Cover Here's how the British International School, Phuket's Golf Academy is nurturing future sports stars (Photo: BISP)

Budding golf champions in Phuket can avail of the excellent facilities and top-notch coaches at the British International School’s Golf Academy.

The Golf Academy at British International School, Phuket (BISP) is hardly five years old—practically in its infancy—yet you wouldn’t think it by looking at their impressive statistics and international tournament victories. Two talented young golfers who are contributing to those impressive records are Pasoot Luengcharoenwatana (I.T) and Namo Luangnitikul, both 12-year-old native Phuketians and golf stars who regularly play on local and international golf circuits. Other than their golfing chops, the two also share the same spirit of gratitude and fondness for their “Coach Ollie”, aka BISP Golf Academy Head Coach Oliver Bates, who speaks just as highly of them.

Golfing is a family affair for both youngsters. I.T was encouraged from a young age to follow his father’s example, who is a keen golfer and has since guided his son through dozens of tournaments and victories. For Namo, older cousin and BISP alumni Vanchai (Mark) Luangnitikul has always been her inspiration, followed by Thai golfing star Atthaya Thitikul. Incidentally, Vanchai and Atthaya partnered up to bring golfing gold home for Thailand at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games held in Buenos Aires.

“Namo and I.T are great examples of the type of the high performing student-athletes we are developing at the BISP Golf Academy,” says BISP Athletics Director Jeff LaMantia. “The aim of our Golf Academy is to provide our students with unparalleled opportunities to develop their golfing abilities to their highest potential while receiving an outstanding education. I would love to see one of our current primary students achieve their goal of playing golf at the college level or professionally.”

Both Namo and I.T talk about the dedication and time golf requires and practise six days a week. On most days they spend three to four hours on the green, well into the evening until about 7pm. It comes as no surprise, then, that they have been ranked top in Thailand for their age groups at one point or another and that they both qualified for the IMG Junior World Championships in San Diego this July.

I.T placed highly in the tournament and also bagged third place at the 13th Annual FCG Callaway World Junior Golf Championship in Southern California. FCG is a recruitment ground for junior golfers looking to develop their game and play at the Collegiate Level in the USA. I.T ultimately hopes to be ranked in the PGA, but entertains dreams of being a future pilot as well.

Namo, who qualified for the IMG by winning the TGA-Singha Junior Golf Championship in March this year, couldn’t make it to San Diego due to the pandemic. That hasn’t stopped her from playing and winning tournaments within Thailand, including the TJDT Tour Final Master Championship held in Pathumthani earlier this year. Ever the optimist, Namo is looking forward to qualifying for future tournaments, and hopes to make it to the Thai National Team this year, despite being younger than the minimum threshold age of 13. Just like her cousin Vanchai, she ultimately hopes to win gold at the Youth Olympic Games and be ranked in the PGA.

I.T and Namo credit the support system at their school and state their success can be attributed to their coaches, teachers and friends.

“Before I came here, I would get mad very easily during a tournament or competition,” says Namo, “but Coach Ollie has taught me to stay calm and now I’ve become a lot better. He also understands the pressures of school and tournaments, and gives me great advice about how to balance everything.”

She also credits her teachers for being supportive when she is away for tournaments and allowing her to make up for lost work and time in class.

I.T reiterates her comments. “Coach Ollie is very easygoing. I can talk to him about anything. He’s taught me to be competitive, but also that it’s a game and I should take it easy and have fun with golf. I feel valued by my school community whether I win or lose,” he says

Athletics Director LaMantia also credits Coach Oliver for connecting well with each golfer and understanding their needs to help them develop their game technically, tactically, physically and mentally, all of which are important pillars of the BISP Golf programme.

“Coach Ollie has the ability to give informative feedback to our players and is able to set up a clear individual learning path for each of our golfers,” says LaMantia.

Oliver believes that students’ wellbeing is as important as their physical training. “I love to see the kids thriving mentally and their all-round wellbeing is really important to me,” he says. “We're teaching kids how to work hard to become better and stronger, but also how to compete and be humble. Golf teaches you all this and more which is what makes it such an amazing sport.”

Coach Oliver recalls the early days of the academy and how it started off with a few kids and a bus to Laguna Golf Course to practice, before BISP had their own facilities. He has been with BISP for five years and a Phuketian for 20, where he has been involved in many youth academies and clubs. He started the Golf Academy at BISP with Athletics Director Jeff and then Headmaster Neil Richards. He also helped design the course in collaboration with John Morrow (who also designed Red Mountain Golf Course in Kathu). And by a stroke of good luck, as Oliver puts it, golfing great Sir Nick Faldo was in town at the time of course inauguration and christened it by hitting a few shots and playing a four-hole shoot-out with future Youth Olympic champion Vanchai.

Oliver believes that starting young is always a great advantage for any athlete. “When kids have friends to play with and facilities to train at, some of them naturally really get into it,” he says. “A lot of credit goes to the parents who are willing to travel with them and support them. The authorities in Thailand and corporations such as Singha have been very good to golf over the years. Thailand is really strong at the moment, especially on the women's side where they've got fantastic players and great infrastructure.”

Find out more about the British International School, Phuket's world-class facilities for day and boarding pupils here

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