now keen to make an impact at the club where her late father John helped to set up the seniors’ section.
‘My family moved over here about 28 years ago, they run Glebe Gardens in Baltimore,’ she says.
‘I came over two years ago to help look after my 90-year-old mum Rose. It’s been a big change as I was working at the same club in Bristol for 20 years, but maybe it was time for a change as well.’
As well as working as the head teaching professional at Kendleshire Golf Club in Bristol, Sarah boasts a heaving CV. In 2012, she was awarded Fellow status by the PGA and the same year she featured in Golf World magazine as one of the top 100 teachers in the UK.
She has coached players at county and England development level, as well as representing the PGA of Europe and golf’s governing body the R&A as a golf development officer in places as diverse as Latvia and Barbados. One of her early proteges was Georgia Hall, currently ranked 34th in the world.
‘I qualified as a full PGA professional in 1996,’ Sarah says, ‘having had four years as an assistant professional before that. I started playing the game when I was 13.
‘The job in Skibbereen came about when Ian Stafford who had been the professional at the club became very busy with other coaching commitments and GUI regional coaching. He asked me to help out at the golf club so naturally when he resigned the post they asked me if I would take over his role. I’m now the club professional helping them increase membership and creating a bit more participation in the game, helping with the overall marketing too.
‘My specialism is coaching. In the winter, I’d be mainly at Rosscarbery, at the driving range and then, from say March through to November, I’d be mostly in Skibbereen.
‘I’m teaching everybody, from advanced players down to juniors and beginners. I was always destined to be the teacher, really.
‘When I used to play on the amateur circuit in Britain, I spent my time looking at what everyone else was doing rather than concentrating on my own stuff!’
For Sarah enjoyment of the game is paramount ‘For me, it’s not just golf but golf lifestyle,’ she says.
‘I work on making people feel happier about their golf so I also use Train The Golf Brain skills to help players feel more positive about their game.’
‘If I can help someone enjoy themselves, feel better and have more fun, that brings real enjoyment, I love what I do.
‘I suppose when I was younger, I played so much that I probably burned myself out slightly, they say that professional sportspeople can do that!
‘However, I love going out and playing golf with my friends now but I’m not a hugely competitive person. When teaching people, I want to help them get to their goals for their golf, therefore my golf takes a back seat.’
While Sarah is currently the only female teaching pro in Munster, she doesn’t see being in a minority as any kind of a drawback.
‘I’ve always seen it as an advantage really rather than a disadvantage,’ she says.
‘I’m quite a positive person and I’ve stood in a room with 50 male golf professionals in it, lecturing and giving my knowledge and experience over to them.
‘I suppose I’ve kind of got used to working in a male-dominated environment, 85-90 percent of golfers traditionally have been men though that’s turning around a bit now, there are a lot more ladies playing golf.
‘For me, I think it’s good because guys want to come to me for lessons maybe because I have a slightly different approach.
‘My optimum thing is just to make it fun, it doesn’t matter what gender you are, golf should be an equal game anyway.’
To that end, Skibbereen will host ‘Get Into Golf’ programmes for both females and males as spring turns to summer this year, as well as the Golf Kidz Academy. Making golf accessible to as wide an audience as possible is the primary motivating factor for Sarah.
‘In the long run, I want people to see golf as something they can come and do and which takes them an hour,’ she says.
‘People can come and play six holes, nine holes, it doesn’t have to be expensive and I’m hoping that people are going to take a bit of time out in their day and come and play golf and have some fun.
‘I want to change what people’s expectations of golf are. For me it’s all about changing people’s attitudes about what golf is.
‘If I can do that over the next couple of years and introduce some really fun coaching programmes, that would be great.’