Next generation – Charlotte Naughton

Fifteen-year-old England international Charlotte Naughton discusses her national success, adding her name to the list of North East players picked for England’s girls’ squad, and how she hopes to make 2024 her best year yet

The North East has become a powerhouse of elite women’s and girls’ golf in the last decade, with a conveyor belt of winners and England Golf team players emerging from the region and capturing the spotlight nationally and internationally.

Charlotte Naughton at the English Girls’ Under 14 Open at Formby Ladies in 2022

In the last two years, Northumberland-based Charlotte Naughton, who plays out of Longhirst Hall, has added to that success – representing England in several matches and winning her first national title at the English Girls’ Under 14 Open at Formby Ladies in 2022. She added the English Schools Golf Association National Under 16 Girls’ Championship at Coventry Hearsall Golf Club, and the North of England U16 Girls Championship at Pannal, to her growing CV in 2023.

Those results landed her a call-up to the national girls’ squad in December – capping another successful year on the course for the 15-year-old.

“I was very happy with my 2023 season, and ending the year with being selected for the girls’ squad was amazing,” says Charlotte – who is ranked number one in England and ninth in Europe at U16 level.

“Representing England in the Spain, Switzerland and Ireland matches was the most fun. Being part of the team is so different to individual competitions, especially the foursomes matches, and I can’t wait to add to those experiences this year – especially if I’m selected to travel to some of the away matches.”

As well as her team success in 2023, Charlotte added more individual honours to her list of achievements.

“The win at the North of England was a highlight,” she says. “I targeted that one, and Pannal, as somewhere I had a chance to play well.

“Having a five-shot lead on the final day was a bit different, but I stayed steady and didn’t make any big mistakes.

“I’m also proud that I made the cut in every event I played in, and got into the matchplay stages in some big events. I wanted to build on 2022 and the U14s win, and I think I did that with results and improvements in things like my course management and being able to shoot under-par more often.”

Hard work is paying off for Charlotte early in her golfing career. Having been part of the North of England Futures and England Regional Squads coached by JJ Vallely – often working with older girls including England internationals Rachel Gourley and Maggie Whitehead – she has progressed into the national squad system for 2024, where she will follow in the footsteps of players including Rachel and Maggie as well as Rosie Belsham and former Women’s Amateur champion Jess Baker.

Charlotte’s success, both nationally and locally – she became the youngest-ever winner of the Northumberland ladies County Championship at Blyth in 2022 at just 14, beating a record held by Rosie, before defending the title last season at Hexham, beating her older sister Zara in the final – added to a growing list of achievements by North East-based golfers.

When I got into the Futures and Regional squads, I was around Rachel, Maggie and Zara a lot. Most of the girls were older than me in those squads, which gave me so much to aim for. Having fun competitions with the girls was so helpful, and it felt like such a big achievement when I could beat them.

Charlotte and Zara Naughton at the Northumberland Ladies County Championship at Hexham in 2023

“Being around all the girls who’ve played for England also made playing in events easier,” adds Charlotte – who played in Wee Wonders and US Kids events from the age of seven and has teamed up with all four of the Northumberland-based internationals in county colours.

“We’ll play practice rounds together if we can, and I’ve had so much help from the girls. I also get to play and practice a lot with Louisa Hamilton and Antonia Emmerson, and share lots about what’s going on in golf and outside of it.

“Being in the squads – and playing junior golf at Heworth, Ponteland and Matfen Hall – has been really helpful as there were girls to play with all the time. I’ve been so lucky to have that.”

As well as the England girls, Charlotte has her older sister, Zara – who will join the golf programme at East Tennessee State University in 2024 – to look up to and compete against.

“We’re very competitive,” says Charlotte. “We can be friendly sometimes though. Zara’s really good and we never want to lose to each other, which makes our practice super productive. She’s two years older than me and whenever she’s done something, I’ve wanted to do it too.

“The county championship at Hexham was fun, though the competitiveness came out when I went up in the match for the first time. Zara will say the win was down to holing lots of crazy putts, but I’d say I played better.”

Golf has been a huge part of Charlotte’s life since the age of five. Having been inspired by her older sister and junior coaching sessions, first with the juniors at Matfen Hall, she continues to be fully committed to her golfing journey – which will be split around her GCSE exams this summer.

“Getting started with the junior coaching at Matfen was so much fun,” says Charlotte. “We played loads of fun games with the boys and girls. While we were learning to play golf, it was always about having fun.

“It can be hard to enjoy those sessions in the winter, your hands get so cold, but they helped me so much and I’m definitely a tougher golfer because of them.”

Charlotte Naughton (Photography by Kevin Gibson)

Charlotte switched coaches in 2023 – teaming up with Longhirst-based Paul Fiddes, who has become a key part of her team.

“Moving over to working with Paul has been good, and we’ve made some positive changes,” she adds. “He’s also so supportive and came to Ireland and Hunstanton to watch me play last season, which was amazing.”

With two girls competing regionally and ultimately nationally, it’s no surprise golf is a huge part of the Naughtons’ life. Mum and dad Victoria and Paul – and grandad Eric – have been by Charlotte and Zara’s sides at every lesson, squad session, match and competition – at home and around the country.

“It’s OK – they’re really supportive,” says Charlotte on spending a huge amount of time on the road and at events with her parents. “Sometimes they get on my nerves, but it’s fun travelling together and going to different places. I’ve also had so much support from my grandad at home and at events – he’s my number one fan.”

In 2024, Charlotte will be part of the full national girls’ squad for the first time – joining some of the best female golfer in the country for winter training ahead of representing England in matches and tournaments.

“I was nervous when the phone rang,” says Charlotte. “Becca [Hembrough, England Golf women’s performance manager] called my mum and it was a bit of a shock. I knew I was on the edge of the squad, but I’m younger than lots of the other girls.

It’s exciting to be picked at 15 and be able to work with the girls that are a bit older while having another year to target success in the U16 events – and the older categories and women’s tournaments.

“To be picked is an amazing feeling. I’ve been working hard to get into the squad for so long and I’ve seen how much the girls ahead of me from Northumberland have enjoyed it. I didn’t know when it would happen, but I definitely wanted to do it.”

Charlotte has already begun working with the squad, travelling to Woodhall Spa for weekend training sessions and working with the England coaches. She’ll also be heading to Portugal in the February half-term for warm weather training.

“I can’t wait to play golf in a t-shirt!” she says after a long winter of practice in the North East. “Going into the training camps, I knew the coaches and the girls from the matches I’ve already played in.

“I’ve already learned so much new stuff, like drills and techniques to take forward. It all builds on the regional squad training I’ve done and takes it to the next level.”

As well as representing her country, Charlotte will be looking to add to her growing golf CV this season. Her goals in 2024 include finding success in the U16 events, continuing her streak of making cuts, and earning selections for England teams – particularly those set to travel overseas.

“There are so many events to look forward to and matches and tournaments I’d love to be selected to represent England in,” she says.

“It’s all about improving my golf though, that’s what leads to the results. I want to improve how I hole out – especially those birdie putts in the 8-15ft range. I also want to give myself more of those chances more often. It’s about finding 1% improvements all the time and then putting them together when it counts.”

Beyond her GCSEs, which she is working hard for while admitting she can’t wait to be on the golf course every day once the exams are over, Charlotte hopes to follow in the footsteps of many of the elite girls before her and attend college in the US.

“The golf route is so well laid out in front of me by the girls who’ve gone before, I know I just need to work hard and follow in their footsteps. I’m signed up with ProDream, and Zara is heading to college in the summer, so I’ll learn a lot from her.”

The pathway laid in front of Charlotte has undoubtedly inspired her to meet and already begin surpassing some of the achievements of those ahead of her on their own journeys in golf.

Having set records and won national titles at the age of just 15, she has the opportunity to add to the region’s growing stature on the national stage more this season and beyond, and she’s certainly committed to doing so.