Kids' program tees up golfers for future

ERIC BENDER -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:16 AM ET

Golf is played literally at the grassroots level, so it's fitting the game is being fostered from the ground up in communities across Canada.

The program that does that, CN Future Links, is included in the CN Canadian Women's Open at the London Hunt and Country Club.

Yesterday, more than 180 children were shown the basics of the game. Today, 45 of them will get a further taste for the game by going inside the ropes for Walk With Pro as the professionals acclimatize themselves for the competition, which starts tomorrow.

"Future Links is an outreach program for more exposure to advanced golf and to provide programs for different levels of ability," said Paul MacDonald, managing director of golf programs and services for the RCGA.

It's co-ordinated and partly funded by the RCGA, the CPGA and the 10 provincial golf associations, with CN as sponsor.

Started in 1996 with 3,500 children, Future Links grew to 95,000 enrolments last year. "We're hoping to go over 100,000 this year and our goal is to have 500,000 in the next five years," MacDonald said.

He said the program began because the number of youngsters getting into golf was "flat" in the mid-'90s.

It had nothing at the grassroots like hockey with its multitude of arenas, coaches and associations. Only golf courses that had a junior program provided anything close, MacDonald said.

Future Links, with an annual budget of just under $1 million, is also a plan to sustain golf course memberships.

Making courses accessible to children was the initial task. "Historically kids can't get on until they are 11 or 12 and then only with an adult," MacDonald said.

Future Links "provides a junior program in a box," he said. Typically, the program is done through golf courses, but increasingly schools are recognizing the program.

Future Links also has a travelling clinic with a dedicated pro and has depots across Canada where children can get fit-for-size equipment to try the game with little cost.

Kaitlin Smith, 12, of Ilderton, said "getting to swing the club" was her big thrill at yesterday's clinic.

She first tried the game three years ago and has taken lessons at Llyndinshire golf course and attended a clinic put on by the Optimist Club. She also plays soccer, but her main activity is dance -- jazz, tap, ballet. Her favourite golfer is Natalie Gulbis, who arrived at the course yesterday amid a flurry of attention.

Caitlin Creel, 9, came from Stouffville to attend the clinic.

"I've been to a golf camp but nothing like this," Caitlin said. "It's just fun to swing the club."

She began golfing when she was six and goes out twice a week with her father. She golfs with her parents and brother at various courses through Club Links. She is also into horseback riding. Her favourite golfers are Tiger Woods and Lorie Kane.

Future Links also aims to spot potential professionals. It ranks the top 150 young golfers in Canada, has six regional championships and is used as a feeder system for the national junior team. At last year's Canadian Open, four Future Links "grads" were entered. Not bad for a 10-year-old program.


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