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Quirici is helping Swiss youngsters get the swing of things (swissinfo)

(Quirici is helping Swiss youngsters get the swing of things (swissinfo))

Former Swiss golf star Paolo Quirici has launched a new scheme to bring more youngsters into the sport and lessen the game's elitist image.

Arming fifty children with golf clubs and letting them loose on the local course may fill traditionalists with dread. But as the first Junior Challenge starter camp got underway in canton Solothurn, Quirici seemed to be taking it all in his particularly lanky stride.

"It's a real battle to push junior golf in Switzerland," Quirici told swissinfo in between lessons on grips, chips and putts, "because there are still nowhere near enough public golf courses where kids can just turn up and play.

"That's something I've badly wanted to change since retiring from the sport last year and I've been working on my ideas since November."

Those ideas have now been incorporated into the Junior Challenge. The scheme begins with starter camps at which Quirici and other professionals introduce children between the ages of seven and 15 to the basics of the sport. The long-term aim of the project is to double the number of Swiss youngsters playing golf by the year 2010.

Once an initial interest has been piqued, it's hoped that the youngsters will then attempt the Challenge itself - a series of skill tests aimed at gradually improving all-round ability.

To win a bronze medal, for example, a child must be able to hit a 90-metre approach shot onto a green at least five times out of ten and sink five two-metre putts in succession. For a gold medal, he or she would have to find the green nine times out of ten and putt 25 times in a row.

"The tests are based on what I learned during my years on the professional circuit," Quirici explains. "It's not just about being able to make those shots - you also have to do it repeatedly and under pressure."

A father of two himself, Quirici seems to have no difficulty in keeping the starter camp children both focussed and entertained during the day's lessons. In keeping with the wide background of the assembled youngsters, the native Italian speaker is also made to demonstrate his linguistic proficiency, interspersing his instructions with jokes and encouragements in German, French and English.

Clearly, the aim of the Junior Challenge scheme isn't just to produce a Swiss answer to Tiger Woods, although Quirici would certainly be a happy man if that were to happen.

Educational benefits

"It's more about the educational benefits of the game," insists the former Swiss number one, "and helping the children to grow up within the framework of a sport. Keeping them away from the dangers they can encounter on the streets is more important than the number of top players we can help develop."

The Junior Challenge scheme is being backed by the Association of Independent Swiss Golfers (ASGI), an organisation founded four years ago to help people play golf without having to join a specific club.

While welcoming Quirici's project, ASGI spokesman Thomas Christen knows a lot of work still has to be done if the Swiss are to share in golf's global boom.

Restrictions

"A number of truly public courses are being built in Switzerland by (the supermarket chain) Migros and there are two or three other courses which operate very open policies," Christen points out. "But these are the exception with most of the country's clubs still putting restrictions on the number or type of players who can just turn up and play a round.

"These starter camps run by Paolo Quirici certainly offer children some great motivation, though, and if the Junior Challenge can be expanded to more and more clubs we could really see a decent investment being made in younger players."

Quirici is planning further starter camps this year in Lausanne (on May 11) and Thun (May 26) and talks are currently underway to stage similar events in Zurich and Lucerne. The first Junior Challenge tournament is due to take place next year along with up to ten more starter camps.

And even if the next Tiger isn't lurking in Lausanne or cowering in Chur, Quirici and his team believe the hunt will still be a fun one.

by Mark Ledsom


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