PGA of Bulgaria Chairman, Richard Lane, moved to Bulgaria over a year ago to work as the Head Professional at St. Sofia Golf Club. Since then he has taken on the role at the PGA, as well as a Head Coach position for the Bulgarian National Team, whilst also working to develop the game continually in the country.
Here Richard walks us through some of the successes he has had in his first year as well as some of the trials and tribulations faced as PGA Professional working outside of their native country…
My opportunity to coach in Bulgaria was born out of my desire to coach a National Team, having been a European Tour Player, PGA of Great Britain & Ireland Trainee of the Year, Club Professional, recognised coach with many published articles, Golf Director and Regional PGA Chairman of Yorkshire and the North Region PGA.
I met many challenges upon my arrival last year – lack of resource, a new language and culture, and a team with poor golfing fundamentals. The lowest handicap was 4 and the only single figure player in the squad, with the next best player having a 14 handicap. The National team training was somewhat sporadic, without structure or focus and unfortunately no continuity of coaches. I was just “another coach who might not stay”, in the eyes of the team. I valued the warmth and friendliness from members and employees at St. Sofia.
“First understand before you can be understood” were the words that resonated through my mind. Having understood the challenges we faced as team and coach I set about devising a plan to measure progress and development, with the assistance of two Bulgarians assigned to Junior Golf Development, working for the Bulgarian Golf Association.
We structured the training sessions, albeit on a limited budget, to incorporate a wider range of players. I showed the players that I was there to help and support their development. Naturally it took time to gain their confidence and trust, but after a short while they could see my intentions were clear and that I was in Bulgaria to stay. A visit to the “Balkan Challenge”, at Lake Bled in Slovenia in July last year provided a great opportunity to get to know the players better.
That was over 12 months ago. We now have four single figure handicappers all less than 16 years of age and a crop of youngsters knocking at the door behind them. Players have participated in the Faldo World Series and this year two players will compete in the British Junior Open in July.
My methods are simple. I have identified players who demonstrate good attitude, commitment to practice and the ability to bounce back when things are challenging. In turn our team members show me they have the desire to be the best they can be. These young people are pleasure to teach and be around. I admire their determination to succeed.
With the help of colleagues, back in the UK, I have been able to identify the better ways to develop the team and advance their progress here in Bulgaria. We have also incorporated the services of “Golf Data Lab” as an integral part of players’ understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses.
We gave 600 free lessons in the Capital City of Sofia with help from Ryder Cup European Development Trust, The R & A, European Tour, and Bulgarian Golf Association.
The World Matchplay at Thracian Cliffs last year highlighted the game in Bulgaria and with continued funding from The R&A and others mentioned I really hope we can produce some great young players over the coming years.