Future LinksWritten by Jim Claggett
Golf is a game for life and Future Links, through Golf Canada, has plenty of options to get you started on the right path and keep you there.
Since 1996 more than one million golfers aged five to 18 have gone through some part of the myriad of programs involving players of all abilities, professionals who lead the instruction and golf facilities which play host to events.
“One example is the Golf in School program, it has three levels which basically cover students from kindergarten to when they leave school”, said Jeff Thompson, Chief Sport Officer at Golf Canada. He expects around 370 thousand golfers will take part in 2018. This is the definition of grassroots.
“We’re not trying to develop golfers in our Golf in School program. We’re trying to develop kids who may have an interest in actually learning the game and experiencing the game.”
Thompson says this program is a chance to expose kids to the game at the same time they are being shown other sports like basketball, volleyball and soccer.
“Research shows if you don’t reach these young people by the age of 12, the chances of them picking up a sport goes down drastically.”
Other branches on the Future Links tree include Learn to Play, Test Your Skills, Girls Only, Order of Merit and the very popular mobile clinics.
“They (the clinics) are vehicles that are driven by PGA professionals and outfitted with clubs. They will go to where the kids are, and it could be at summer camps, boys and girls clubs, YMCA’s or recreation centres,” said Thompson. “I think this year we’ll be around 65 thousand kids that will have been engaged through the mobile clinic program.”
Future Links is part and parcel of the community outreach strategy Alberta Golf has crafted which expands the scope of who they are reaching and how they’re getting to them, said Jennifer Davison, Director, Sport Development and High Performance for Alberta Golf.
Bringing onboard the PGA of Canada professionals to help run these events was a smart move. Davison said they are the ones who can provide that next level of instruction and are passionate about bringing the game to the kids.
“Players are getting great opportunities in their own backyard and the best of the best are teaching them,” she said.
Golf Canada develops these programs for use and it’s up to provincial bodies like Alberta Golf to deliver them. But it’s not a case of dropping of material to the facilities, never to be seen again.
Davison says Alberta Golf will support them in some way to make things work and put a face to the facility of the person conducting the program,
“It’s making the connection between these grassroots programs and connecting them to a facility, whether that be a driving range or a golf course or a golf professional in that area.”
A prime example of how this all comes together would be the Derrick Golf and Winter Club in Edmonton which has been a part of Future Links for several years.
Associate professional Adam Werbicki says the resources provided by Future Links allows them to run successful events.
“It’s great for the young professionals or even community golf coaches or facilities that are looking to jump start a junior program or maybe add more to what they currently do.”
Support for Future Links adds up to about $500 thousand taking various forms from Sport Canada, Acura, Puma, ClubLink, PGA of Canada and the Royal & Ancient. With no cost to the facility Werbicki says he fully recommends taking full advantage of what’s being provided.
“Talk to other professionals that are using the program and get yourself right in there using it. Don’t wait. There’s no downside in using it.”
Werbicki says nobody is telling the facilities what to do with the resources but instead it’s a chance to pick and choose what your membership might want while you can flesh it out as you see fit.
“There is a lot of planning and preparing which goes into these events,” said Werbicki. “Tools like what Future Links provides can help guide a professional when hosting an event and do what is important-spend time with the kids.”
It’s a tried and true program with plenty of resources for parents, professionals and community golf coaches, Werbicki added.
Davison says the thought process is to expand on what is being provided and not try to re-invent what’s already there. Like anything else however, there is always room for improvement.
Future Links looks much different today than when it started in 1996 and a really important watermark was in 2007 with the creation of the long-term player development guide. It was done in partnership with PGA of Canada and Sport Canada as a blueprint on how to develop in the sport of golf from the time you first pick up a club.
Golf Canada put Future Links under a microscope to give it a real refresh as to what was being delivered. The same process was recently undertaken in late 2017 to see what are the needs today for junior golf in the country and how does Future Links need to evolve, said Thompson.
He says with Golf in School and the mobile clinics, players get a first taste of the game but then there are more levels to discover and complete while developing a golfer.
“Parents need to see that the sport has a plan of how my son or daughter is going to progress in the sport,” said Thompson.
Davison added, Alberta Golf wants to get away from the idea these tiers are vertical, that one level is better than the other.
“What we’re trying to promote is that these tiers are horizontal and that we’re trying to best match where a golfer is and what we can do to support their growth and development.”
With golf being a game for a lifetime it’s good to know the people who share some of the responsibility to grow the game have a concrete system in place which gives parents of young players a more defined road map of how to negotiate this path.
This article was originally published in the 2018 edition of The Alberta Golfer Magazine. To view the full magazine, click here.