Three exceptional men who support the country’s most promising golfers were celebrated at an awards dinner at the England Golf coaching conference.
Standing ovations marked the announcement of Yorkshire’s Steve Robinson as 2016 Coach of the Year, Sussex’s Alan Covey as Volunteer Manager of the Year, and Cheshire’s Alan Thompson as the winner of the Lifetime Service Award.
Nigel Edwards, England Golf Performance Director, commented: “These are truly exceptional people who stand out for the support and encouragement they provide to our golfers, helping them to be the best they can.”
The conference, attended by county, regional and national coaches and managers, had the theme of creating a winning culture – and the achievements of the three award winners helped to highlight this.
Steve Robinson (pictured top © Leaderboard Photography) has enjoyed a spectacular 2016, inspiring the England women’s team to become European champions for the first time in 23 years. Victory was particularly sweet because his teams had been involved in bronze medal play-offs in the previous three years, but have left the championships empty handed on each occasion.
His players included Bronte Law, who has just turned professional after a stellar amateur career when she was ranked second in the world, played in three Curtis Cup teams, won the Annika Award as the top US college player and was European amateur champion.
She sent a message to the conference saying: “The gold medal represents all Robbo’s work as a coach and mentor. He is not just a coach to me, he is a friend and I could not think of anyone who deserves this award more.”
Robinson, who is based at Sandburn Hall, also coaches the Yorkshire boys’ and women’s teams – and between them they’ve won 11 English county championships. This year, three boys from the six-strong county squad have represented England and Robinson is also the personal coach to Charlie Thornton who won the England Golf Boys’ Order of Merit.
He summed up how he creates a winning culture by saying: “It’s all about building relationships with the players and making sure you know their vision and their mission.”
Alan Covey (pictured right © Leaderboard Photography) is the Sussex junior manager and an England Golf regional manager – and has such an impact that he received three separate nominations for the award of Volunteer Manager of the Year.
One of his proposers summed him up: “One major factor of his success is that all the juniors like him. His encouragement and dedication to them is very evident and rewarded by their respect for him. I know many players who are now over 18 that keep in regular contact with him letting him know how they are progressing.”
Within Sussex, Covey helps to organise coaching development for young players who wish to progress, and works with the county squads for players from U12 to U18 age groups.
As an England Golf regional manager he is generous in sharing his knowledge and experience with other managers. He organises many events, including a national start-of-season championship for U16 boys and girls – and he also took an England team to the 2016 Canadian International Junior Challenge and encouraged them to victory.
Covey commented on his award: “This isn’t just about me, it’s about every manager out there and all of us want to make a difference.”
Alan Thompson was unable to be at the presentation of the Lifetime Service Award but delegates were told how he has dedicated his career to helping golfers achieve their full potential at all levels, working with club players, county golfers, elite national amateurs and top professionals.
He was Cheshire coach for 25 years and was the professional at Heswall Golf Club until 2012 – when he retired to concentrate on his coaching.
He’s been assistant coach to the England Men’s A Squad for many years and this season has been especially memorable with squad player Scott Gregory winning the Amateur Championship and the England Golf Men’s Order of Merit.
He’s also taught many European Tour players, including Lee Slattery and Ryder Cup player Jamie Donaldson.
Steve Burnett, the England Golf Men’s Performance Manager, paid tribute to Thommo’s achievements and said: “We want to say thank you for all your years of dedication, there are a lot of players out there who are very grateful.”
During the conference delegates also heard from speakers including Sergio Lara-Bercial who has studied ‘serial winning coaches’ and Baroness Sue Campbell, who discussed turning ‘good into great.’ She chaired UK Sport from 2003-2013, presiding over Team GB and Paralympic GB's largest medal haul in living memory; she has been the chair of the Youth Sport Trust since 2005 and she is the FA’s head of women’s football.
Ben Stow and Ashley Chesters, who were top England amateurs before embarking on their professional careers, attended a Q&A session with delegates. Stow was the Brabazon Trophy champion and is now a Challenge Tour player, while Chesters was the double European amateur champion and has just won his European Tour card. Both have been supported by England Golf's Give Back scheme which provided them with a number of Challenge Tour starts; in return they give back a proportion of earnings over a certain level to support the squad programme.