Jessica Pilgrim, 13, is a single-figure handicapper and a volunteer who’s keen to give young people a voice. She’s a Young Ambassador for England Golf and the Golf Foundation and she also supports Girls Golf Rocks in Buckinghamshire, where she’s a member at Stoke Park. Her efforts to make a difference have had some unexpected bonuses! Jessica tells her story:
You’ve been mixing with some big stars in golf – and beating a pro! Tell us how that happened.
I was at GolfSixes for two days as a Young Ambassador for England Golf and the Golf Foundation. I had free time so I tried all of the American Golf trials like putting, driving and their computerised ‘nearest the pin’. The American Golf guys watched me and offered me a place on the GolfSixes Beat the Pro competition. I was so lucky to draw the 5pm slot where Thomas Bjorn and Catriona Mathew came to the tee, with their Korean opponents. They were all lovely to me. Thomas said, “If you are nervous, that’s ok, as we pro’s get nervous too!” I hit a decent shot and it ended up closer to the pin that one Korean pro’s shot! I loved having that opportunity. It was shown live on Sky TV and the Bucks Girls Golf Rocks players all saw it at the end of their first taster session!
Then you met up with Thomas Bjorn again?
I went to Wentworth for a presentation on the pro-am day when one of Ambassadors, Emily (Furniss) had won a special award from the Golf Foundation for fund raising. I went to watch Thomas and his team tee off on hole one. Thomas spotted me on the tee and mum asked if he remembered me? “Of course I remember Jessica,” he beamed and introduced me to his team as his special friend.
He invited me to walk the course with them, the whole 18 holes. Wow! I had to go check with Golf Foundation that that was ok and they said of course, what a super opportunity, so we ran to catch up on the second hole and stayed till the end. When we got to hole 14, where you could win a car for a hole-in-one, Thomas invited the caddies and me to have a go too! I didn’t have my clubs so I borrowed a club from Bradley Simpson of The Vamps, which was a bit heavy for me. I missed the green this time, I guess that’s golf!
How did you get started in golf?
Probably my first experience was playing minigolf at Legoland Windsor. The whole family played for a bit of fun and Dad managed to fall backwards through the bushes and lose a ball! I have played in the World Crazy Golf Championships for five years now, it’s a fun highlight of the year.
I watched my Dad chipping golf balls in the back garden and was given a little plastic golf set from a jumble sale. After I had swung the club, my Dad and Mum realised I needed some better clubs, so they bought me a set of pink Barbie clubs, a driver, an iron, putter and bag.
I seemed to swing those really well too, so I went to a junior roll-up at Wexham Park with Martin Heys and Dan Rees. I had just turned 8 years old. On my first lesson, Martin said: “You need some proper new clubs” and Dan said “That’s the most natural swing I’ve ever seen in a girl.” So I started having lessons and was given a set of orange US Kids clubs and never looked back.
Your golfing goals?
It was to reach single figure handicap but I have very recently reached that goal! Happy! I would love to be a golf pro in the future, to play courses and comps all over the world and hopefully win enough to keep me playing more courses and more comps.
What do you enjoy about golf?
It’s so much fun playing and competing, I don’t remember feeling any pressure or annoyance at not playing well. I spent lots of time with my Dad on the course when I was younger, which I don’t do now.
I spend lots of time playing with other juniors, boys and girls for fun or in competitions. I now play with ladies a lot more too, usually at Stoke Park or in Buckinghamshire county knockout competitions.
I love playing and competing, but should practise more!…
What would you like to change about golf?
It’s hard to say but some of the older players (much older, like over 50) sometimes get annoyed with young players on the courses. They make us feel like we are in the way and shouldn’t be there. But so many times, they change their attitude when they see me tee off, when they see I can actually play the game and hit the ball far and straight!
So what I’d like to change is, have more juniors made more welcome in all clubs, include us and let us play and let us learn the rules and don’t be too hard on us when we don’t know all the rules quite yet. And I’d like to see more girls playing too – they need more chances to try it, then they might like it and see they can do well at it. Many girls start out with their Dads on a driving range or a putting green, that’s lovely!
How do you think you can make a difference?
I’m excited about working as a Young Ambassador with England Golf and the Golf Foundation. I can be a part of a bigger overall project encouraging people to play, and where I could give my opinion on how it has been for me (the good and the bad), to tell the organisers from a junior’s point of view how we think and feel about golf, clubs, members, rules, everything, so they can take things like that into account for changes in the future maybe.
How do you think you can encourage new young players?
I think I can prove to girls and juniors that if I can do it, they can have a go as well. They can’t know till they try. I can show them that I have learned a lot, and still have lots to learn, and it’s fun and I keep fit and I am out on beautiful courses, famous courses sometimes.
What would you say to girls to get them to try golf?
Just pick up a club and have a go! Any club! Driver or iron or putter, anything. You have to be careful though, do it with an adult or another golfer who can help you. My sister has already smashed a pane in our greenhouse! Oops!
Caption: Jessica is pictured at Wenwtworth with Thomas Bjorn and Damian Lewis.
• Inspired to try golf? Visit www.getintogolf.org to find low cost or free beginner activities.