Rachel Gourley has come a long way since being gifted her first set of ‘Barbie’ clubs aged five.
Even if the plastic clubs were soon replaced, Gourley is still very much ‘in the pink’ and working towards a bright future in the game.
The 15-year-old has earned a place in the England girls’ squad for 2020 and is bursting with pride at the chance to represent her country again.
Last year, Gourley was in the under 16 squad which took on Spain, Ireland and Switzerland in challenge matches.
Her undoubted potential shone through when she won the English Under 16 Schools’ title and then finished third at the English Girls’ Championship (pictured below).
The next six months promise to be huge in her golfing development as she juggles golf with her schooling and GCSEs.
Yet the teenager from Arcot Hall Golf Club remains as besotted with the game of golf now as she was when her grandad sparked her interest with those plastic clubs for her fifth birthday.
“I went to get a present with my grandad and I saw a set of Barbie golf clubs in the corner – I immediately wanted them!” said Gourley.
“At Christmas that year I got my first set of proper clubs. From then on I’ve loved playing golf.
“Last year was a breakthrough for me and I had a couple of good results. I think a couple of good finishes helped me bring it all together.
“Playing for England was new for me too. It was a good experience and I really enjoyed it. The anticipation of being picked, the practice rounds and then playing…. it was all good fun.
“I don’t think it was more nerve-wracking than an individual event – well, apart from the first shot. Once I got that out the way I knew what to expect.
“It was then all about going out and trying to claim a point and doing the best for my team.
“I have GCSEs this year and I won’t be playing competitions during that time. Then I’ll be playing as often as I can over the summer.
“Long-term, hopefully I can get a scholarship in America and take it from there.”
Going to America for golf will be nothing new for the Northumberland teen. She played her first competition across the pond when she was just five years old!
After winning an English qualifier, Rachel and her family flew to San Diego where she played at the famous Torrey Pines – venue for Tiger Woods’ 2008 US Open win – in the world junior championships.
Gourley explained: “There was a qualifier here on the British junior tour and it was really just co-incidence that I played in that.
“I wanted to play in a tournament and we opted for that one as we knew that there would be girls my age playing in it.
“I ended up winning it and it took off from there.
“I remember very little about going to San Diego – but I was so young. I played in the under five age group!
“The last time we went I was aged nine so I remember bits of that. But the first time I travelled was so long ago and I was only tiny.
“It was a little par three course of nine holes and great fun.
“It was a huge commitment from my family. But as a family we’ve always enjoyed travelling and my mum and dad are used to ferrying me across the country.”
Parents Tony and Emma might have some more miles to clock up this year, but if it helps their daughter achieve her goal then it will be worth the commitment.
“I definitely want this as a career – that’s my dream. That’s what I’m aiming for,” added Gourley during a recent gathering of the England girls’ squad at the National Golf Centre at Woodhall Spa.
“This is my last year at under 16 level and hopefully I can get some good finishes in my age group.
“Then it’s a case of trying to get selected for the England teams and the bigger tournaments such as Home Internationals and Europeans. That’s the big goal for the year.
“A lot of the women’s championships fall during my exams, but I’ll try and play as many of these events as I can.”
Gourley is one of a trio of talented teenage girls from the north-east who are involved in the girls’ squad. Jess Baker and Rosie Belsham are also in the set-up.
“We are all from the Newcastle area – I don’t know what it is about that corner of the country!” she said with a laugh.
“I’ve known Jess and Rosie since I was eight or nine and we’ve all grown up playing together.
“As much as we are here to play golf and get better and represent England, there is a good team spirit and we do have some great fun.”