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Tuesday, May. 21, 2019
Casey MacNeil focused on finding young golfers
by Randy Pascal

“There's not enough kids playing golf.”

That said, Espanola native and former NCAA golfer Casey MacNeil is not anywhere close to admitting defeat. In fact, a pair of initiatives with which the Timberwolf Golf Academy assistant pro is actively involved are targeted at addressing exactly this malaise within the very foundation of the sport that she loves.

Teaming up with local pro Tom Clark and Golf Canada Future Links, MacNeil and company recently visited a handful of elementary schools, not the least bit dismayed by the piles of snow outdoors, finding some creative ways to showcase the game indoors.

“The idea is just to get a golf club in the hands of the kids,” said MacNeil. “Elementary school sports doesn't necessarily introduce the kids to golf. They play everything but golf. We were in neighbouring schools to Timberwolf and we teach them a little, let them hit shots throughout the gym for about 30 to 40 minutes of class time.”

In the absence of turfed fields at any local institutions, MacNeil and Clark will find a way to bring golf to life in the schools. “We made three stations – a small putting one, a chipping one, where you land it in hula hoops, and then we did a pitch shot, which was a little bit further, about half of the gym,” she said.

“Obviously, they always like that one more since it's the longest shot.”

Acknowledging that much has been done to ensure the affordability of the sport in the youth and junior ranks, MacNeil suggested that there is no specific reason why golf could not enjoy an appeal to the masses. It is seemingly more a matter of modifying the norms to which families in these parts, and Canada, in general, have grown accustomed to.

“The kids don't grow up playing golf in the same way that they grow up playing hockey or soccer or basketball,” she said. “And certainly, some kids are more athletically inclined, more coordinated. But if the kids play hockey, it is a little bit easier, because the hand-eye coordination is there.”

While early lessons and simple time on the course might provide the proper initiation, MacNeil also sees the need to ensure that those who take to golf early are offered a natural movement up the rungs of progress. For the second straight summer, she is hosting the Sudbury Junior Golf Tour, commencing in early May, with sponsorship from both Jiffy Lube and Pro Golf Liquidators (Sam Yawney) aimed to enhance the five-event circuit open to youngsters from 10 to 18 years of age.

“It's all about making the tour a little bigger and better,” she said. “Hopefully, the numbers increase.” And lest anyone believe that their young duffer need be ready to challenge the likes of Tristan Renaud or Ward Kyle to feel at home on the tour, MacNeil noted that there is a nice middle ground. “The junior tour is based on the kids who have competed a little bit, or know they are good enough to compete.”

“It doesn't mean you have to shoot par, but they are also not missing the ball when they swing. That level should start with the junior lessons. These kids know how to play golf, we're not teaching them. But it doesn't matter whether they're at the top or not. Somebody has to come last.”

Which then beckons the question as to whether or not there are enough young golfers in Greater Sudbury to sustain a reasonably robust competitive loop. “I think there's not enough kids playing golf, but I know that there are also more kids that are playing than are coming out for the junior tour.”

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