“Our Young Golf Programme is the envy of the rest of Spain"
It has been over a year now since Pablo Mansilla became the new president of the Royal Golf Federation of Andalucía. It was 30 December 2016 when this economist by profession, and golfer and referee by passion, took office. In this interview he looks back over his first year at the head of the golf federation with the most golf courses and the second highest number of registered golfers in Spain, after Madrid. "I think the balance is positive," he says. "We have worked hard; we have been settling things down and changing what we considered necessary, with our objectives gradually becoming a little more ambitious. We began with a small team that we have been expanding bit by bit.
"From a sporting point of view, it has been a fantastic year, both in terms of professionals and amateurs. In the first case, we still have Miguel Ángel (Jiménez) in fine form, Álvaro (Quirós) had a great victory last year, we have Scott (Fernández) starting out on the European Tour and, as for the women, what more can we say about the superbly impressive Azahara (Muñoz), who retained her (Spanish Open) title with a win at Royal Guadalmina."
Referring to the professional tournaments now being played in the region, the Andalucian federation president says, “We are enjoying a new era of splendour, with the Andalucía Valderrama Masters, the Spanish Women’s Open and the Andalucía-Costa del Sol Match Play 9 on the Challenge Tour.” As for amateur golf in Andalucía, "We cannot complain either: we have Spanish under-18 team champions, national Spanish team championship runners-up, and two of the six players who won European championships are Andalucian – Víctor Pastor and Ángel Hidalgo, two hugely promising talents. Ángel is going to represent Europe this year in the Europe-Asia Pacific Match and Victor is European university champion. Furthermore, among the youngsters we had numerous runners-up in the Spanish age championships held in Sancti Petri.”
Another important aspect of the federation’s activities concerns young players. "We are boosting golf in schools, every day a little more, and we also experiencing growth with the Young Golf promotional campaign, thanks to an idea initiated by Carlos Pitarch (president of the federation’s promotions committee) and especially due to the support of Andalucian golf clubs, which have responded brilliantly. The Young Golf Programme started last summer and it was a great success. I am sure it will also be a great success during the rest of the year. We are returning to the situation when I was young: children should be able to play, if not for free, almost free. There are nearly 40 courses signed up to the programme."
Together with the idea of bringing golf into schools, the Young Golf Programme is a great initiative to attract new players and, at the same time, help prevent young people from giving up the sport…
In schools we need to show youngsters what golf is all about, to teach them it is a fun sport and that it can be played without any complications. However, once you have taught a youngster to play golf you have to have a place where they can actually play it, and that is why it is essential to have support from public academies. This we do have thanks to public entities such as the Junta de Andalucía (regional government), with the Toyo Academy in Almería, La Cartuja in Sevilla and La Garza in Linares, but also with the support of private clubs that doesn’t necessarily involve the public institutions, and that is the great success of the Young Golf Programme in Andalucía. We are the envy of the rest of Spain.
Is there a reluctance in some schools to introduce golf?
Less and less, although the erroneous image of golf as an elite sport still persists in some places. Fortunately, that image is gradually changing day by day. It also depends on the area in question. It’s not the same in an area where golf is an everyday activity, with its benefits apparent to the whole local community, as in another where there is little golf and people are not widely familiar with the sport. Fortunately, on the Costa del Sol golf is a very widespread sport and there are already many students who practise it, but in other areas of Andalucía we have to keep working hard to give it a higher profile. We are managing to introduce golf in schools and we are achieving something else that is also very important: those new golfers are continuing to play outside at golf courses.
What are the federation’s main plans for this year?
As for professional tournaments, we will once again have the Andalucía-Costa del Sol Match Play 9, the Alps of Andalucía, probably in Huelva, we are trying to reach agreement for a final of the Euro Pro Tour, in Almería, we are finalising the Spanish Women's, and of course we have the Andalucía Valderrama Masters.
In regards to amateur competitions, we started the year with the first Spanish national ranking scoring event, we have already had Julia Lopez and Álvaro Muller winning national youth titles, which shows that the Andalucian talent pool is very strong, we have Ángel Hidalgo representing Europe, as I said, in the Europe-Asia Pacific Match, and we are always among the favourites to win the Spanish teams championships – and this year will be no different.
When it comes to golf in schools, we are trying to reach agreements to reach many more, and it is true that the interest being shown by schools is growing. With Young Golf we will continue with Carlos Pitarch’s campaign in that respect.
We are going to strengthen the promotions committee with a special view to ensuring that the trend we talked about last year – that is, an end to the negative trend of declining numbers in federation-registered golfers – is definitive. Until we have the numbers in hand we cannot count on victory, but I believe that this year we will grow again, and we have to strengthen the promotions committee to grow even more.
How is the current Andalucian commercial golf situation? Are the times sweet again?
As happened last year, golf clubs are currently enjoying a great season. What we do not know is where the limit to this growth is. The managers of these courses have to work very hard, and they know how to do just that, because we were able to take advantage, at the time, of a drop in demand at rival destinations due to Jihadism. This is now disappearing and those destinations – Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco – are regaining tourists, offering extremely cheap prices. They operate by lowering prices: we have to do it with quality, because we are the destination that offers the highest quality and we have to continue to maintain this and convince golfers that it is worth coming to the Costa del Sol and all of Andalucía.