How one woman loves Golf so much that she built her own practice station
When Yuka Saso sank her winning putt on the 75th hole to win the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club, it touched off national celebrations in the Philippines, her home country. Soon afterwards, the demand for already scarce tee times, skyrocketed in the aftermath of the win. One golfer commented that prior to the pandemic, she could just show up at the golf course and get a tee time to play. Now, she has to book a few days in advance. That is an example of how much interest in golf has grown.
When it comes to Golf, the Philippines is not exactly the first country that comes to mind. But the sport is growing, particularly among the grass roots of Philippine society. Today, there are over 116,000 registered golfers in the Philippines being serviced by 95 different golf courses.
Attributing the growth of the sport to the success of its women on the LPGA would be telling only part of the story, for golf has been growing significantly over the past decade and more. As the Philippines experiences continued economic growth, notwithstanding the effects of the pandemic, the per capita incomes in the Philippines continues to rise – and with it, a larger proportion of the population begins looking to golf as a favourite recreational activity.
Kate Panton is a 32 year old living in the town of Mendez Nunez in the province of Cavite, located southwest of Manila on the main island of Luzon. She is a mother of one boy, sharing custody with her son’s father. It was working as a professional caddie at her home course of Riviera Golf and Country Club where she started learning the game of golf – a sport that she has been playing now for a little over 3-years.
With the onset of the SARS-COV2 pandemic, the Philippines also introduced public health orders resulting in the country going into a lockdown or quarantine type of status to minimize the spread of Covid. For Panton, a mother of an 11 year old son, it was important for her to be extra cautious to limit unnecessary risks of exposure to the coronavirus. That meant that she no longer attends her local driving range to practice.
But her desire and passion for Golf had a strong hold on Kate Panton and she could no longer bear the idea of being unable to swing her golf clubs, so she constructed her own practice area in the back yard of her parent’s home. It was at a local nursery and greenhouse that she found the “inspiration” to build her practice net.
“I drive by there every day and I started to notice the netting that they had been using in their nursery area and I began thinking about how I could build my own golf net out of the same material.”
She credits her cost consciousness for being the catalyst for building her own practice station, at a fraction of the cost of manufactured hitting stations. With necessity being the mother of invention, Kate purchased some netting, rope and some stout bamboo poles – the kind that can only be found in east Asia, setting about to construct her own practice area. “My father helped a lot. He anchored the one end of the net to the house and then the other end of the net to the bamboo pole. We anchored the bamboo pole in the ground so that it would provide a stable base.”
Once it was in place, she had her own practice area and she rushed to take a video to share with her friends on “Pinoygolfer” – a Facebook group dedicated to golfers in the Philippines. “I was so excited about it that I wanted to hit some shots and take a video to share with everyone” said Panton before adding that she plans to seed the area with grass and to also put down a scotch turf mat.
Kate Panton sharing a video of her newly constructed practice net:
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While working at the golf course, Panton started to learn golf from one of the head professionals, supplementing it with YouTube videos of professional players. She describes her swing as “homemade” and an ongoing work in progress.
While there was some initial scepticism in her family about golf, she says her parents came around and embraced golf and her dream to play it recreationally. It’s progressed to the point that her son is now starting to hit some golf balls with her at the practice range.
“I would bring my son with me to the practice range, and he would sit and watch me, but then he started to get interested. He picked up a golf club and then he started to hit some balls. He’s gotten pretty good, and he has learned to hit the ball straight.”
It is this type of interest among the middle class that has started to fuel the growth of golf in the Philippines. And Kate Panton is not alone – many kids and adults alike have their own backyard hitting stations, whether it be store bought or constructed like Panton’s. When backyard hitting stations start popping up with the frequency that they are in the Philippines, it’s probably a safe bet that it is a leading indicator of Golf’s growth.
As for her immediate ambitions, Kate Panton says that her goals for 2022 include playing more golf, practicing more, and to break 90. With ambition and passion like this, it probably won’t take long to achieve her goal of breaking 90 this season.