THE final day of the Yorkshire amateur at his beloved Ganton marked the retirement of Yorkshire Union of Golf Clubs secretary Keith Dowswell after 27 years in the role.
He has witnessed a lot of change during his tenure including affiliating 50 new clubs. He has also seen the rise of the county to the very top of amateur golf, and much of this success has come from his foresight in establishing a structured coaching system using the finest teachers.
As a former head of PE at Abbeydale Grammar School in Sheffield, he came well qualified. Not one to blow his own trumpet, this son of the steel city acknowledges that if he is to have a legacy in the folklore of the Yorkshire Union it would his recognition of the importance of coaching in any sport and ensuring the youth of Yorkshire have the best of the best as tutors.
He said: “If I am going to be remembered for anything then it would be helping to establish a proper coaching system, but I received tremendous support in doing this from the Exec and in particular from Ganton’s Gordon Edmond, himself a former Yorkshire player, and Anthony Abraham.”
There has always been a coach in Dowswell. By the age of 23 he had the equivalent of a UEFA coaching licence with former Football Association technical director Howard Wilkinson as one of his assistants.
“I always got on with Howard, but he was his own man and knew where he was going,” said Keith. “From us he went to Notts County when Jimmy Sirrel left and of course he ended up at Leeds, but I kept in touch as his children came to the school.” Dowswell is still a keen student of football and intrigued by the methods of modern day coaches. “I find it fascinating to see how (Manchesdter City manager Pep) Guardiola has improved individual players like Fabian Delph and his team Manchester City are playing a brand of football I have never seen before, and I have been watching the game all my life.” Yorkshire’s own coaching revolution started when Dowswell approached the now world-renowned coach Pete Cowen who was working with future European Tour players like Nick Ludwell and Stuart Cage when he was the professional at Lindrick. When Cowen found fame on the European Tour with the likes of Lee Westwood and Open champion Henrik Stenson, Dowswell had to fill that void and turned to Graham Walker. “Pete recommended Graham to take over as lead coach and I knew how good he was,” recalled Dowswell. “He’s a genius and to get him as a replacement to Peter was a real coup. Then we added Steve Robinson and both of their records with Yorkshire and indeed England now speak for themselves.” It is a system that has helped players like former Masters champion Danny Willett and the Fitzpatrick brothers Matt and Alex emerge and saw three Yorkshireman win successive English amateur titles in Nick Marsh, Dan Brown and Joe Dean – from 2014 to 2016 – as success came at all levels from boys to seniors. “Matthew is an absolute model professional and is no different now to when he was playing for the county and has given up his time to attend some of the coaching sessions with the younger players,” said Dowswell. “Alex is a tremendously talented golfer, probably more instinctive as a player and hits it an absolute mile.”
Walker, who works out of The Oaks, and Sandburn Hall’s Robinson have gone on to savour national success having both been voted Coach of the Year by England Golf. Walker is currently England Golf men’s lead coach while Robinson is the England women’s performance coach.
Both continue to work with Yorkshire players at various levels assisted by a team including Gary Brown of Ganton, Lindrick’s John King and Mark Moore from Scarcroft. But Dowswell is keen to stress that it is ultimately down to the pupils to take full advantage.
“All we can do is try to enable the players to be the best that they can be. Yorkshire doesn’t win anything, Yorkshire doesn’t hit any shots, but we try to play our part.”
Dowswell, who discovered the game at Hallowes, virtually fell in to the role of succeeding Alan Cowman as secretary back in 1991. He was a regular at county events watching his son James, who played for Yorkshire 25 times and was beaten in the Yorkshire amateur final in 1983.
Ironically his nemesis that day was by the man who is taking over the reins, former Union President Jonathan Plaxton, who has a golfing pedigree second to none.
“I had taken early retirement and applied for the job and how lucky I have been,” continued Dowswell.
“I have absolutely loved the job and I couldn’t have worked for any better people including all the various committee members and past Presidents who all give up their time for free to serve the county. There are too many to mention individually, but they have given me great memories.”
In his new-found leisure time he will be found clipping shots from the verdant practice ground at Ganton in an effort to improve his handicap of 17 or enjoying his other sporting passion of the turf with visits to various race courses around Yorkshire including York, Doncaster, Thirsk, Ripon and Wetherby.
Tickets are hardly likely to be a problem as granddaughter Bethany is racing secretary to record-breaking Middleham handler Mark Johnston.
But his real sporting passion is for cricket, a love affair that started at Bramall Lane in 1947 when he saw his hero Don Bradman open the batting for Australia.
Dowswell was no slouch behind the stumps and aspired to being a pro and representing his county when playing for Sheffield United in the Yorkshire League and later for the RAF. But he was always in the shadow of Jimmy Binks who played for Yorkshire hundreds of times and went on to represent his country.
So, he decided to go to Leeds Carnegie and pursue a career in teaching, and it’s no surprise that his current favourite player is Johnny Bairstow.
He is not disappearing from the county scene altogether though. In recognition of his service the county has made him an Honorary Life Vice-President and will be on hand to help “where and when I can”. He still has much to offer.