Learning life through golf

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

The McLennan-Ross Sun Junior Golf Tour was never intended to be a golf factory.

Churning out future touring pros and NCAA scholarship recipients has never been high on the their long list of priorities. Nope, the most successful junior tour in the province set its sights a little higher than that: A fun, well-organized place for Alberta's kids to learn and play the game.

And as the McLennan-Ross Sun Tour begins its second decade, the Day Oners can't help but marvel at how far they've all come.

"When I think back a decade ago, we had 40 kids at our first event," said Tour Director Dunc Mills at the Year 11 kick off Monday at Wolf Creek Golf Resort. "I wasn't quite sure what we had on our hands, I don't think anybody did."

What they have on their hands today is a 27-stop summer tour, boasting as many as 120 kids per event, a Tour Championship at Wolf Creek, a mid-season "major" at Northern Bear, strong corporate support, an annual scholarship fund and a list of alumni thousands of names long.

"I don't think anyone can say the golf landscape in Alberta hasn't changed over the last 10 years," said Mills, who oversees all 27 stops. "And it's largely because of what we've done with this junior tour. The Alberta Golf Association considers this their official developmental tour in junior golf."

SPREAD LIKE WILDFIRE

It started small, but word of mouth spread like wildfire in a dry Alberta summer. The kids loved playing in tournament golf conditions and their parents loved the emphasis placed on rules, etiquette, sportsmanship and behavior.

"There are just thousands of kids who have come through the Tour," said Mills. "They're not going to be touring pros - that's just a small pyramid at the top - but we think all of the kids who've played the tour over the last 10 years have learned something about themselves, and have gained life skills they're going to need to help them through their lives. From that point of view I think we've been very successful."

Tom Ross of the law firm McLennan-Ross sees the tour as sponsorship money well spent.

"We're all great fans of the game," he said. "It's a fantastic sporting event but it's also a great game for learning the skills and the tools of life.

"You'd like to see graduates of this tour going on and achieving great things in golf, but, if nothing else, you like to see them enjoying the game and developing skills that last a lifetime. The kids on this tour embody the virtues that we as sponsors wish to promote."

OPENS DOORS

And for the very elite, the tour has opened many doors.

"Definitely," said Jordan Krulicki of Red Deer, who was 17 when he won the Tour Championship last season, shooting 71 at the Wolf. "This tour is a huge opportunity to go on to bigger things. (2003 Tour Champion) Mitch Evanecz is the one who told me about this tour and he's going to college in Montana now."

"There are a lot more schools from the states that recruit in Canada now," said Mills. "They tend to be Division II or mid-majors, and not every kid is getting a full ride. A lot of them starting out are getting half to 60% (paid scholarship) and by the time they get to their senior year it's a full ride - but they're getting some educational support."

Girls especially. US schools have been mining Alberta for years in search of female players.

"Absolutely," said Mills.

"If you're a junior girl and can break 80, somebody is going to give you a lot of help for your university."

This season begins June 10 in Drayton Valley and wraps up at the annual Tour Championship Aug. 28 at Wolf Creek.


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