From park pitch & putts to US PGA, now Aaron Rai and family aim to help others

Amrik Rai took the short drive across Wolverhampton to look back to where it all began for his son.

Aaron Rai, during a practise session, at the Darren Prosser Golf Academy, Kingswinford Golf Centre
Aaron Rai, during a practise session, at the Darren Prosser Golf Academy, Kingswinford Golf Centre

Back to East Park in their home city, where Amrik first took son Aaron with a set of small clubs and a handful of golf balls.

Long before Aaron progressed through to the top echelons of the sport, at a long-since disappeared East Park pitch and putt, they would hone his young Aaron’s skills and the youngster would practice shots, time after time.

The same scene would take place at Bantock Park, at the pitch and putt on the other side of the city.

It was usually quiet, meaning there was no rush to get round and Amrik and Aaron could replay the same shot or hole over and over again.

Aaron is now firmly established at the top of the sport.

Now a double tournament winner on the European Tour, he recently finished in the top 20 of the World Golf Championship event in the USA.

Last year’s victory at the Scottish Open as well as a number of other top finishes have cemented his place at this summer’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s in July.

His world ranking has also secured him a place at another Major, the US PGA starting this Thursday at Kiawah Island.

There he will tee it up alongside the greats of the modern game. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Speith, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and more will be his competition.

But for Amrik and Aaron, theirs was not a traditional way into the sport.

For them, there was no obvious pathway through the golf club system, instead it was the parks of Wolverhampton which proved the humble beginnings.

Dad Amrik was not, and still is not, a golfer.

He was a good tennis player in his day and as a young coach, he would work with Wolverhampton Council’s parks department in the 1980s.

Aaron first got into golf due to a fondness for hitting a ball with mum Dalvir Shukla’s hockey sticks.

On the back of that, he was given a set of plastic golf clubs pretty much as soon as he could walk.

And a star was born.

But it was not just natural talent that got Aaron to the top.

It was hour upon hour of practice on Wolverhampton’s parks that grooved his technique as a young boy.

“Parks have an innocence about them,” says Amrik, recalling his son’s burgeoning love for the game as a child.

“Anyone can go to the park. A lot of people think Aaron started at the Three Hammers (the par three golf complex just north of Wolvrhampton) but it started a long time before that.

“We used to go to the pitch and putt that used to be at East Park.

“It’s not there any more, which is sad.

“Bantock Park too; that used to have 18 holes but now it’s only got the nine. It’s a shame.”

Amrik would love to see the rejuvenation of Wolverhampton’s parks’ golf facilities, and would love to see other working class parents be able to give their children the opportunity to play and develop a love for a sport they could go on to excel in.

“I remember some years back, Cliff Richard launched a search for a star in tennis, trying to find young players who might not ordinarily have found a way in the game.

“That’s something we’d like to do in Wolverhampton. This is our city, our home. Aaron is flying all round the world to play in tournaments these days but he’s always happy to be at home again when he has the chance.

“As a family, we’ve always been very humble. I don’t think we would have fitted in at some of the traditional clubs.

“When we used to go to Bantock Park, Aaron would hit shot after shot on the same hole, keep going until he’d got it right.

“You wouldn’t be able to do that at a ‘proper’ golf club. Other people are playing and you just wouldn’t be able to do that.

“At the parks, we could do that and I can see some of the shots Aaron played at a young age in the shots he plays now in tournaments.

“He could have been easily stifled if he’d gone straight into a golf club.

“What we’ve love to see as a family is the facilities being there for people to do what we did. It’s a shame they are not what they were.

“We’d love to work with the council to help if we could.

“It was only after Aaron’s talent for the game became clear that he began playing at the Three Hammers, and from there to Patshull Park.

“It was from there that he made his way through the Shropshire & Herefordshire juniors and eventually as a professional sportsman.”

But it was on the parks of Wolverhampton where this star was born. And they will always retain a special place in his and his father’s hearts.

“It was very poignant for us to go back to East Park recently,” recalled Amrik.

“Aaron was asking questions about what he used to do as a small child there and I was remembering how much fun it was. He could barely walk and I would carry him to the next hole – I can remember every hole.

“It would be wonderful if we could get something together so that other people could have the same chance.”

Most Read

Most Read

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News