Golf Canada Aims Higher With New Player-Development Program Goals

Team Canada - (L to R) Henry Lee, Savannah Grewal, Noemie Pare, Johnny Travale. Photo: Courtesy of SGA/Hugh Hargrave

Objective is to advance 30 Canadians to the LPGA and PGA TOUR by 2032

As we wandered across the property of The Pulpit Club’s Pulpit course last October, Kevin Blue was very forthcoming as we discussed his new role as Chief Sport Officer for Golf Canada.

Still showing frequent glimpses of the talent that took him to Stanford University on a golf scholarship, eventually leading to a Ph.D., Blue was introspective as we played one of Canada’s finest courses. We exchanged thoughts about the national association that has attracted him back to his home country for the first time in years. As he did, he displayed the intelligence and honesty he has become known for, not mincing words about weaknesses and more importantly, opportunities, specifically about the Golf Canada player-development program.

Since joining the governing body in December, 2020, Blue has been heavily occupied with understanding his position and working with his team to improve the pathway for Canadian golf athletes. The proceeds of those efforts get their public debut today.

Golf Canada has announced a bold new framework for their player development program, one that sets a very defined goal of advancing 30 Canadians to the LPGA and PGA TOUR by 2032.

Is it aggressive? Sure, but without a clear target any program is just wandering in the wilderness, and that’s no good for anyone. Golf Canada has put a lot of thoughtful effort into this new plan, going deep into data from around the world. The result is an extensive strategy that you can read about more in depth in this draft document.

The overhaul of the Golf Canada Player Development Program will be presented in full at Golf Canada  Annual General Meeting on March 2. It is primarily the work of Blue and Golf Canada Manager of High Performance, Emily Phoenix, also a former colligate golfer.

“Canada has made significant progress in the development of world-class golfers in the past  decade and is poised to take another step forward,” said Blue. “Over the past year, we undertook an in-depth analysis of global golf, consulted with numerous stakeholders who are  involved in Canadian high-performance golf, and created the framework for an updated strategic plan for Canada to develop more world-class golfers.”  

Of course, world class comes with a price and this is where Blue’s other experience, as the athletic director at the University of California – Davis, comes into play. NCAA sports programs rely heavily on donors interested in providing support, and that aspect has largely been untapped in Canada related to golf. It’s not fair to ask Golf Canada members to specifically support the highest level of players, so this is where the Golf Canada Foundation and their Trustee program is key.

To kick off the new player development strategy some major donors have come forward with initial gifts totaling $13.5 million. Leading the way is Paul McLean, CEO of Turf Care and former president of Golf Canada and Golf Canada Foundation who has made a gift of $5 million. The foundation shares that it is the single largest gift ever directed towards Canadian high-performance golf. 

“The achievement of our players on tour is a source of pride for everyone involved in Canadian  golf,” said McLean who served as president of Golf Canada in 2015. “I am thrilled to support the effort to increase the number of Canadians on tour and we look forward to seeing even more Canadian flags on worldwide leaderboards.” 

Major gifts were also committed by The Kavelman Fonn Foundation, John Francis, Jean Monty,  David Kaufman, Steve Lister and Dr. Molly Rundle, and a pair of donors who wished to remain anonymous. These generous donors are part of the Golf Canada Foundation Trustee program,  which provides critical philanthropic support for important Canadian golf initiatives such as player development and First Tee. The Golf Canada Foundation says they are still very active in identifying Trustees who are interested in supporting the Team Canada player development program and expanding First Tee across Canada.

As you dig through the new strategy there are multiple facets that are essential to the program, which is very complex and is intended to create a much deeper player development system across the country. Some of that has already been seen with the expansion of the number of players involved in the national programs, but the real framework is far more involved. It looks at the real needs of players the resources they need to improve, and finds ways to support their efforts.

Canada’s Comparisons

More than a year of analysis has included feedback from stakeholders, and analysis of other nation’s efforts, with a specific focus on countries like Denmark, Sweden, Australia, and England that that are geopolitically and culturally similar to Canada. 

“Canadian performance on the world golf stage continues to advance significantly since the  original implementation of the player-development program and this is a transformational  moment for Canada to take the next step forward towards the top-levels of global golf,” said Golf Canada CEO Laurence Applebaum. “Fueled by incredible philanthropic support, stakeholder collaboration, and a systemic enhancement to our player-development system, Canada is well-positioned to deepen our talent pool of athletes and become a world-class golfing nation.”

While most members of the public will see the fruits of a player development program with the golfers that reach the world stage, it is the structure leading there that will be vital. That includes identifying players as young as 10 years-old, along with coaching “hotbeds” that are working to develop these athletes. Notable in this process will be the transition of Team Canada Women’s Head Coach Tristan Mullally into a full-time talent identification role. This will lead to more prospect camps across the nation, along with more more tools and metrics being made available to a wider range of coached to help feed into the revised system.

While details are just being made public, the ambitious new program has already begun, with continual feedback still being gathered to strengthen the efforts.

You can read Kevin Blue’s summation of the program below.

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