GAO Programs Now Reach The Ottawa Valley

By Scott MacLeod, Flagstick Golf Magazine, May 2011 Print Issue


Golfers in the Ottawa Valley will notice a few new things happening on the golf scene in 2011, namely a selective number of programs being offered via the Golf Association of Ontario.  While that may seem confusing, given that the major golf affiliation in the area has long been, and remains, the Ottawa Valley Golf Association (long allied with Golf Quebec), the arrival of the GAO has more to do with provincial boundaries and funding rather than an intrusion based on some other more sinister reasoning.  They have a specific slate of programs targeted at the Ottawa Valley, not a mass of plans meant to replace what the OVGA and Golf Quebec do, but simply some that will enhance the golf scene in this part of Ontario.  Rumours have been spreading fast about the GAO’s presence in the area, most notably after they had a booth at the recent Ottawa-Gatineau Golf Expo to promote the Callaway Golf for Kids program.

Rather than buying into the speculation Flagstick chose to sit down with GAO Executive Director David Mills last month and find out what their initiative in this end of the province is all about.  Mills, who recently moved back to the Belleville area, is no stranger to the region.  During his former career with Ontario Hydro he and his family lived in Deep River.  A life-long golfer and advocate for the game, his oldest son, Jeff, is the Head Professional at the Wildfire Golf Club just outside Peterborough, while his other lad, Jon, is a currently a member of the Nationwide Tour.

When pressed on the intentions of the GAO in the Ottawa Valley Mills explained, “Where this has really come from is the changes in recent years with golf as an official sport, provincial and national funding as a result, and our access to that funding.  It has allowed us to either introduce new programs or grow existing programs but there are developmental programs that are basically funded by the people in Ontario such as Golf For Kids, Athlete Development, Coach Development, and from our point of view if we are getting money from the provincial government we should be delivering those programs right across Ontario.”

Mills says that because many of the programs are not really in the same stream as many of those traditionally offered by associations in concert with member clubs – they are more about golf and sport in general.  “A lot of these programs really don’t depend on member club affiliation, whether it is with Ontario or Quebec, it is more about provincial boundaries.  To a large degree these programs have not existed in the Ottawa Valley,” says Mills citing the Ontario Summer Games as an example.  Currently Juvenile golfers from the Ottawa Valley cannot play in the Quebec version of the games because they are not residents of Quebec and are not eligible to qualify for the Ontario team if they are not a member of the GAO.  Most are not due to the Golf Quebec affiliation locally.  A new (and minimal) GAO membership rate will allow Ottawa Valley based junior golfers to compete in selected GAO events that act as qualifiers for the Games that will actually merge to be the Ontario Juvenile Championships in the near future.  Standout juvenile player Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls has already signed on for this option.  The inaugural championship will be held this year at the Loyalist CC in Bath, Ontario, a short drive from the Ottawa Valley.

There are a number of programs that have similar nuances and Mills says their presence in the area is not about infringing on Golf Quebec or the OVGA, who are aware of the GAO’s recent activity (the parties have held several mutual information meetings), but simply ensuring the programs that are available to golfers of Ontario, are being offered border to border.  “There are a number of programs like that (the Ontario Summer games) and if you stand back and don’t think about affiliation and think about why the associations exist it’s to grow the game; to develop the game and develop the players and things like affiliations shouldn’t get in the way of doing that.”

Mills asserts that these programs need to be delivered in the Ottawa Valley because as part of Ontario the people of the region are paying indirectly for the programs through taxation.  The Golf Association of Ontario receives significant funding each year from the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport (provincial funding through various sources amounted to about $450,000 in 2011 alone) to support and grow programs throughout Ontario and the GAO feels that the current Golf Association structure has not really supported the delivery of programming funded by this money to the Ottawa Valley. “We may have the money and we may have the program but we need to deliver them to everybody who is entitled to their benefits,” Mills told Flagstick during an hour long discussion.

In that sense the top man for golf in Ontario says people need to think of themselves as residents of Ontario not which Golf Association they belong to.  He recognizes that Ottawa, as both the National Capital and the second largest city in Ontario, has a right to be included in programs supported by provincial funding, which is what their whole aim is.  Unlike what some people may perceive, the GAO goal is not to have golf courses flip over to the GAO from the OVGA and Golf Quebec for all their services, but simply for the GAO to deliver relevant programs to residents of Ontario.

Since one of the factors of the base funding being received by the GAO from the Ministry is participation levels, Mills says that by offering more development programs and getting more golfers involved they can actually receive greater amounts of funding to grow the game even further.  “We’re leaving money on the table right now,” he explains.

Although the impact of this GAO move remains to be seen (as does the reaction of Golf Quebec and the OVGA who we are planning to query in the near future about these developments) in 2011 one of the programs that will immediately be very visible will be the Callaway Golf For Kids Program (which includes the National Golf In The Schools Program).

Currently involving some 520 schools in Ontario and reaching 15-20,000 school children annually, primarily in Grades 4-6, Mills says the program is growing rapidly and expects it to have a similar appeal in the Ottawa Valley.  “Based on the feedback our staff received at the golf show it appealed to a lot of people who wanted to know how they could get their kids and their schools involved.”  “We have already reached our goal of 200 new schools for 2011 and the board has approved another $10,000 to ensure no slow down.”

The multi-faceted program introduces children to all aspects of golf beginning with activities that develop the physical skills that can be applied to golf, then progressing to golf knowledge and eventually a connection to the game outside of schools, at golf courses.  The cost for a school to be involved is just $475, with corporate partnerships currently leading the way and covering those costs in many areas of the province.  The GAO has been subsidizng this to the tune of $300 per school and hopes to continue this.

Based on the population of the region and early response Mills says he expects the Ottawa Valley to see 50-100 schools involved in the program in short time.  They are already fielding enquiries and are currently lining up a presenting sponsor for the program in the region just as they have in other areas of the province.

Mills agrees that it will take time to develop their scope of available programs that are applicable to the golfers of the Ottawa Valley but they will do so knowing that they are trying to do what is best for golfers in Ontario.  They plan to have further meetings with Golf Quebec and with the OVGA to make sure everybody is on the same page as much as possible, while at the same time they plan to fulfill what they feel is their obligation to Ontario taxpayers who are involved with golf.

As Mills concludes, “This should not be perceived as threat but as an opportunity, an opportunity for golfers in the Valley to get access to programs that are available to them as residents of Ontario.”

Points from The GAO on Their Decision to Offer Specific Programming in the Ottawa Valley:

Specifics re: Provincial Funding

1.   Annually the GAO receives Base Funding from the Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport to support and grow existing programs. In 2011, the amount is $214,000. The funding is awarded on a 3 year cycle, with the amount of funding depending on the scope or programming, participation and membership. Continued growth in all categories can translate into additional funding.

2.    In 2010 the GAO was successful in an application to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for funding to further grow the Callaway Golf For Kids Program (includes National Golf in Schools). The amount of funding was $210,000 over 2 years, ending at the end of 2011.

3.    Annually the GAO can apply to the Ministry for Sport Priority Funding, receiving up to $70,000 for adding new programs. In 2010 we received $56,000 – to be spent by end of March, 2011 – to support various initiatives related to Coach Development. This included creating a Coaching website, conducting (with the 3 Ontario Zones of the CPGA) a Coaching Conference (held in April , 2011 and expected to be an annual event) and piloting a Regional Player Development Center concept (25 announced including Greyhawk in Ottawa and Black Bear in Belleville).

4.    We receive a number of Ministry Grants related to supporting the costs of a Provincial Head Coach, who is expected to work with all Zones of the CPGA, in establishing a Coaching Network across Ontario that is consistent with the National Long Term Athlete Development Model.

5.    Through the Quest for Gold Program, the GAO has access to Athlete Assistance – up to $6000/athlete – to support the development of young players and the cost the players are incurring. Athletes in the Ottawa Valley have no access to this funding as they are not members of the GAO, and they cannot access similar funding in Quebec as they do not reside in Quebec.

6.     Annually we receive a number of provincial grants related to supporting the costs of interns.

7.     In 2011, the total of Provincial Funding received is over $450,000.

Related Issues

1.    The GAO Scholarship Program awards ~ $35,000 in scholarships annually to young men and women who are entering college. We do not receive any applications from students who reside in the Ottawa Valley who are eligibible.

2.    The Ontario Golf Hall of Fame does not receive nominations for individuals who have their roots in the Ottawa Valley. The main reason for this is the lack of awareness of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame.

3.    With Sport Development Programs that require Coaching support, the GAO is expected to work with CPGA members across Ontario, including the Ottawa Zone of the CPGA.

4.    Public Players in the Ottawa Valley have traditionally joined the GAO as individuals or groups and have full access to all GAO Championships and to a Public Player Championship that is limited to Public Players.

5.    Golf Industry “Lobby Days” – GAO is partnering with NGCOA Chapters, Golf Course Superintendents, CPGA Zones, Club Managers – including assisting with funding – to represent the Ontario Golf Industry in meetings with Provincial Politicians that focus on a range of issues affecting the industry.  The frist was held on April 20th at Queen’s Park

6.   Ontario Sport Awards – no opportunity for recognition of athletes or corporate partners in golf.

7.  Annually the GAO contributes $.50 per adult member towards Turf Grass Research in Ontario.  In 6 years approx. $300,000 has been contributed to the Ontario Turf Grass Research Foundation.  All golf clubs in Ontario have access to this research.

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