One of Dubai’s hottest golf prospects, Toby Bishop, is set to take his sublime game across to the States next year after accepting a scholarship to the University of Florida (UF) in 2020.
The Welshman, who represented his country in the prestigious Home Internationals a few months back, will join the Florida Gators Men’s Golf Team, as he looks to follow in the footsteps of more than 50 ‘Gators’ who have gone on to play professionally on the PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and Champions Tour.
Having done all his recruiting and tours of the campus virtually when committing to the university, Bishop got his first taste of his future home when he paid a visit to Florida last week.
Here, the 17-year-old Welshman details his experience, which included hitting balls next to two-time Race to Dubai champion Henrik Stenson, and practicing at some of the most exclusive golf clubs on the planet.
I was lucky enough to be invited to practice at TPC Sawgrass on my first day after arriving in the US. Seeing the memorabilia in the clubhouse was an inspiring day for an aspiring golfer, getting to witness the champions locker room and hallway of previous champions. Perhaps even more special was an invitation to practice at Lake Nona Golf Club the following day. The exclusivity of the club and pristine condition of the course and facilities was a privilege to experience. Hitting balls on the range beside Henrik Stenson was a reminder to me how special Lake Nona Golf and Country Club is.
Over the next two days I attended the Isleworth Collegiate event, a tournament that my future teammates at University of Florida were competing in against some of the best college teams in the country. Getting to witness the top level of amateur golf was a great learning experience for me, seeing how the tough set up of the course differs from junior golf, with 14 pins each day being within 4 paces from the fringe on greens running at 12.5 on the stimp. During these two days I got to meet some of my new teammates and fellow recruits to UF, Luke Poulter who will be starting with me in 2022, and Jack Turner who will join us the following year. Getting the chance to introduce ourselves in person and talk as we watched the golf was a great way to get to know each other better.
Following the conclusion of the Isleworth event, my parents and I travelled to Gainesville, the home of UF, to begin my official visit. We met my coaches (Coach Deacon and Coach Hart) and the team at The Mark Bostick Golf Club (UF Men’s and Women’s golf teams own course) where we had our first in person exchange with my future family. We started with a tour of the golf club, seeing the team locker rooms, lounge area, meeting room and coaches offices. Following this we had lunch in the lounge, giving us a chance to introduce ourselves to each of the players and have some general conversation. After lunch, we headed down to the practice facilities that are exclusive to the Men’s and Women’s golf team.
With a range, two putting greens, two chipping greens, a short game tee, two indoor swing studios and another lounge area, it is a golfer’s paradise. However, I couldn’t practice forever as I had a meeting with the UF Associate Athletics Director, Mike Spiegler. We took the team mini bus that they use to travel to their nearby events, to 'The Swamp,' the college’s football stadium that can hold 90,000 fans! We were taken to the ‘Presidents Suite,’ an executive box, where you can take in the sheer size of the stadium and view the majority of campus. After leaving the stadium we viewed the main gym, which had hundreds of machines and equipment for every type of exercise. Here we also saw one of the many nutrition bars placed around campus for athletes, where they can top up with protein shakes, Gatorades, as well as snacks and food to keep them fueled.
The following day was highlighted by a visit to see the Academic Advisor, Garson Rowland. Here we were shown around the Hawkins Centre, a complex exclusively for student athletes to study. A big part of being a success in college is balancing the student-athlete lifestyle, so the Hawkins Centre is designed to help athletes keep ahead of their classes and offer an academic support structure. Upon leaving this tour, we went to the student accommodation I will be staying at during my freshman year and got to see the new student-athlete complex being built, a centre where UF athletes can find: Dining halls, study areas, outdoor swimming pool. recording studio. barber shop, virtual reality gaming centres and golf simulators.
The final facility we saw was the gym that the golf team uses for workout sessions with their strength and conditioning coach, Markus Furst. Markus is available throughout the entire day for PT if players wish to train outside of the team sessions. The gym is only accessible for the men’s golf, basketball and tennis teams, so is never crowded. There is also a physio in the facility who again is available 24/7 for athletes suffering from muscle soreness, tightness or any injury they wish to have treated.
With all my recruiting being done virtually, I got to see virtual tours of campus as I made my decision to commit to UF. However, nothing could prepare us for seeing these world class facilities in person. Everything you could ever dream for as a student or athlete is provided to you, even athletes getting a card that grants them access to a free breakfast or lunch at 50 restaurants around campus every day. Facilities are accessed via a fingerprint reader at the door to ensure only athletes can enter the buildings. It was a great reminder of how fortunate and privileged I am to have been given this opportunity, and I can’t show enough gratitude to Coach Deacon and the whole of the UF team in giving me this opportunity. I would also like to thank my coach Jamie McConnell, Claude Harman III and Mike Smith (ForeCollege Golf recruitment) for assisting me throughout the whole recruiting process. I can’t wait to start my journey as a member of the Florida Gator family, and help the team to the best of my ability in reaching the ultimate goal of the NCAA National Championship. I look forward to my final season this year in Dubai, trying to prepare myself to be the best I can be in every department on and off the course for my arrival in 2022, hopefully picking up some silverware in the process.
Coach Deacon and Coach Hart are the best role models and leaders I could have wished for, as the commitment and passion they put into making every member of the team the best golfer and individual they can be, is second to none. The whole UF team couldn’t have been more welcoming to my parents and I, which is so reassuring to my family, knowing that although I will be living on the other side of the world, I will be in the best hands; in the best environment throughout my college career. I am immensely excited to start this next chapter of career as part of this team.