Gullane Golf Club’s commitment to junior golf is renowned. Through the work of Head Professional Alasdair Good and his team, the club continues to work hard at introducing young players to the game.
Alasdair was also the founder of the Wee Wonders Golf Championships back in 1995, a junior event that continues to blossom and concludes with the Grand Final over Gullane, Longniddry and North Berwick this week (24 – 25 August).
In the first of new Club Q&A features, we caught up with Alasdair to talk about his background at Gullane, the success of Wee Wonders and his hopes for Gullane going forward…
Alasdair, good to talk to you. When did you start working at Gullane?
“I started here in March 2003. I took an interesting phone call from Peter Lloyd, then secretary at The PGA in Scotland, when I was at Foxhills GC on the Surrey-Berkshire border. He said he had something of interest for me, what he called ‘the last great job in golf’. I was pretty happy at Foxhills with my young family, but the more we talked the more I was interested. Within 10 days, I was offered two interviews and was straight in as head PGA pro (with Jimmy Hume retiring).”
How much are you still enjoying your role?
“The great thing is that it’s a constant evolution here. That’s in terms of what the club are trying to do, what the members would like to do and what we are trying to do in the Pro Shop to keep pace in today’s world, like adding a Swing Studio, extending the shop and modernising it.
“As well as national amateur events here, we worked towards staging the Men’s Scottish Open in 2015 and 2018, as well as the Ladies Scottish Open in 2018, which were all fantastic. It’s never really standing still, there is always something on the horizon to work towards. Wee Wonders is still ongoing as well, keeping us busy.”
Yes, can you explain how the Wee Wonders first started?
“It’s one of those things that you thought would never materialise into what it is today. Back in 1995, I recognised we had a lot of juniors at Foxhills and they were keen to learn to play golf. We started our own structured programme, making golf fun and interactive, and it just grew and grew. Foxhills had over 1,000 junior members associated with the venue at the time. Luckily enough, we had a driving range and a par-3 course to get them out there and playing.
“Having introduced the juniors to the course, the next thing was to come up with a wee tournament for them, like modifying the rules for a maximum number of shots on the green, or in a bunker etc. It was from there that Wee Wonders sprang from. The original format we used was flag golf scoring, giving them 36 shots to see how many holes they could play and then stick the flag in the ground.”
It must give you great pride to see Wee Wonders still thriving?
“We didn’t have a masterplan for it, but we have kept the business model pretty simple, and have kept the entry costs as low as we can, splitting them with the regional venues running the events. There has been a great recognition of the need to promote junior golf among clubs in recent times, with clubs realising that if they have a par-3 course then there is an opportunity to get more young players and families involved and boost their revenue streams.
“Today at Gullane, we are still involved in Wee Wonders on a daily basis. Ross (McKinnon) in the shop here does events and marketing, so helps run the events. We have the regional events annually and the Grand Final this week. It is a competition that we want to be accessible to all, not cost prohibitive, so that also involves the need to get sponsors involved. It’s a busy old time to organise the structure of the events throughout the year and all the other areas.”
Are there any notable names who have played in Wee Wonders down the years?
“We have seen players go on to high level amateur golf and into the professional game. I think six out of the eight players in the English Boys’ Home Internationals team this year were Wee Wonders. Some have even gone on to high level professional golf, with three of the top six (and ties) at Royal Portrush for The Open this year all previously playing in the Wee Wonders – Tommy Fleetwood, Robert MacIntyre and Tyrrell Hatton – which is incredible.
“Leona Maguire was also a Wee Wonder. She was No 1 amateur in the world for 135 weeks, which is a record for any male or female. She came into the shop before the Ladies Scottish Open recently at The Renaissance which was nice of her and again shows our success story. We have also had other former Wonders winning in Ryder and Solheim Cups, as well as picking up victories across the European and Ladies European Tours, including Aaron Rai, Eddie Pepperell and Charley Hull.
“In 2008, with Wee Wonders looking to expand, we invited US Kids Golf to East Lothian to co-host the European Championships. We now have annually 650 competitors from 56 countries. East Lothian Council have estimated the economic impact to date to the area to be in the region of £36 million.”
Can you explain other areas of your role at Gullane?
“I love the diversity of the job here, like retailing, teaching, tournament administration and repairs. It’s about evolving in the service industry and it’s a challenge we all enjoy. As a result of the diversity, one of the things we see is that staff go on to other roles, literally anywhere in the world, from the grounding and standards that have been set here.
“We now have up to 17 members of staff who have gone on to some great things in lots of exciting parts of the world, with their passion for junior golf integral. I think we are also in double figures for PGA Trainee of the Year awards. I don’t think there is any club that has ever produced as many, and that is down to all the opportunities that there are here.
“I also love to see young players developing with our support. Wee Grace Crawford (recently cut to a 1 handicap) is doing very well, aged 12 only, and is just one of our talented junior players. She just won the Scottish Girls Under-14s at Elgin and played in the Girls’ Home Internationals.”
How do you keep building the product at Gullane?
“We have some of the best value golf in Scotland, given the quality of the courses and the surroundings. It’s a great product to have and we’re looking to enhance that by improving the practice facilities and the Visitors’ Clubhouse to highlight how accessible we are, on and off the courses. We need to evolve in that direction and I look forward to helping things develop.”
Thank you for your time Alasdair, and good luck with the Wee Wonders this week!