Alberta Golfer Magazine Article: Alberta Golf’s Sport Development Program

Written by Jim Claggett

The mantra in the world of small business has been “shop local”.

It came about in part to battle the perception if you wanted something good you had to head to the big city to get what you were looking for.

In the world of golf in Alberta, it could be argued there was a similar pattern; if you wanted to be an elite player you needed instruction from the big city in your region, either Calgary or Edmonton.

So, Alberta Golf made some directional changes in order to reach more players in those outlying communities. The Sport Development Program arrived on the scene. The golf version of shopping locally.

“The Sport Development Program has been around for many years and the key drivers are that it’s provincial and sustainable,” explained Jennifer Davison, Director of Sport Development for Alberta Golf. “It was the Team Alberta program(previously) which was too centralized with the bigger cities. Three years ago, we made some changes which seem to be working and reaching more players in the outlying communities.”

The reach certainly branched out and Max Sekulic is a prime example of just how this program is working.

The 20-year-old was born in Rycroft, Alberta, about 45 minutes north of Grande Prairie on Highway 2. His early golf experience was teeing it up at Chinook Valley Golf Course in Woking, south of Rycroft.

The interest in the game was there for Max. He readily admits he’s always had the “all in” attitude-putting in the hard work in order to squeeze the most out of your best effort. But, like most young players he needed help to get to where he needed to be in order to compete on a much larger stage.

Once Max got onto the radar of Alberta Golf, he was already an accomplished golfer, said Davison. He got there by using his local resources like local PGA professionals Rhona Law and Bobby Martens at the Dunes Golf and Winter Club in Grande Prairie and the Grande Prairie Country Club.

“We’re trying to support those athletes on those pathways they’re already on no matter where in Alberta they honed their skills,” she said. “They didn’t need to travel to a big centre to continue to be successful. There are talented golf professionals, coaches and teachers all over the province and we want to encourage and support those professionals in those communities to help build these players,” she said.

Sekulic has made the most of the opportunity presented to him through the program, playing on the junior development team in 2015, on Team Alberta in 2016 and the 2017 Canadian National Junior development team. He has entered the college ranks on his road to success at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix and is transferring to Washington State for the next semester for his last two years of eligibility. He started 2020 off right with a sparkling 66 in the final round of the Saguaro Open at Ak Chin Southern Dunes in January to tie for the lead and then won a one-hole playoff to claim the title.

It’s just more proof about how the Sport Development Program can be a valuable  tool in a player’s progression.

“It gets you around players that are as good if not better than you and I think that’s important for anything,” Sekulic said about the program. “I got to be around better players, it gives you the right mind set to be better and you see what better players do. It gives you a good idea of what the next level looks like.”

He said there is more than putting the ball in the hole to be competitive at the next level, including the physical, mental and training which goes into those high-level players who succeed.

The program allowed him to do all that plus be able to bounce questions and ideas off other players and coaches. Accessible funding through the program eased the financial hit to be able to do what was needed to move up the ladder.

“It’s the opportunity for you to be around people who are going through the same thing. It makes the journey feel less lonely because you can ask questions. There are people you can talk to about it.”

The Hub system is something Alberta Golf is putting in place for 2020 which will extend its reach to all corners of the province and be an extension of what happens with Alberta Golf in Edmonton or Calgary. Davison says this includes being a point of contact for a player who may be just getting into the competitive side of golf or just starting the game fresh.

“We want to have the local pros, local key people to be the main contact for Alberta Golf. They’re representing our brand, our message, our concepts but they’re a local person for these players and families to go to and have these conversations one on one.”

Sekulic appears to be reaping all the benefits of the program which essentially changed his path when it came to golf. He says he likely would have tried competitive golf outside of the Sport Development program, but he admits there’s a good chance he wouldn’t be where he is today without it.

“I would probably just be hitting golf balls and hanging out with my buddies. Just being more like a recreational golfer,” he said. “It’s almost easier to take it seriously when you’re in that environment and someone is telling you that you can do this,” he said. “I probably would have been just a regular student going to university and then playing golf for fun if it wasn’t for the player support program.”

It knits together all the skills young men and women need in order to raise their game and their profile in the sport.

“It removes the uncertainties; you know what to expect and it’s always easier to have an eased mind when you’re going to the next level when you know what’s next, “said Sekulic.

Shopping at home just got a whole lot better for golfers looking to raise their game.