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Driving the downtown fairways

By Alywin Chew in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-27 07:28

Kiwi coach blazing trail with indoor academies

Tucked away in the basement of a shopping center in downtown Xiamen, Fujian province, is a sprawling 1,300-square-meter facility that is equipped with hi-tech golf simulators, putting greens and an enclosed sand bunker.

This impressive space is not a gaming arcade but rather a state-of-the-art indoor academy designed to bring the sport to the masses.

"Unless their parents play golf, the average Chinese kid is unlikely to be exposed to the sport. After all, golf isn't played in many schools," said the founder of Win Method Golf, Gareth Winslow, who established the center with his business partner in June.

"Almost all golf courses, because of their size, are located on the outskirts of cities. What this academy does is bring golf to the city center," added the 39-year-old New Zealander, who is also head coach at the Shanghai Junior Golf Academy.

Winslow hopes to open another 20 Win Method Golf outlets throughout China within the next three years, and, unlike many other blueprints for sporting development, he plans to staff them with locals.

"Hiring seasoned foreign coaches would make it hard to franchise the academy," he said.

Driving the downtown fairways

"When you walk into McDonald's, the guy at the back of the kitchen making a hamburger is not a three-star Michelin chef. But he certainly knows how to perform a particular task. Our coaches know how to train customers according to my system."

Unlike most of his peers at the New Zealand PGA Academy who aspired to follow in the footsteps of superstars like Nick Faldo and Greg Norman, Winslow had no idols he wanted to emulate when he was 17.

"To be honest, I don't think I really ever had aspirations to become a great player," he said with a laugh.

"I guess I'm more of a 'mad scientist' type of person. I remember I used to watch videos of tournaments over and over again just to analyze how the golfers swung and other technical details."

Raised in the idyllic Bay of Islands enclave in northern New Zealand, Winslow excelled at math and science in school. He only picked up the sport because his father, who was a golfing enthusiast, dragged him along to the fairways.

As it turned out, the kid could play.

Between the ages of 17 and 19, Winslow played in several pro tournaments and helped coach as part of his New Zealand PGA traineeship.

It was during that time he realized how much he preferred instruction over playing. By 20, Winslow had built a reputation as an up-and-coming coach and was hired to oversee the training of the Northland provincial team.

But he was eager to expand his horizons and explore opportunities outside New Zealand. He later secured a coaching role at a branch of the David Leadbetter Academy in Shah Alam, Malaysia.

A stint in Germany followed before he arrived in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, in 2004 to coach at the David Leadbetter Academy at Mission Hills.

Winslow has since settled in China and coached in several other major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. His highlights include coaching the Guangzhou junior team from 2009-11 and leading the women's national team to two silver medals at the 2010 Asian Games.

This year, he led the Shanghai women's team to victory at the National Games.  

Winslow said his desire to see China's potential in the sport fulfilled is one of the main reasons why he has not left the country.

"China's biggest advantage is its population. A sport like golf still has a relatively small pool of players - that has to increase," he said.

"If golf isn't made more accessible to the masses, China's population advantage is useless.

"China is my second home so I'd like to do as much as possible to grow golf here."

Winslow has even written a book, only available in Chinese, that targets local golf enthusiasts. He is currently working on an English-language book that touches on the topic of coach training.

Also in the pipeline are plans to introduce golf to schools.

"You can do a lot on a school field. Just give the kids plastic clubs and balls during a physical education lesson and let them experience the sport. That is better than nothing," he said.


 Driving the downtown fairways

Gareth Winslow, founder of Win Method Golf, briefs the coaching staff at his training school in a shopping center in downtown Xiamen, Fujian province.Provided to China Daily

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