The winds of change are blowing through a staple in the world of junior golf in Alberta.
For the first time in 27 years the championship of the McLennan Ross Alberta Junior Tour will not be held at the Wolf Creek Golf Resort near Ponoka.
With the uncertainty over the receivership situation at Wolf Creek there was a need to seek out a site for the Tour championship, said Duncan Mills, who has been at the helm of the tour since day one.
So, John Deneer with Alberta Golf reached out to Phil McCluskey, the head professional at River Bend Golf & Recreation Area.
“I think they wanted to keep it in Central Alberta and we wanted to get involved,” said McCluskey.
The tour will host a total of 23 events around Alberta this year, culminating at River Bend with dozens of young golfers qualifying during the summer.
McCluskey says River Bend’s interest in hosting the championship was logical in that they have a facility which can accommodate this type of tournament.
“The golf course is extremely playable. We do host the Maple Leaf Junior Tour here as well. We have the best practice area around and the kids really enjoy that,” he said.
Dunc Mills agreed with those thoughts.
“I think it will be an excellent location. Central, a good test of golf, but can be set up well for juniors.”
McCluskey added hosting the championship is also an excellent way to market their product to people from all over the province as many parents and family members turn out to watch.
McCluskey feels hosting these young players can only benefit the future of the game as they are the ones who will keep facilities open down the road.
“Somewhere along the line golf skipped a generation and so we can’t have that happen again or we will start to lose our momentum and then we will start to lose our golf courses to be very honest.”
The reality of the situation is there is a tremendous amount of competition for the recreational dollar from this age group. In order to get a seat at the table golf needs to promote itself, highlighting the individual aspect of the game.
“I think it’s the greatest thing in the world because when you do something good it’s you and when you do something bad it’s you. A lot of other sports aren’t necessarily like that,” he said. “So we have to get the kids, we have to hook them and we have to keep them.”
An example of the success being felt at River Bend is in the five to ten year old range. The program there had 170 kids involved.
“Once we get to the 14-16 year olds we start to lose them and so that’s the core that we really need to dig into,” he said.
That age group is what generally makes up the field in many of the McLennan Ross events. Young boys and girls who are just getting competitive and are seeing golf as maybe an opportunity for a scholarship, said McCluskey.
“Those are the ones we have to hit. We have to keep them going. They are going to be our next 25 to 35 year olds who are going to replace the 55 to 75 year olds right now. They are a huge, key demographic to the golf industry.” It is a game for life.
McCluskey feels there are some very positive spinoffs from hosting this event. The McLennan Ross Alberta Junior Tour keeps them engaged and provides an end goal, maybe a scholarship, a win. Whatever.
“If we can start supplying those goals for these kids, then we keep them hooked.”
If one looks back on the lengthy history of the Tour you can see not only very good golfers have emerged but also very good young people as well.
This feels like a very helpful wind of change.