Miles on the minivan

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

WOLF CREEK -- The way Louis Giannitsos sees it, all the gasoline, tire treads and time he burns criss-crossing the province in search of golf tournaments is well-spent.

And he spends a lot of it.

"My son got hooked last year, so now we're really doing a lot of events," said Giannitsos, who figures he's wheeled his son Dimitrios to 15 stops this summer, all of them long hauls. "We live in Edson, so we have to travel quite a bit - usually three hours to get to a tournament, five or six hours there, and then three hours back - but we enjoy it."

As the legend of Tiger Woods grows with each victory, golf's popularity among teens is at an all-time high. In Alberta, thousands of kids play in dozens of tournaments every summer - and someone has to get them there. They might be able to hit a golf ball 250 yards, but they still can't drive.

Yesterday, the convoy rolled into Wolf Creek for the McLennan-Ross Sun Junior Golf Tour championship. Minivans, SUVs, cars, trucks and just about anything else that can haul a kid and his clubs across the province converged for the final event of a 27-stop circuit that began in May.

"It's been fun," said Shale and Brecken Anderson's mom, Linda. "But it means going out of town a lot, a lot of long days where you're not doing so much, other than waiting for them to come off the course."

The parents commit more time to this, between travel, registration and warm-up, a five-hour round and a post-tournament banquet, than soccer moms and hockey dads will ever know.

"Today we left at 8 or 8:30 and we won't be back in Calgary until 8 or 8:30," said Anderson, who uses the five hours while her kids are playing to catch up on work (since they get too nervous when she watches).

"It's lot's of driving," adds Mary O'Neill, who takes summers off to accommodate her son Shane's tournament schedule. "We've been to Barrhead, Athabasca, Calgary, Sundre, all over Alberta. I put lots of kilometres on my van in the summer. But it's a nice way to spend the day, walking around and watching the kids."

And the way most of these parents see it, if their child is going to invest his or her time and energy in something, it might as well be an outdoor activity that stresses sportsmanship and etiquette.

"It's the best," said Giannitsos. "The kids have to dress up, they have to show a good attitude, they are all behaving themselves. He meets a lot of friends. I like everything about the game. I don't play it, but I love everything about it.

"He plays hockey, too, but I don't like it as much. Especially when he's in the corner and a big kid comes in behind him. Golf is a gentlemen's sport. I don't mind spending the time or money."

None of them do, or they wouldn't be here. It's better than sending them off to the mall, wondering where they are and what they're doing.

"This is a great environment," said O'Neill, after catching up with a few of the the McLennan Ross-Sun regulars. "You know where your kids are, it's healthy for them, they're learning something."

And the parental meddling that's such a distasteful aspect of hockey doesn't exist here. Tour rules state that during play, parents stay 30 yards from the competitors at all times. They can watch, from a distance, but there is to be no interaction whatsoever.

It's just kids, playing with kids, in a league that emphasizes behaviour more than skill. For these parents, it's worth the gas money.

"These events stress being on time, being dressed a certain way, being respectful," said Anderson, adding a child won't be exposed to many bad influences on a putting green.

"These are good kids for them to get to know. And if they stick with golf, they'll be able to keep playing with a lot of them for the rest of their lives."


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