A Lasting Impression
by Joe McLean
Undeniably the world of golf is a small one. That is especially true when you are considering the competitive golf scene in Eastern Ontario. Within that community you find many people that seem to make up the fabric of the sports existence. They are the golfers who always seem to be there – supporting events, other players, and in their own way, making a mark on the game and the people around them. Betty Mulville easily fits into that category, although it is hard to put any type of boundary on someone who has done so much beyond the ordinary.
A self-described “loner”, the truth is that Betty will never be alone, as she has touched the lives of so many students and fellow golf competitors who have become close friends and “golfing buddies”. As a teacher and award-winning sports coach in the Smiths Falls area for more than 38 years, in that time Betty has compiled a bevy of friends. Often many are former students who have developed a bond with Mulville due her willingness to provide mentorship. “She was my hero in high school,” says Sharon Ellis of Brockville. “I played on all her teams and I became a teacher because of her.” Still close friends, Sharon entrusted Betty to take her daughter, top amateur player Leigh Ann Ellis, to many golf tournaments when Sharon or husband were not available. “I wanted to be just like her. There were five of us who used to play basketball and were close friends and four of the five became teachers. We all looked up to her. She really took an interest in what you did and that made a big impact on all her students.”
Although sports have certainly been a cornerstone for Betty’s life, education has taken first priority. Growing up in Westport and Smiths Falls, she attended high school at Smiths Falls Collegiate. From there it was on to Queen’s University in Kingston, followed by Ottawa Teacher’s College and a stint at the University of Miami for graduate school. Betty’s goal was to become a teacher and possibly a school principal. The opportunities for a principal’s position were abundant, but Betty’s passion for coaching prevailed and knowing it would be hard to juggle both to her standards, she remained a teacher.
While she coached most sports, basketball was her passion and many of her students learned not just about the game, but received lessons on life that they were able to take forward into their adult years. “I can remember playing basketball and having my parents show up at a game.” Sharon Ellis recalls. “Immediately Betty made sure I was on the court so they could see me play. How many coaches would consider that?” She adds that Betty even drove a young group of girls to Kingston one night a week all winter long one year so they could be certified as basketball referees. “She didn’t have to do it. She just wanted to. She is just a generous person at heart.”
Golf came roaring into Betty’s life when friends of her father introduced her to the game of golf at Smiths Falls G&CC and also supplied her with her first set of golf clubs, left-handed at that. The teacher in her sought out then club professional Gil Gardiner for lessons and he insisted that she hit balls on the range until she was comfortable with her swing. Through April, May and June of that first year, Betty spent many hours launching numerous golf balls off the practice tee and she was fine with that as she was still teaching numerous sports at school and really didn’t really have the time to play the game. Something must have registered on the range as Betty eventually played golf that summer and became proficient enough to make it to the finals of the club championship in her first year. She has played in “A” flight ever since.
Always the educator, Betty is a self-proclaimed student of the golf swing and has taken lessons from numerous golf professionals including the late Dick Green at Cataraqui, legendary Golf Teachers Hall of Fame member and four-time PGA Tour winner Bob Toski, Rick Boisvert in Ottawa and Tom McPhee at Smiths Falls. Betty says Tom can usually provide a fix for her swing after just five minutes of observation.
Besides advice from the golf professionals, Betty gives much of the credit for her attitude about golf to people like Vera Charlebois and Joyce Alston, two mainstays of the regions golf community through the years. Those players not only encouraged her to play well but also showed her how she could help the game by mentoring and supporting other players. Those were lessons she has taken to heart. Many of you reading this will know what I am talking about as Betty is often the catalyst who ensures players know when tournaments are on and pushes player to make sure they are signed up to play.
Of course, make no mistake; Betty is a competitor as well. With her win in 2003, Betty has won the Smiths Falls Golf & Country Club ladies’ championship a record twenty times through four decades and she is generally in contention when she plays. “Whenever Brittany Henderson doesn’t play, I’m close”, she said followed by a smile and a laugh, referring to the youngster who is a part of the RCGA National Development Team.
Betty has always been a contender in regional competitions, but her senior years have been kind to her with City & District Senior Ladies Championship wins in 2002 and 2003 as well as winning spots on various Golf Quebec Senior Provincial Ladies Teams.
Multiple knee and shoulder operations have not dampened Betty’s enthusiasm for the game as she rationalizes, “I’m paying for my youth and being in phys-ed all my life”.
Betty not only plays golf at Smiths Falls Golf & Country Club, but she contributes to the clubs’ success through her volunteer participation on numerous Boards of Directors and a continuing involvement with the women’s section.
Looking back, she wishes that she had played more golf when she was younger, but her dedication to teaching took her to summer school for professional courses and away from the course and major golf events during her early golfing years. However, she has no regrets about these circumstances and her being a late bloomer to the game.
Through her years of teaching and coaching, Betty has always prepared lesson plans and goals for her students. Her games of golf are no different. She takes a “thinking” approach to her play each time she hits the course. Course management and goals for each game are important to Betty. “If I can’t get home on a particular hole, I’m looking for the 100-yard marker.” Her short game usually gets her home from there.
Betty also compares golf with other sports that she has played. “How many games do you play where you are you on your own and you are your own official? People that don’t call their own penalties are missing the joy of the game and feeling good about themselves.”
As a professional teacher and coach Betty is an advocate for professional lessons and she is hopeful that more girls will take up, and stick with, the sport. She knows it is an issue that will affect the future of the game. She says there are certainly some barriers hindering the development of youth golf. “Young girls will come to the golf course and play, but only if their friends are also playing.” She says she sees a lot of fathers bringing their sons to the golf course, but not always their little girls, and hopes that will change.
Golf has meant a lot to Betty and not just for the satisfaction of winning tournaments. “Golf is now and will always be my passion. When my life is in chaos, I go and play a game of golf. Every game is different and I get to play with and meet so many different people as well as enjoy the beautiful outdoors.”
Not shy about giving advice, Betty sums up what she often tells other golfers. “Play more. Enjoy the game and have some fun. It’s OK to laugh.”
And she does. Often.
It is just one more reason to admire this spirited lady who has made a significant mark on golf, and so much more, in Eastern Ontario.