Huggan On Turner

John Huggan profiles Greg Turner's attempts to revitalize New Zealand golf and in particular, the development of young players.
Long frustrated by the virtual abandonment by New Zealand Golf - equivalent of the Scottish Golf Union - of his young compatriots the minute they turn professional - and, in turn, their consequent inability to make any sort of impact in any kind of numbers - the 43-year-old former European Tour player, who won 12 times around the world during an 18-year career highlighted by his role in the winning International side at the 1998 Presidents Cup, has devised an initiative named Wedge - Winning Edge - in an attempt to smooth what can be a traumatic transition from the amateur ranks.
"Any high-performance programme is about producing world-class players," says Turner, whose elder brothers Brian and Glenn represented their country at hockey and cricket respectively. "Which is different from producing only world-class amateurs. My original expectation was that, once that subtle difference was made clear to New Zealand Golf, the irrefutable logic of it all would get them on board."

Well, naive is the word that comes to mind. "Things just don't happen that way in golf. Or, as it turned out after I talked with my advisory board, in many sports. By their very nature, sporting organisations are built on ancient foundations, and have layer upon layer of bureaucracy. They change course like a super-tanker."

All of which left Turner to battle on alone, having also gained little encouragement from the New Zealand PGA. "The PGA was no help either," he shrugs. "It exists to service the needs of club professionals, not to help young players make it in the game. Which is why the tours broke away from the PGAs in the first place. There are irreconcilable issues there.

"Having said that, the PGA should have got involved. At the end of the day, their members are best served by New Zealanders winning things like US Opens. More people are going to be buying sweaters and paying for lessons when success breeds interest in the game. But all of that does seem a leap too far in philosophy!"

So far as Turner's philosophy goes, a closer look at Wedge reveals a four-pronged high-performance system designed to bring the best out of every young player placed in its path.

"First, we offer logistical help. There is so much that needs to be explained to new professionals. They need to know where they should be playing, how the circuits work and how things work within the circuits. How do you enter events? How do you get to tour school? What's the most logical path to take? It's basic but important.

"We offer financial help, which doesn't mean we hand over a pile of cash. There is any number of corporations or individuals who would buy a piece of a young player, if you gave them a credible model to do just that. So the young lads need to offer, say, three-year contracts with 15 $10,000 shares, and have a monitoring board that has mentors like Grant Fox and Brett Stephen on it. They will sign off on expenses."

Suddenly, that is an attractive proposition for a golf-minded investor. "Then there is the mentoring itself. Our players will have access to the likes of Coutts and Oliver, men who have achieved at the very highest level. The kids can pick their brains on what it takes to succeed. Basically, they will be rubbing shoulders with winners.

"And the fourth part of the equation is the GTNZ series of tournaments, which will hopefully be the strongest possible domestic competitive arena. When our guys do make it out on tour, they will be a couple of steps further along the way because of those events at home."