Performance centre has expanded to deal with demand
Dave Smallwood had a problem. But it was a good problem to have. Heading up one of the most successful junior golf programs in the province, the director of instruction at the Golf Performance Centre at Whistle Bear Golf Club was starting to garner interest outside of the team's parameters.
Smallwood had started the elite Junior Performance Team six years ago when he came to Whistle Bear from the Galt Country Club. The team had progressively grown each year, to 18 in 2011, with six girls and 12 boys.
But, according to Smallwood, through word of mouth and talk amongst young golfers, he began receiving bios from players that weren't quite at the elite level.
“So I sat down and wondered, I have all these kids that want to be part of the program, but aren’t good enough or experienced enough to be part of it,” said Smallwood. “But if I don’t help them, how do they ever get to be part of the program. My approach to the junior team changed.”
Smallwood decided to align himself with what Golf Canada and the GAO (Golf Association of Ontario) is doing with their development centres and their pyramid of excellence. Now, with the new program, Smallwood has watched the team balloon from 18 to 47 players, all at different levels of skill and experience.
The bottom rung of the pyramid for golfers is the new competitor program, which usually ranges in age, from nine to 14. The name is indicative of the level of play, with golfers who are still developing being initiated into competition.
The next level is the developing competitor program, where golfers have developed their skills and are a bit older, and will play in local and provincial competitions.
The top level is the advanced competitive program, which is the past elite level that the team has become known for. Some of the stars of that team are Cambridge's Matt Chaisson and Kitchener's Max Clift. Chaisson has been at the elite level for five years and Clift for three, and both play in national and international tournaments.
On the girls' side, Smallwood has seen the team grow by four players, to 10. He wants to nurture the game for girls, as its popularity hasn’t exactly exploded just yet. The evidence can be seen every year at the boys' and girls' bantam championships in Cambridge, when the boys' side has qualifiers for the tournament, while the girls get maybe a dozen golfers. Whoever shows up gets the chance to compete.
“That’s the bottom of the pyramid. Those are the people that have to be initiated at a real young age – anywhere from five to 10, 12 years old – and introduced at that level to what she’s doing. Then they move up into the new competitive program.”
The way he's done that is by appointing Theresa McDermott as the club's Future Links representative, besides heading up the Girls' Club on Saturdays. Future Links, Canada's national junior golf development program, teaches every aspect of the game, right from the Learn to Play stage.
McDermott isn't the only one on staff to help the new program. Mike Martz is head coach of new players, Mark Wilson leads the developing players and Mike Skimson heads up the advanced team. Carrie Vaughan, who used to be in charge of the junior girls at Glen Abbey Golf Course, is the girls' coach. Smallwood oversees the whole operation.
Getting players to work their way up the ladder includes keeping them interested. Smallwood encourages players to compete on the Maple Leaf Junior Tour and Canadian Junior Golf Association events, as the golfers compete within their own age group, giving them a chance to succeed. He also gets the newbies to play in Junior Linkster events, where tournaments are played at shorter courses and parents can caddie.
At Whistle Bear, Smallwood, head professional Chris Wehrle and managing partner Brad Duench have created a junior league that runs every Monday. Some of the incentives are having the top three on the Order of Merit move into the men's club championship and when the MJT invitational was at Whistle Bear, the Order of Merit leader was exempted into the tournament, with the course paying the entrance fee.
Despite the team more than doubling since last year, Smallwood doesn't see a point where he'd have to find a cut-off point for team members. Smallwood said he expects the team to grow next season and he starts accepting bios in October.
In addition, a free seminar for girls runs Aug. 30, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The seminar includes golf style and etiquette, help with chipping and putting and the use of golf clubs.
Girls will also get to play a hole of golf. Lunch is included and there will be a guest speaker. Girls can register by calling 519-650-2327, or e-mail Chris Wehrle at chrisw@whistle bear.ca.