New Zealand Twilight Golf Association (NZTGA) president Baz Ledbetter has lashed out at what he calls "short-sighted" funding cuts to twilight golf training programmes announced by Minister of Education Trevor Mallard, and predicts they may result in many of our most promising twilight golfers being forced to ply their trade overseas.
Twilight golf was among the programmes affected by $163 million worth of recent cuts to private training courses funded by the Tertiary Education Commission.
Speaking as the shadows lengthened across the 18th green at Auckland's Beachlands course, Mr Ledbetter said that the ending of government of support for the training would prove to be a loss, not just for the twilight golfing community, but for New Zealand as a whole.
"This is an extremely short-sighted decision" he said. "Sure, you might balance the books by making budding twilight golfers pay their own way. But where does that leave the country in the long term? We run the risk of losing many of our most talented youngsters, to Australia, to regular golf, or to some other sport altogether. If steps aren't taken to secure our future, twilight golf could go the way of dry-creek canoeing".
NZTGA records indicate that many young twilight golf graduates already head across to Australia, attracted by better earnings and the year-round tropical twilights of north Queensland. It is likely that the loss of funding will only exacerbate this outflux.
Mr Ledbetter said that part of the problem lay in ignorance of twilight golf's specialist training needs. "Some people think that you can just learn regular golf and then adapt it to twilight conditions", he said. But in fact, everything is different--club selection, putting style, ball retrieval. These skills need to be taught from day one. To suggest that they can be learnt as some kind of add-on by the generalist golfer is like saying that nocturnal lawn bowls or naked cricket don't require specialist training."
For now, subsidised access to twilight golf programmes will remain, as the New Zealand Crepusculan Trust have agreed to fund scholarships for a limited number of applicants. "It's a relief to have a stop-gap solution but it's only going to keep us afloat for a limited time" said Mr Ledbetter. "They inserted a sunset clause in our agreement".
It seems that for New Zealand twilight golf, the long-term future is murky. "Where do we go from here?" asked Baz Ledbetter, peering towards the sixteenth fairway. "I'm afraid to say, I'm in the dark".