Alberta Golf High-Performance ProgramWritten by Todd Saelhof
Written by Todd Saelhof
Big names from the past have benefitted from it.
So, now, are present and future talents — ones you could well see someday swinging for glory at Pebble Beach or Augusta National.
That’s the high ceiling — the sky-high ceiling, if you will — of success enjoyed by the Alberta Golf High-Performance Player Support Program.
But while shooting Albertans onto tour play is certainly a feather in its cap, the main tee-up of the provincial body’s strategy is to help launch promising golfers as deep as possible into the sport, from club-level play to regional championships and national tournaments and onwards to varsity and collegiate golf.
“The main objective is to see provincial players receive a post-secondary scholarship,” said John Deneer, Alberta Golf Director of Competitions and Athlete Development and the lead man in the high-performance program. “But when juniors who have come through the program obtain an NCAA or U SPORTS scholarship and play well at national championships or play well at NCAA championships down south, that’s the best part.”
Today the stars are Calgary’s Brendan MacDougall, now a pro after graduating from the NCAA’s Nevada Wolf Pack, and Rycroft’s Max Sekulic, a burgeoning regular on PGA Tour Americas, after honing his game with the NCAA’s Washington State Cougars.
Max Sekulic. 2023 Alberta Open Champion
They are all poster boys of the how far the Alberta Golf’s high-performance road-map can take talents.
“We don’t have Alberta coaches on staff necessarily, but we work closely with about 10-12 PGA of Canada Professionals who are high-level coaches,” said Deneer, a PGA pro and high-performance coach himself. “We contract them to help us with national championships and preparation camps and different activities. If you come to us as a 16-year-old high-level player, we’re not necessarily going to have a training camp set up, but we’re going to align you with coaches who work with players at your level and align you with sports psychologists and fitness professionals. We also share insight into scheduling and championships. We’re trying to be the touch-point for any questions families have for what they can do to help their child succeed.”
Alberta Golf scouts out potentially golf-gifted kids for its tiered program by tracking their results from club events.
Tier 1, says Deneer, consists of any junior in the province at the club level.
Tier 2 currently features 73 golfers who have checked promising achievement boxes with their game, Tier 3 — with 29 players in place for 2024 — is where most of the support from Alberta Golf kicks in. That being primarily financial.
And the only Albertan to get to Tier 4 for 2024 is 14-year-old Eileen Park. The Red Deer standout won the 2023 Canadian Junior Girls Championship and defended her title at the Alberta U19 Championship and is Alberta Golf’s first Tier 4 athlete since Jaclyn Lee in 2019.
Eileen Park. 2023 Canadian Junior Girls and Alberta U19 Championship
“Tier 4 is a hard-to-reach level, and we want it to be that way” Deneer said. “We’re not trying to sugar-coat and make it easy. We want players to earn their spot. The number of players at each tier has been increasing every year over the last four or 5 years. Our players are getting better.”
Other Albertans competing or who have recently graduated collegiately include Calgary’s Annabelle Ackroyd, attending Elon University in North Carolina. Male Albertans at NCAA universities include Sylvan Lake’s Carter Graf and Pincher Creek’s Ethan Choi, both with the North Carolina State Wolfpack as well as Lacombe’s Brady McKinlay, with the Utah Valley State Wolverines, a four-time winner in 2023. 2023 Alberta Men’s Amateur champion Ethan Wilson is in his first year at the University of Illinois.
“Seeing players like them come up through the program and succeeding is fantastic,” Deneer said. “There are so many good young players — 13, 14 and 15 year-olds — that it’s exciting to see what they put into their development and where they can go.”
Full bios on the 2024 Tier 3 and 4 players will be released on February 1st.