HAVING spent the best part of 30 years helping to develop football talent, Steve McClaren has turned his attention to the golf course.

In a complete change of approach from the former Middlesbrough manager, he is now heading back to Rockliffe with his clubs rather than his coaching gear.

In what will come as something as a surprise to many who have followed McClaren’s career closely, the 58-year-old is now a regular at Rockliffe Hall where he has had an academy set up in his name.

Rather than just look to produce the next Stewart Downing, who he handed his debut to having helped his development across the way at Rockliffe Park, he is now looking to help bring on a batch of brilliant golfers to emerge from County Durham.

Rockliffe Hall’s head of instruction Simon Robinson is leading the new Steve McClaren Golf Programme, designed to provide the perfect base for six carefully selected young golfers to develop their promising talents in the hope they can fulfil their potential. Why golf and not football?

McClaren said: “That’s been saturated. Everywhere I go every club has an academy, there are private academies now too, Martin Gray has one in Darlington for example. I just thought it’s been done and they are doing it very well.

“Football academies have been very good. But there’s not really that opportunity for golfers. It’s just a side thing for me. Simon has embraced it. Rockliffe has too. They have given the kids memberships, allowing them to play here.

“I could have helped the community and set up a football academy but for me that would be too much. I still have a lot to do in football.

“This is a side thing I could help Simon with, and help young golfers. Talking to my dad, Brian, knowing people around here, there are not many real academies and I want to help that.”

Callum Brown, Callum Moncur, Millie Hixon, Tom Hartshorne, Toby Mitford and Freddie Walker were all identified for an invitation to Steve McClaren’s Golf Programme after displaying a willingness to learn, determination, a passion for golf, resilience, dreaming big and possessing undoubted talent.

Robinson, the former Sharpley head professional who won the European and World Boys title as a teenager before hitting the Tour stage, will lead the programme. He will offer video analysis and feedback, swing and distance tracking as well as on course coaching and game management.

To enhance the scheme McClaren has turned to one of his players, Stuart Parnaby, who appeared in the 2006 UEFA Cup final for Boro, to deliver strength and conditioning to the young golfers.

And McClaren’s 23-year-old son Josh will look to improve their performances through sports psychology, having graduated from Northumbria University with the intention to help sports men and women gain a greater understanding of the mind.

Robinson, 39, from Hartlepool, said: “Being involved in this programme has been amazing. The commitment and energy of the kids is inspiring. I’m fortunate to be able to coach this group and work with such a great team of coaches.

“The kids and I can’t thank Steve enough for this opportunity. The Steve McClaren scholarship programme sits at the top of our coaching programme at Rockliffe. It’s our aim to grow our junior section, which will feed into the scholarship programme.

“Steve wanted to set up an academy here, asked if there was anything like that. We developed a team, Stuart, Josh and myself as the coach.

“We are not just solely focused on performance, we want to develop the technical side of the game. I played for England and I know how important it is to have someone to help you through.”

McClaren has always played golf but never taken it seriously. He had never been a member anywhere until he joined Rockliffe Hall. His handicap is already down to 14 and, according to Rockliffe’s director of golf Martyn Stubbings, plays with “great strength”.

“I don’t know about that,” laughed McClaren. “I am a 14-handicapper now. I had never had a handicap before, always played in competitions for charities, I would say just give me a shot a hole.

“I thought I had better take it more seriously. I like my golf, football more, but I do like golf. It is a nice distraction when you are in between clubs. I’d not had a handicap before, had no lessons.

“When I joined here I put my three cards in, they put me off 16 straight away, over the summer I played tournaments and got down to 14. I have an aim of single figures. But I am definitely not a bandit.”

Clearly golf is not something new to him now, though. He said: “Normally between jobs I try to play a bit, my father Brian plays a lot. He is 84, plays off nine, incredible,” said McClaren.

“I always keep him company at York Golf Club. This time I thought I am going to play while I am between jobs. I thought I would have a proper lesson as I have never had one. That is how all this started.

“I started having lessons with Simon. We got chatting about coaching in general, his career, being on the Tour himself. What it is like and what it takes to be a top golfer. We got talking about golf and football, the overlap in each sport, kids coming through.

“I just said it would be a good idea if we could get five or six of the best in this area, form a little academy, very young, and see if we can take them right through if we give them the very best opportunity to reach their potential.

“Whether that is on Tour with the pros or playing in general, realising that potential. He said ‘yes’, he picked six, five boys and one girl.”

Rockliffe Hall used to have Graeme Storm as its Tour professional and now has the likes of Andrew Wilson and Callum Tarren attached as they look to hone their skills to reach the biggest stages again – having appeared in the US Open and Open Championship, respectively speaking, last year.

Who knows, one of the young guns enrolled on McClaren’s programme could follow in their footsteps eventually.

“The key thing we wanted to give them was top coaching,” said McClaren. “For the kids to develop, take the example of football, they are getting everything, sports science, coaching, the best medical psychology and everything.

“What I see is golfers developing without too much help. The hope is coming from the parents and it’s expensive to get top coaching, I thought we could provide that top coaching without the expense at top facilities.

“We have Stuart Parnaby doing the physical side of things, my son Josh who covers the psychology side of things for the player and the parents.

“We are trying to give the kids the best chance, surround them with the best environment, culture, going through their schedules, and we want to plot their careers and help them fulfil their potential. If they work hard and are dedicated we will see where it goes.”

McClaren’s managerial career has taken him to Holland and Germany since leaving Middlesbrough in 2006 to take over England. He remains the only Middlesbrough manager in the club’s history to have delivered a major trophy, having won the Carling Cup in Cardiff 16 years ago this month.

He has not had enough of working in football yet, though, and has ambitions to get back into the game soon. Golf will always be there for him to relax and he sees his new scholarship programme as a nice distraction.

“I will leave it to Simon to lead,” said McClaren, who also had a spell in charge of Newcastle and still lives in Yarm, Stockton-on-Tees. “Simon is the one really, whose enthusiasm has taken me along. All I am doing is providing the resource, taking an interest in them.

“What I like is competition day on a Saturday, it is a big day at Rockliffe, we have the kids involved in that. I will join in. I find that rewarding, seeing them compete. It’s a little bit for me and a lot for them.

“I have been playing golf more. I had a good three or four months before Christmas where I was a bit disappointed with what happened at QPR. I felt it wasn’t right, fair, I was doing the job.

“Ownership issues you can’t control, I was getting into it, I started doing media work. I have been invited to different countries to do talks, got involved with FIFA doing a project under Arsene Wenger, working with them.

“I’ve been doing media, going to games, talks, just getting the buzz back again for the game. That’s where I am and I don’t feel I am finished with football. There’s still more from me on that front, but this is certainly a nice side to enjoy.”