Across coaching, participation, female golfers and disability golf, the Ukrainian Golf Federation (UGF) is impressively growing the sport at various levels.
In a country of over 44 million people, where football dominates, Ukraine has only seven golf courses, four of which are full length 18-hole layouts. Going back to 2019, according to The R&A European Participation Report, golfer numbers were also small with 250 registered golfers, including just 47 adult female players.
Following its participation in an R&A strategic workshop in Paris in 2019, the UGF produced and has been following a new strategic plan to 2024. Its vision is ‘Golf for Everyone!’ across society, for young, old, male, female and the able and disabled. With a ‘family’ of staff, players, coaches and volunteers all striving for progress, the UGF is developing closer links with its stakeholder clubs through mutually beneficial initiatives and – having committed to The R&A Women in Golf Charter – increasing the number of women and girl golfers.
Over the last 20 months, their participation growth has been significant, climbing to 2,500 registered players. Indeed, the UGF is a model of best practice in seeking out and adopting knowledge, guidance and embracing change. The R&A has also supported the UGF in terms of funding, coaching, and the provision of playing equipment and golf balls.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, last year highlighted some of their key activity. For example, in 2020, the UGF developed a national coaching training plan, devised to bring more order and structure to the representative golf teams of Ukraine across all levels.
Nine coaches worked diligently with 16 players (including 13 under-18s) to produce tailored plans for practice. The coaching talent is aided by David Kearney, a vastly experienced PGA professional and former national coach to the Irish Ladies Golf Union, to help create a more skilled Ukraine coach workforce.
The work is already paying off. For the first time in UGF history, they entered two teams for the European Young Masters in 2020.
In the area of disability golf, there has also been progress. In February 2020, the UGF was accepted onto The R&A supported EDGA ‘eight step development programme’ targeted at national federations, with the UGF’s new President, Vitaliy Khomutynnik, and Board of Directors developing strong development plans to raise awareness of golf for the disabled and to increase the number of golfers with disabilities.
Ahead of a five-day visit in September, EDGA’s Head of Development, Mark Taylor, prepared professional coaches and volunteers via six virtual training sessions so that he, together with Kearney, could maximise training time for 20 new disability ‘activators’. The Superior Golf Resort in Kharkiv was recently selected as Ukraine’s National Disability Centre, serving three regional disability hubs (golf facilities) in the cities of Lviv, Kyiv and Kharkiv.
Their Deaf Golf Project, led by Olga Blohina, has become huge with eight new regional centres and is a successful initiative they intend to grow.
Recognised on the golf map
Looking ahead, the Ukrainian golf bodies intend to: acquire further short golf equipment resources to enable activator delivery in each of the nine outreach venues; stage a Ukrainian Deaf Golf Championship with up to 50 players; and apply to stage an EDGA WR4GD (World Ranking for Golfers with Disability) tournament in 2022.
Volodymyr Pylypenko, General Secretary of the UGF, said, “Mark left us feeling energised and inspired and Lyudmyla Pavlenko (a Paralympic cross-country skier and biathlete, with cerebral palsy, who won a gold and bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Paralympics) has begun her ambassadorial duties promoting golf to disabled people. We believe more than ever that Ukraine will be increasingly recognised on the world golf map and the flag we fly will signify our commitment to inclusivity.”
Into 2021, the UGF are now working on an adult and junior participation project to further grow their golfer numbers, aided by The R&A’s support.
A key area of this project is the recruitment of Ukraine’s first-ever Participation Officer, employed to co-ordinate junior schools and park development programmes, support women in golf initiatives, disabled golf and an ‘Open Golf’ programme.
Aided by a marketing campaign, Open Golf is a family-based programme aimed at players who may or may not have already registered with the UGF but do not hold an official WHS golf handicap. The UGF want: “all participants to feel included, and that the programme is there to work for them – whether as individuals or as family or friendship groups – and regardless of age, sex, physical and mental health.” As part of the work, instruction seminars and coaching sessions will be staged in partnership with the PGA of Ukraine.
A children’s academy programme has been set up in every golf club, with over 100 juniors already starting one month of education in six golf locations all over Ukraine. Each club is also supporting ladies’ golf through an academy structure too.
Pylypenko added, “We are beginning to see the effects of our work with more and more players and more coaches becoming keen to be involved in the sport, and we thank The R&A for their support. In Ukraine, the interest in, and demand for, more courses is also growing fast so we will continue to work to ensure there are sufficient places to play.
“The main focus of the Federation is in improving retention. Simply put, if we can help equip the majority of these players with the skills where their game progresses to the stage that they can complete a full golf course and attain a golfing handicap, we feel we will have golfers for life.”
Kevin Barker, Director – Golf Development at The R&A, said, “While a small and relatively young national federation, the UGF has had a remarkable couple of years by working to a strategic plan, engaging with golf’s various stakeholders, and by the hard work, commitment and passion of a core group of officials and volunteers. We hope they can continue to build on this success in the future.”