Sometimes when trying to introduce new people to the game, it’s not about the golf.
In a year in which existing golfers have increased their frequency and former golfers have returned to the fairways in droves, 2020 also encouraged many people otherwise unable to partake in their regular exercise to give golf a try.
PGA Professionals such as Mark Tibbles were front and centre to make sure that the first impression was a good one and one that lasted.
The Head Teaching and Golf Professional at the MTI Golf Academy at The Vies Resort and Country Club in Perth, Tibbles has been at the forefront of inclusion in golf for the more than a decade.
The recipient of the Western Australia Game Development Professional of the Year the past two years, Tibbles can now add the honour of being recognised as the PGA’s National Game Development Professional of the Year to his 43-year career resume.
The junior program overseen by Tibbles at The Vines has been a success for a number of years but his more recent efforts to promote the game among ladies and people with a disability grew in popularity through 2020.
His ‘Ready Steady Golf’ program run with the support of the WA Golf Foundation conducted 169 clinics for people with a disability last year alone and his ‘Gotta Get Golfing’ program with additional mentoring made possible by the Foundation saw record numbers of ladies engage with the game.
Even if, for some, the golf lesson was somewhat secondary.
“Our ladies program has an hour playing golf and 40 minutes afterwards for coffee. For some, the coffee afterwards might be the best part,” says Tibbles, who has seen 70 ladies progress from his program into club membership at The Vines in the past three years.
“It gives them a chance to get to know each other and bond as new golfers with a common interest where they have support from other ladies who are in the same boat.
“It’s very important that people are made to feel very, very welcome right from the first point of contact and there’s a lot that we do after golf to help the ladies feel welcome.
“Being able to spend time with them, rather than just how to grip the club and a few swing basics, makes the ladies feel really welcome.
“The mentoring sessions which are free to those who are in the program are also extremely valuable in showing ladies that they can get on the course and they can play a round of golf.”
Tibbles has been providing opportunities for people with a disability to get into golf for more than a decade and admits that he thought the COVID-19 pandemic would have an adverse impact on the number of participants, particularly those with susceptible immune systems.
After a two-week delay at the beginning of Term 2 while Perth remained in lockdown, he found the opposite to be the case.
“The biggest increase for us was certainly our disability program. We conducted 169 clinics through the course of the year for people with disabilities,” Tibbles explains.
“I personally thought that it might be a little slow and people would be nervous to come back out but because we’re out in the fresh air and a lot of people felt that golf was safe, people did flock back.
“One thing that was very pleasing was that we’ve got a program for people with disability, some of whom are quite vulnerable when it comes to their immune system. We thought that might slow down but we had record numbers for that program too.
“There’s been a huge move to encourage professionals to make their programs inclusive with the All Abilities qualification and Vision 2025 promoting female participation and it’s great that other facilities are offering more than they perhaps used to.
“There’s a huge market in terms of both women and disabled golfers and I think more PGA Professionals are aware now that this is the future.”
As for his own contribution and the recognition at a national level, Tibbles says that this award is the high point of a long and distinguished career.
“To be recognised nationally is a tremendous thrill. For me it’s the highlight of my career,” says Tibbles.
“I’ve been a golf professional for 43 years now and this is my 30th year as a member of the PGA of Australia so to be recognised nationally is the icing on the cake.”