The founding fathers of the McLennan Ross Sun Junior Golf Tour could not have envisioned the popularity, growth and success that the provincial circuit has seen over the last 13 years.
“We’ve had tens of thousands of kids come through the program,” McLennan Ross Tour executive director Dunc Mills said Tuesday at Wolf Creek Golf Resort, the site of the tour’s annual championship tournament, which this year is set for Aug. 31.
“The tour has been phenomenally successful. We wanted to provide a platform and an opportunity for junior golfers in Alberta to get tournament experience and to develop their games under pressure. We also wanted them to learn life skills to enhance their lives on and off the golf course. Traits like honesty, integrity and accountability . . . all the things that go with the game of golf. I’d like to think we’ve been pretty successful in that regard.”
The 2009 schedule opens May 30 at Golden, B.C., the site of the only tournament outside of Alberta, and includes another 24 stops. The first Central Alberta tournament is July 6 at Rocky Mountain House Pine Hills, with Olds Highlands and Lacombe hosting events July 7 and 9.
Ponoka is up on July 20 and tournaments in Wetaskiwin and Camrose are scheduled for July 22 and 23. Innisfail will host a McLennan Ross Sun event Aug. 10.
The new stops this year are Camrose and Calgary Country Hills, which recently hosted the Canadian junior men’s championship.
“We’ve been very happy with the steady growth we’ve had with the tour, although we’re not really trying to make it any bigger,” said Mills. “But we’re always trying to make the tour better by fine-tuning what we do for the kids, and I feel we’ve done a good job that way.”
As the McLennan Ross Sun Tour evolved over the years, Mills encountered more and more golf courses interested in climbing aboard.
“And that made my job pretty easy in coordinating these events,” he said. “The clubs give up their golf courses for nothing. Ryan (Wolf Creek director of golf Vold) gives us the use of this facility for the Tour Championship. That’s their gift back to help grow the game of golf, and for that we are very much appreciative.”
The young golfers burned up the various tour courses last summer, with the likes of Joel Shackleton of Fort Saskatchewan and Nicole Zhang of Calgary setting boys’ and girls’ scoring records with respective rounds of 63 at Wetaskiwin and 68 at Calgary McKenzie Meadows. In addition, Chase Teron of Red Deer shot a 64 at Canmore and Ryan Moore of Ponoka turned in a 66 on his home course.
“We saw some sparking play last year,” said Mills. “It was a tremendous year. It seemed like if you weren’t shooting four or five under par for awhile in the middle of the summer, that you didn’t have much of a chance. There were several outstanding results.”
Teron won three McLennan Ross Sun events and then captured the Tour championship for a second consecutive year. Kaitlin Allan of Edmonton, meanwhile, claimed the girls’ title for the second year in succession.
More than a few of last year’s stars may follow in the footsteps of McLennan Ross Sun Tour alumni, including the likes of Adrienne White of Red Deer, Ryan Plitz of Innisfail and Nicole Forschner of Sundre.
White played on the Cactus Tour this season and is striving for full-time playing status on the LPGA circuit, Plitz is a Canadian Pro Tour member and Forschner is the 2009 Alberta amateur women’s champion.
Other McLennan Ross Tour graduates include Pacific Coast Amateur champ Jordan Irwin of Calgary, Canadian Tour regulars Dale Vallely, Mike Mezei and Ryan Yip, Nationwide Tour player Dustin Risdon and 2009 Alberta Amateur men’s champion Scott Stiles.
“The list just goes on and on,” said Mills. “Don’t get me wrong — this tour didn’t make them great players. They work hard and they’re talented. But I think the opportunities we provided them helped them develop.”