For Mary Gard'ner it started as father-daughter bonding and has resulted in a top gong at the National Golf Awards.

Mary, from Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club (PBGC), has been awarded the Community Coach of the Year award at a formal dinner in Auckland celebrating New Zealand's top golfers.

An independent judging panel including sport administrators, media, professional golfers, golf administrators and sport governors came together in February to select the finalists and winners of each category.

Community Golf Coach of the Year: Mary Gard'ner

"I was very pleased when I found out I had won.


"In fact as time has gone on, I've been more and more thrilled about it.

"It was a competitive and challenging environment for me last year so I had to dig deep and get brave to put my programme out there."

Starting out back in 2000, Mary started playing with her dad and it snowballed from there.

"I just wanted to play with my dad.

"My dad had always been out and about playing golf when I was little so I thought when my kids get to college age, I'll get out and play with him.

"I started to drag him out in all sorts of weather and it grew from there."

With a background as a dancer, and a postgraduate diploma in teaching, Mary started coaching juniors in 2004 and conveyed the junior programme at PBGC from 2004-2011.

Moving from juniors to adults, the Professional Golfers' Association of New Zealand created a development coach pathway which Mary undertook and became mentored by Craig Dixon from the Institute of Golf.


"The new pathway meant you didn't have to achieve the same high playing criteria as the professionals and I began my first player programme in 2011."

With further PGA training Mary started her more formal Mary Gard'ner New Player Golf Programme with the input from Craig as her technical mentor in 2013.

"I'm a mathsy-sciency, kind of person so I love the numbers of it.

"I've always enjoyed strategy, so even though I'm not a great player in terms of my swing, I've never got my swing anywhere good enough to be an extremely good player.

"From the word go with my coaching we focus on strategy — how to work out distance control, which clubs to use, what shots to go with and so on.

"I don't focus on technique too much, it's more about having interesting things in your head to keep you engaged, and then gradually you improve with your technique.

"And when you finally pull something off with the strategy and technique altogether it feels pretty cool.

"I've got a big belief that sport is great for people's happiness and wellbeing."

Coaching people from the very start of their experience with golf, Mary is involved in the national initiative Loves Golf and runs a New Player Programme off the back of this initiative taking people through individually tailored programmes.

"You are very easily put off by people around you so if you're in a group together and have a good camaraderie you are more likely to enjoy it and continue.

"At the end of each programme I'm always amazed at how we've created this group of people who didn't even know each other at the start and before you know it you've got nine strangers who are just so caring of each other.

"That's what I love that about sport, it brings people together."

PBGC general manager Leo Barber said, "Mary's approach is always encouraging, fun and all inclusive.

"She has a vision for creating a doable pathway involving volunteers, other coaches and other members at the club and shares a strong belief that people's lives can be enhanced through sport.

"She has a deep rooted belief that sport, golf in this instance, can do wonders for people's health and happiness and golf in particular has the remarkable ability to bring all people together."

Denys Crengle, also from PBGC, was a finalist for Volunteer of the Year but missed out to Pire Wehi from Rangitikei Golf Club.