IN JUST over a year, 16-year-old Leverett Chua has slashed his golf handicap from a respectable 21 to a resounding 0.8.
Even better, he was mentored by Singapore's top professional golfer Mardan Mamat - and he did not have to fork out thousands of dollars in green fees and graphite drivers.
The St Gabriel's Secondary student is among 280 youths enrolled in the Youth Golf Programme (YGP), which introduces the sport to youngsters who do not have the means to own golf-club memberships but have a keen interest to play.
Besides weekly lessons at the Marina Bay Golf Course, the initiative also develops the golfer in areas such as sports psychology and endurance.
"Rather than just going to the range and striking balls, I'm learning different aspects of golf, which is fun and makes me appreciate the game even more," said Leverett.
The YGP, a brainchild of the late Tay Cheng Khoon, former sports editor of The Straits Times, has benefited more than 4,000 students since its inception in 1997.
The programme, whose patron is Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, has groomed the likes of 2009 SEA Games silver medallist Johnson Poh and fellow national players Kok Jo Ee and Koh Sock Hwee.
In line with the programme's philosophy, Mardan himself rose from humble beginnings to be the Republic's first European Tour winner at the 2006 Osim Singapore Masters. Whenever his schedule permits, the golf veteran of 20 years will conduct clinics for YGP talents like Leverett.
A charity golf tournament at the Tanah Merah Country Club yesterday raised $130,000 for the programme, which is run entirely by volunteers.
The fresh funds will help cover the costs of professional training and the organisation of the YGP Inter-School League, an annual four-leg competition involving YGP's 12 member schools.
As corporate sponsorship and school support have waned in recent times, plans to rope in more institutions have been put on hold.
Nonetheless, it hopes to collaborate with the ASEAN Golf Tour to give its student-golfers a chance to play in some ASEAN PGA Tour events and invite visiting pros to conduct clinics.
Said YGP chairman Dr Janice Khoo: "Kids and parents should not think that the only reason to play golf is with the ambition to turn pro.
"Learning the game is a great business networking tool, which will come in handy one day."
This article was first published on Jan 15, 2015.
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