GRASSROOTS: SANDY’S 1CLUB PLAN
Prominent golf coach Sandy Jamieson has decided to follow his passion of helping beginners learn golf. And his 1Club could revolutionise the way new players are brought into the game.
When word came out in late 2019 that respected teaching professional Sandy Jamieson had left Commonwealth Golf Club, one of Melbourne’s finest sandbelt courses, to head to the nearby nine-hole public course at Oakleigh, most people assumed he’d been sacked.
Far from it. Going to Oakleigh is essentially Jamieson heading back to the roots of golf, indeed, in some ways back to his own roots, in an effort to draw more people into the game.
To many people it’s a revolutionary move and even a puzzling one. But, as he sees it, it’s not a step back or down or even sideways, it’s a forward one. And it’s one that makes perfect sense. Getting more people to just try golf and have a fun experience, he believes, is the way to overcome the negative perceptions and hurdles that surround entry and early days in the game. And that’s the way to build a healthy future.
“We just need to create more golfers,” he said. “But we need to go back to basics. We need to create havens where people can try golf, where they can play without restrictions, where they can use just one club. It needs to be easy, fun and affordable. Oakleigh is a perfect place to start, to learn in a simple way, to have fun and fall in love with the game. From there they may go on to the top courses. But unless we make these little nine-hole courses fertile places, there may not be much future for the top of the town.”
Along with installing himself at Oakleigh, Jamieson has developed 1Club, the tool that literally makes golf easy, fun and affordable. And it’s rather brilliant.
The idea is to create ‘shot euphoria’ in the beginner, that feeling of excitement when you hit a good shot. It’s addictive of course, and that’s the point.
Everything is designed to make it as easy as possible to make that magic connection. 1Club has the loft of a four-iron, to give the hit result as much distance as possible – ‘smash factor’ is a big part of shot euphoria – and yet it can still be used as a putter. The lie angle is that of a short iron and the length that of a nine-iron. There’s a circle in the middle of the clubface where the sweet spot is, to give the beginner an idea of where they should ideally be striking the ball. And it has a putter grip. The upshot is that the one club can be used to play every shot. Yep, even bunkers.
This has multiple benefits to learning. A rank beginner can be out playing on course in around 15 minutes. They are handed a 1Club, given a short and simple set of instructions mostly around safety and moving efficiently around the course, and then out they go to explore the game in their own way. 1Club removes the need for a full set of clubs and at $39.95 to buy or $5 to rent, makes it cheaper for golf to be tried as a family. And it creates imagination.
“1Club golf is the perfect gateway into the game and it’s how many of the best players started. Having a lack of equipment ended up being an advantage as it forced innovation, imagination and strategy,” said Jamieson. Of course there’s no better example of that than the game’s maestro, one Severiano Ballesteros, who famously came from a very poor family and learned his golf using an old three-iron, just whacking balls around, as kids do, on the beach at Pedrena, a tiny fishing village on the Spanish coast.
This all ties in neatly with Jamieson’s his own introduction to the game as a youngster. “I had a junior five-iron from a local sporting store that my dad got me. When I grew out of that, I went to the bargain barrel at the local public golf course and bought a club and then when I needed something else, I would buy another club and then another. In those days you would build a set, and most people did the same thing.”
It’s also the culmination of his journey as a teaching professional. It began for Jamieson at Box Hill Golf Club, near his childhood home. There he came into contact with Steve Bann, then considered Victoria’s best coach. “He gave me some lessons and I caddied for him in some tournaments and watched him as a coach. That was inspirational for me.”
After he completed his apprenticeship at Box Hill in 1995, Jamieson became a tour player, subsidised by coaching at Eastern Golf Club. But when his accountant pointed out the discrepancy between what he earned – and spent – as a tour player and what he earned as a coach, the die was cast. He removed tour player as his occupation on his tax return and changed it to coach.
He was then appointed head coach at Ringwood. In those days public courses were constantly full, with players sometimes booking games up to two weeks in advance or queueing for hours for a game. This of course meant they were feeders for private courses as golfers became more proficient and looked for a more exclusive product. It’s no surprise, then, that Jamieson chose Oakleigh as the place to launch his back-to-the-future model.
Next up, Jamieson was appointed assistant coach at the Victorian Institute of Sport golf program, second in charge to Denis McDade following the departure of Bann, the founder of the program, and Dale Lynch. His work brought him into contact with Pete Cowen, one of the world’s elite teaching professionals, an experience that profoundly influenced his thinking.
But by now he was also coaching Jarrod Lyle, Andrew Tschudin and others and found he couldn’t really commit to the VIS fully. Plus, his gut was telling him the VIS wasn’t really his future. So he resigned, heading to Patterson River with Gareth Jones to set up his own private coaching business, until an opportunity to work with Robert Allenby arose and he headed to London.
He was with Allenby from 2007-2010 after that player’s golf had fallen away following his magical ‘Australian Triple Crown’ titles in 2005. In their time together, Allenby regained his form and added some great results to his resume.
Upon his return Jamieson started at Commonwealth, which he loved. “Commonwealth is a great club,” he says, and the feeling seems mutual. During his time there he once again began to question the value of what he was achieving. “You could get a 12-handicapper come and, yeah, I could fix their slice or whatever, but it didn’t necessarily make them a better golfer.”
A ‘better golfer’ to him is not someone who constantly seeks technical instruction aimed at a perfect swing but, rather, “someone who understands that golf is a game of imperfects, where the better the quality of your mishits, the better player you are. It’s not about the quality of your good shots so much.” Similarly, he believes that much of a player’s learning is best had out on course rather than on a driving range.
“On the course you’ve got to think about what shot to hit and you’re never going to hit the same shot twice in a row or twice in a row off a perfect lie. Typically you’ve always got a different challenge in front of you.”
Then, a watershed moment for him: “I realised I was trying to fix golfers who had faults because of the way they had learned the game. They were interpreting a lot of information too early and their interpretation of that information created confusion that led to swings that didn’t resemble at all the instruction they’d been given by whoever.
“And what hit me was that here I was, an experienced coach coaching experienced golfers with faults, mostly from the way they’d started out, and wouldn’t it make more sense for an experienced coach to coach the beginners? I think that you feel you can make more difference.”
He now sees himself as more of a learning facilitator than a teacher. “At the moment we have a generation of people trying to perfect a swing before they have learned how to play, how to identify what they need to learn to become better. I’m a big believer that I can’t teach anybody anything unless they perceive the need to learn it. And a ‘better golfer’ understands what they need to learn next.”
So, Oakleigh it is, where people can get back to the fun of hitting the ball, finding it, and hitting it again until it finds its way into the hole.
In his short time at the course – he started on October 1 last year – Jamieson has established some significant partnerships.
He has engaged Linda Chen, a friend who speaks mandarin, to assist him in encouraging some of Oakleigh’s large multicultural community.
He has approached Nikki Wilson, founder of Fairway Birdies which encourages females at grassroots level into golf. Wilson sets up clinics at various golf facilities and then supports participants as they start out in golf. The relationship with Oakleigh created an opportunity to give Fairway Birdies a permanent home.
“Although most of our ladies tend to still play at the course where they’ve had their initial clinics, this is still a great place for them to call home, to be able to go out and have a game with other women and build on what they’ve learned so far. Oakleigh is a hidden gem that’s perfect for learning and improving,” said Wilson.
The chance for women and girls to get into golf at Oakleigh will soon become greater, thanks to a relationship now in place with Huntingdale Golf Club, another Melbourne sandbelt club, a short distance away. As part of that relationship, Huntingdale teaching professional Lisa Jean will conduct regular clinics at Oakleigh.
“It has long been a thing of mine that private clubs should embrace public golf courses,” said Jamieson. “Lisa came down and had a chat and I also spoke with Alex McGillivray, the general manager. The relationship with Huntingdale is a really exciting one because Huntingdale ‘get it’; they fully understand what I’m trying to do. They’re going to recommend that friends and family of members interested in learning golf do it via Oakleigh. They’re not expecting them all to then join Huntingdale; they’re saying if in the long run, they do, that’s great, but we have an obligation to golf, to get people into the game whether it directly benefits our business in the short term or not. And it’s a lot easier experience for them to learn here than at a testing course like Huntingdale.”
McGillivray is excited by the partnership.
“In my 35 years in sport administration, mostly in golf, I’ve never seen a concept that is so accessible for people to get into the game; the simplicity of it is magnificent. Sandy is also a very experienced, high level coach who’s been around the game a long time. He’s a man of reputation within the industry who delivers on what he says.
“The alignment of Sandy’s vision and our strategic vision is perfect. Huntingdale is not a beginners’ course and bringing them to start the game here would probably scare them off. The combination of having somewhere to funnel golfers, including our key focus areas of women and juniors, Sandy’s coaching philosophy and a local course works beautifully for us. And Sandy’s 1Club is brilliant and affordable. With that, golf can compete with Auskick and other sports, because the biggest problem for golf is the cost to enter the game.”
David Gallichio, Manager – Golf Development at Golf Australia, also sees the benefit of Jamieson’s work. “1Club Golf is a fantastic initiative from Sandy, and Golf Australia is very much looking forward to continuing our discussion on how we can work together to grow the game. It is not news to anyone that beginners can often find it challenging to commence their journey within the sport and Sandy has tackled this issue head on and is to be commended,” he said.
Christian Hamilton, Inclusion Senior Manager, and Inclusion Officer Sabrin Nyawela, both of Golf Australia, have also been out to Oakleigh to check things out and loved what they saw.
Another partnership forged by Jamieson is with Glenn Holland’s Protecting the Protectors program, supporting Victorian police officers with post-traumatic stress disorder. Jamieson had started a Facebook page called Hospital and Emergency Workers Learning and Playing Golf and reached out to Holland to make Oakleigh available to his group.
“If we can create a bit of a haven at Oakleigh for these people, it will be great. The golf course is quiet and peaceful at the times they can play. And golf is all-consuming, too, so it takes their mind off things for that period. It’s like a meditation. It’s a respite from the stress of life.”
Jamieson is a straight shooter, an unstructured bloke. He’s also a guy who has the best interests of golf and its players at heart. And for him, it’s all about the big picture, about growing the game from the ground up, about getting people to just have a go at golf, about keeping things easy and fun.
“We can lose sight of the simple pleasure of just hitting a golf ball. And the more people we can get to experience that, the more people we can say, hey, listen, golf is inclusive, golf is easy, golf is for everybody, come and have a go. Even if they don’t all go on with the game, they’ve had a great time and that’s positive. They might come back to golf later or they might just spread a positive word about golf. And that’s a good thing.
“Hopefully going back to the joy of playing with one club will get people into golf. It’s a long game but I’m willing to play the long game.”
First published in Golf Australia magazine March 2020
Photo credits: Golf Australia magazine
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Tee for Two is produced on the Traditional Country of the Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation in Victoria and extends its respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.