PONOKA — The McLennan Ross Junior Golf Tour is set to tee off its 20th season, but the tour’s executive director Dunc Mills never envisioned this anniversary.
“I never thought when we got the tour started in the spring of 1996 that we’d be here two decades later, but here we are,” he said at the tour’s media day at Wolf Creek Golf Resort on Monday. “It’s a way to reflect back on where we’ve come from in the last 20 years and the thousands of kids from across the province that have played on the tour. I look forward to the next however many years we want to keep this going, but it’s a good chance to catch our breath and look back and look forward at the same time.”
The tour has served as a launching pad for a number of top junior golfers who have turned into professionals and others who have gone on to earn educations due to their golfing.
Due to the support of sponsors the tour has provided $72,000 in academic scholarships to the Alberta Golf Scholarship Foundation.
One of those players that have developed on the tour is Red Deer’s Clare McMahon, 16, who golfs out of the Balmoral Golf Club and is entering her fifth year on the McLennan Ross.
“Competitive golf is a lot different than just playing,” she said. “There There’s other girls who are right there and you want to beat them, it’s not just ‘I want to play well.’ This tour is really good because you get a mix of lots of different girls. You get girls who are 2-hanicaps and girls that are 20-handicaps and they all come and play and compete at the same level.”
Last year McMahon won six times on tour and captured the order of merit with 695 points.
She is just beginning the process of searching out a post-secondary school as she heads into Grade 12 next year. For most golfers her age, this is one of the biggest years of their career. She already had an offer last year from a school in Texas, not knowing her age just her high placement on tour, but of course was too early.
“I’ve been looking at lots of different schools, been sending lots of different emails, making lots of phone calls,” said McMahon. “I’m looking at NCAA Div. 2 schools, anywhere that has a good program that is going to help me grow as a player and get and education.”
Mills says he is starting to see an upswing in numbers of junior players on tour after a period of five years where there was a bit of a decline.
He says this is likely due to parents who were caught up in golf’s explosion in the mid-to late 90s with Tiger-mania and the rise of Mike Weir are now getting their kids into the game.
“A lot of pros I talk to and junior coordinators tell me that their programs are on the rise and bursting at the seams, we’ve got a club down the road here in Crossfield with like 700 kids in it,” said Mills. “There are an awful lot of kids that are discovering the game and getting exposed to it by their parents who came up through junior golf 20-30 years ago.”
With an all-time high number of Canadians on the PGA Tour, if someone like a Graeme DeLaet breaks through into the upper echelon of golfers, there could be a similar rise in numbers as when Weir won the Masters 2003.
“There’s no question if we had a young man or woman from Alberta on the PGA or LPGA tour that they’d be a great role model for these young kids,” said Mills.
He points to potential up and coming young stars like Tyler Saunders, Jaclyn Lee, Jennifer Ha, Riley Fleming and Wilson Bateman who got their start on this tour and could break through soon on a top tour.
“The McLennan Ross Tour didn’t make these kids great players, they work at it, they’re talented, they’ve put in the time and the money and the effort to do it, but I like to think we played a part in it for sure,” said Mills.
This year the tour will consist of 26 tournaments, starting on June 6 at the Drayton Valley Golf Club and will wrap up with it’s championship on Aug. 31 at Wolf Creek. Other stops in Central Alberta include Innisfail Golf Club on July 7, Lacombe Golf Club on July 8, Ponoka Golf Club on July 13, Camrose Golf Club on July 16 and Olds Golf Club on July 22.