Golf In Schools Mentoring Takes A Special Skill, But Volunteers Can Achieve Great Things (Part 2 of 2)

Golf in Schools Adopt a School Week

EDMONTON, Alberta (Gord Montgomery/iG) — While Golf Canada continues to trumpet its success with the Golf in Schools (GIS) program, noting that in 2016 they added over 200 more schools with an average of 120 kids per, the program isn’t reaching every school in every corner of the country.

The reasoning for that could be manyfold but the one overriding factor seems to be that instructors knowledgeable in the sport and program are hard to come by. Professional golf staff who aren’t employed by a course year round often don’t have the time, or desire, to commit to volunteer work to pass along a love of the game. And teachers, who may not be aficionados of the sport, may not want to be bothered with adding another learning/teaching stream into an already full schedule.

So that essentially leaves GIS instruction in the hands of PGA community golf coach trained volunteers who are willing to step in to pass along their valuable game knowledge. But, says one Edmonton golf pro who has shared his passion for the game to more kids than he can count, using community people to lead this introductory course may not be the best solution. He does feel however, that under trained leadership, such volunteers are critical.

Adam Werbicki from the Derrick Golf & Country Club in Edmonton feels the best way of getting the national program into schools period, is for golf pros to attend a teachers’ convention, where educators are gathered, to present what the GIS program is and pro-motes. He did note that some schools have said they have the program get but have never used it.

“Teachers are already amazing with what they do. We feel a lot of times it’s just getting them to use the gear and find out how they can tailor it to themselves,” Werbicki said of having more schools buying into this program. “Then the teachers feel more confident opening it up and using it,” for a few weeks as a gym class at their school.

While one community volunteer, Carrie Julie in Eastern Canada has launched a successful program on her own, Werbicki doesn’t see that as as the best solution to getting this program in front of kids. Julie took the bull by the horns in Fenwick, Ont., and as a non-golfer has introduced over 1,000 kids in six different schools to golf through her own initiative. Webicki feels that though isn’t giving the kids, or teachers, the best start possi-ble in learning the game.

“You don’t have to (be a professional) but I think what it does is get it off the ground,” he said of trained golf personnel heading up the program. “It’s amazing when there’s a (golf) professional there and the teacher gets to work alongside them, or help introduce it, to think, “Hey. I know a little bit more,”” and perhaps will take teaching kids the sport more seriously.

However, one principal in Ontario, who has seen a successful volunteer-led program run in her elementary school, doesn’t feel a golf professional necessarily needs to be the lead instructor.

Jennifer DeCoss noted, “In regard to whether it should be (led by) a golf pro or not, in our school, you have to instil that love first to rope them in. The skills they’re learning are unbelievable. We have a couple of golfers on our staff and they are so impressed with the program.

“In regards to the difference between a pro or a non-pro, I’m loving the program,” which in her school is run without a golf pro, ended DeCoss.

There are two other strong voices in the desire to see trained GIS volunteers like Carrie lead the charge into new territories. One is from Alberta Golf, the other from Golf Cana-da itself.

Jennifer Davison, the coordinator of Golf Course Services and Community Events with Alberta Golf, said her organization has no problem with properly trained volunteers tak-ing the lead in something like the Golf in Schools program as long as they are properly trained by a CPGA pro first.

And Bill Murchison, the Director of Instruction and Corporate Programs at the Golf Can-ada Calgary Centre, echoes that sentiment.

“The idea is to expose the kids to golf. It’s not high level training. It’s simply putting golf clubs in kids’ hands,” said Davison. “I don’t think we can expect golf professionals to necessarily take this on, so there has to be a happy medium.”

As for Murchison, he said of community volunteers leading such programs: “From a Grow the Game standpoint we clearly want to have as many people helping as we can,”adding that in other minor sports like hockey and soccer the first coaching often comes from community volunteers. “Getting some trained people with volunteers is going to help us.”

Now it’s not that Werbicki doesn’t see volunteers as a valuable addition to the teacher or pro, but he feels trained teaching staff are the best ones to lead this charge.

“Does it need a professional?” Werbicki queried. “I think it needs somebody to lift it off the ground.”

Julie and her husband, Jeremy, successfully lifted the GIS program off the ground in On-tario and have no intention of stopping what they’re doing. The off-shoot of their GIS program though does have some payback for them, and the Sawmill Golf Course, which is a family business.

The program lead, who is the GM at Sawmill, said the course paid the original cost for a bag of gear needed for the school course and is paying for the busing and professional help when they load the school students up and haul them to their course’s driving range on the final day of GIS classes. There, the kids get to experience the thrill of hitting “real” shots outdoors.

“I think the schools saw how committed we are to this,” Julie Carrie said about how well this idea has been accepted in her area. “The excitement about the sport of golf has been created. By the end, I’ve got kids coming up, hugging me and saying, ‘Can you tell my parents I want to play golf this summer?’”

As for Werbicki, he suggests that volunteers are a huge part of any successful program and that they can help develop the enthusiasm and desire to make the sport catch on with kids. It’s just that he’d rather see a trained golf pro, or teacher, lead the way.

“It’s the person involved that makes it go. If you have the right people involved, and the right number of people, it takes off like crazy. It’s a lot of work, no doubt about it. You can’t just walk in; you need to be prepared.

“If you find the right person to do it, they’re worth a ton.”

So maybe, just maybe, if a few good volunteers can be found in each community that seems to be lacking in this Grow the Game concept, then the bare bones of the game can be presented and the sport can begin to once again grow on an annual basis beyond where it stands now.

Only time will tell, but the program, the schools and the students are all there so all that’s left is for those willing to lend a hand to step up, be they trained professionals or trained community volunteers, and make themselves known to keep this program, and the sport of golf itself, growing.