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The Scandinavian Secret: Why does Sweden churn out so many great golfers?

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Ian Andrew:
I wrote this a couple of years ago - but there's some good facts in this.

The number one reason children stay with any game is because they have fun, and the main reason they leave is (of course) because it no longer is fun. While some kids mention exercise, developing skills, or the enjoyment of competition, the “fun factor” is still by far the main reason to draw kids in and keep them through to becoming adults.

The Model of Sweden

Sweden has presented the world with a fascinating model that many are trying to emulate due to its overwhelming success. The Swedish have brought many new players to the game by changing the way things are done. One of the keys to their success has been by promoting the game primarily as a family sport. What is most impressive in their participation numbers are the numbers of players under the age of 20, and even more impressive is the number of overall players who are women. The model I mentioned in the “Girls Club” (a Canadian push) is actually one adopted from Sweden where they first recognized the differences between how to encourage boys with competition and girls with friendships – the numbers speak for themselves.

The overall population of the county is 9,000,000 with golfers representing 600,000 or 15%. This is up from the around 8% in the 1980’s. The percentage of player under 20 is approximately 15%. The percentage of women’s play is 27%.
One of the great factors to the large percentage of junior golfers in the system is the club structures. There is a unique system to Sweden where juniors can be members at clubs, with the club having no obligations to accept them as members when they become adults. It creates a system where more juniors have access to more places to play.

Producing More Professionals

So again returning to Sweden, why has a country with a much smaller population produced far more professional players? The first answer from the professionals themselves was that they began in an environment that had little initial pressure. The majority of clubs have developed programs based around participation first and assisting aspiring players on much later on. They also foster a system with well educated youth leaders who provide everything from coaching through to mentoring to help them progress.

As players developed the programs changed too. Rather than try place players into a standard program the Swedish believe in tailoring a program to suit the player. They also encourage players to mix their training and maintain activity beyond golf. Cross-training was important to skills development as it was to maintaining the interest in what they were doing. They also arranged special privileges at some clubs to make sure a very promising junior had the ability to practice and play more.

Interestingly competition pressure was discouraged until they were old enough to deal with it, although a young player that thrived under competition was allowed to compete right away. In other words they were flexible to the child’s needs. They also discovered that just playing was not the best way to develop skill, rather a larger emphasis was placed on getting the motor skills established by hitting more balls and learning to make a solid impact. The other very simple system was to not practice at each component of the game equally, but rather to encourage more practice on the weakest part of the game. Finally, they didn’t try to stay to one coach per player, but realized we all have strengths and weaknesses, and that multiple coaches with specific skills did a far better job than one single person.

Having lived (and golfed) in Sweden for a year as a Rotary Exchange Student, I can attest to the following:

- I would venture to say that Sweden puts a higher emphasis on outdoor sports/activity than anywhere else I've been to. As mentioned above, many of the activities are very family focused, enabling younger sports players to be mentored and spend time with their favorite coaches, their parents. In the winter, all students get a week of essentially "winter sports break" in addition to the normal spring break that we experience here in the states. This break is entirely devoted to encouraging kids to get out and participate in winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, snow-shoeing, etc. There is also a standing law (or at least I was told), essentially translated into "Every Man's Right" in which no one person has sole private claim to any open land. Anyone has the right to spend the night (i.e. camping) anywhere in the country, even on someone else's "property" and while it is kind and customary to give them notice, no one may kick someone off their land. A society grown on enjoyment, love and appriciation of the outdoors should gravitate toward a sport like golf. More than once I got questioned as to why, when our country has vastly more impressive natural landmarks and sights than Sweden, does our country's anthem revolve around war while theirs is entirely about harmony with the land. Try not sounding like an "ugly American" when answering that one.

- I agree with previous posters in that they have an excellent junior program, one which I would love to see here in the US. Even as an 18 year old when I went over there, before I could play on ANY course, I had to participate in a "Greens Card" program. To do this, you have to be paired up with an established golfer, preferably a member at a course. Their job is to mentor you, show you the basics of the game, the ettiquette, the rules, and then have to play at least 5(I think?) rounds with you, mark up your score and teach you the handicapping system (all self maintained) and sign off on your card that you have received all this instruction. Sure there are those who venture out to play without this card, but technically, any supervisor of a course may ask anyone at any time to see their card and ask them to leave the course if they have not obtained one. I never saw an unpolite, loud, super slow, disrepectful group of golfers over there. The kids on the course were some of the best behaved and politest I saw in the whole country.

While Socialism definetely has it's drawbacks, it was sure a great place to live and experience while I was there......ever since I've seriously pondered returning for good. As long as you don't mind the cold.  ;)

Dan Herrmann:

--- Quote from: Jim_Kennedy on April 09, 2008, 08:05:27 AM ---I see the overarching reason as one of access and affordability. 'Superstars' can come from any walk of life when you allow everyone the chance to play.

--- End quote ---

Can you say "Ouimet"?


--- Quote ---Can you say "Ouimet"?- Dan Hermann
--- End quote ---
What are you trying to say Dan?   :P

If you don't think that making golf more affordable, thereby making it more accessible, thereby increasing the pool of players,  wouldn't increase the odds of finding more talent, then I guess I'm wrong.

Dan Herrmann:
Jim - I just meant that Ouimet was a young man given a chance to play, and he succeeded in golf and in life.  A wonderful role model.  I think we completely agree.

Of course we need more accessabilty and affordability.  Back in the '80s when I started, I could play either of two muni courses (one of which held a USGA Publinx in 1962) for $60 PER YEAR!    I rode my bike every day, and towed my clubs on a cart behind me.  Trust me, there were a lot of kids and seniors out there.  Bag lines of 1.5 hours were common, but there was nowhere I'd rather be than there.  Great times with great friends.


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