Philanthropist on mission to help youth, promote golf

11th, 2014
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Philanthropist on mission to help youth, promote golf

One executive’s love for sport and commitment to social responsibility is changing the lives of dozens of youths in Antalya and might just produce Turkey’s first internationally renowned golfer.

 

As players and fans gathered at the National Golf Club in Antalya’s Belek district last weekend for the 14th President’s Putter Cup, four groups of youths were also navigating the vast green expanses. The A-B Junior Girls, A-B Junior Boys, C Junior Girls and C Junior Boys groups include the youngest of the National Golf Club’s Junior Team, which also has golfers who competed in the adult categories.

The Junior Team is no ordinary group of youths and might not be what most people expect when they think of young people golfing. The 55 athletes — 25 of them female — are aged between 8 and 15. They have scored a number of important successes, and gathered a total of 29 awards in 2009 junior category golf competitions. The winner of the President’s Putter Cup Women’s category was also from among the Junior Team, golfer Aslıhan Kaplan.

But if thinking about young people playing golf conjures up images of wealthy families with expensive vacation hobbies, then think again. Most of the young golf enthusiasts of the Junior Team come from families with very low incomes who live in villages and other rural areas of the Antalya province — in fact, those with the lowest family incomes were given priority during recruitment for the program. And 15 of the players are under the guardianship of the Social Services and Child Protection Agency (SHÇEK).

The philanthropy of one Bülent Göktuna brought the Junior Team to life. He finances all of their activities himself with an aim to both fulfilling what he terms a “social responsibility” and with hopes of increasing the stature of golf in Turkish society. Speaking on the sidelines of the President’s Putter Cup, Göktuna explained that if golf was to take off in this country, the sport needed the participation and enthusiasm of young people.

Golf means stable future for disadvantaged kids

Göktuna’s Junior Team program encourages the children to be successful in all aspects of life, not just the game. Alongside their golf coaching and training, they receive education in sports psychology from an Akdeniz University faculty member, and lessons in English from two native-speaking instructors. In addition, they are monitored by nutritionists, and Göktuna foots the bills for regular medical checkups. Gourmet meals are prepared for the children under the consultation of expert dieticians according to their ages and nutritional needs. The lives of these children, as they themselves explain, have changed immensely from the time when they first set foot on the green. They are devoted athletes, spending most of their time out of school training and improving their skills in the game they have come to love.

Lessons in etiquette and good manners are also part of their program. While Göktuna declined to name a figure as to how much he has spent on the Junior Team, an aide conceded that the cost of shuttling the children from their homes to the Belek golf course alone totaled around TL 10,000 a month. During the President’s Putter Club tournament weekend, among the coaches for the Junior Team were international professional golfers Rebecca Hudson and Louise Friberg.

As much as the investment is in the future of Turkish golf — many of the children are up and coming talents in the sport — it is an investment in the future of children who might otherwise never have acquired the means to build stable careers. Göktuna explained that while it’s uncertain how many incredible sportsmen and women may eventually emerge from the Junior Team, the golfing experience and knowledge that the boys and girls gain now will serve them for a lifetime.

“Even if they aren’t professional golfers, these children will have a future in golf, they will earn their bread by golf,” Göktuna said. “Those who don’t play professionally will work — and make good money — as coaches, golf course managers, caddies. These children all have solid futures ahead of them through golf, and they will make important contributions to the development and success of golf in this country.” He added that he had serious hopes for the Junior Team and that among them were some “real talents.”

The children themselves also share Göktuna’s hope and have taken on his passion for golf. One of the girls on the Junior Team who lives in a SHÇEK home, put it this way: “In golf, there’s no separation between boys and girls. Everyone is given the same chance, and it’s just about how good you are. That’s what I like best about golf.” Commenting that she enjoys the open-air nature of the spot, she added: “It’s like heaven here [at the National Golf Club]. When I first started playing my back hurt a lot, but it doesn’t anymore. I have a lot of fun now. I’m definitely gonna be a great golfer.”

Resource: Today’s Zaman

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