Thirty years and counting
The 30th year of the Niagara District Junior Golf Tour kicked off Thursday at Brock Golf Course.
“It’s awesome,” said tour organizer and founder John White. “I had no idea it would go this long and it is funny how fast the time has gone. I have never said I would only do it for a couple of years. When you start something you are never sure but I developed a passion for it. It was fun and it still is fun.”
White has been able to run the event thanks to a loyal volunteer base and understanding employers.
“I am fortunate that my bosses at Beechwood allow me to do it and I still get a kick out of it.”
White got the idea for the tour from an Accuform Tour that was running out of Hamilton. He also watched his assistants JP Bedard and Don Wedderspoon run a local tour for a couple of years.
“Everyone was talking about the Accuform Tour and I loved the concept,” he said. “I just followed up on that because I saw there was a need for tournaments. When I was a kid, if you didn’t make the Ontario juniors U19, your summer was basically over except for a few invitationals here and there. I thought it was an opportunity and it has morphed into some that is pretty cool.”
White likes where the tour is at.
“It has settled in and I am not sure what I would change or if I would change anything,” he said. “We have live scoring and all kinds of things like that.”
The head pro at Beechwood takes great pride in having raised more than $350,0000 for the Kristen French Child Advocacy Centre Niagara.
“When you think about that number, it is pretty amazing.”
The tour is now in its 13th year of raising funds for the centre.
“That was another vision I had of wanting to give back to the community,” White said.
There are about 60 golfers registered for the tour this summer which is near where White caps the number of participants.
“Last year, I think we had a little bit more but not everybody plays in every tournament,” he said. “Today we have 50 golfers.”
The most golfers are found in the under-17/19 boys while the under-13 boys field had shrunk this year because several of the golfers have graduated to the under-15 division.
“The girls are a little light too but I do have some young girls from Sawmill playing today. They might even be under-11.”
The tour is no longer attracting all the best golfers in Niagara and that’s for obvious reasons.
“I understand that they have to play in bigger events,” White said. “At one point, all the best players would play and they would want to win the local tour. Nowadays in Niagara, we have some great players but they have bigger and better things to conquer.”
That being said, Niagara’s best male golfers are still getting their competitive starts at the under-13 and under-15 levels of the tour.
“That is cool to see. There are so many talented kids and it is great to give them opportunities.”
White would love to see more females playing on the tour.
“One year I had 22 and I was even thinking at that time about a separate tour,” he said. “But that has always been the challenge. Girls play but if they don’t have friends playing, they are one-offs. Sawmill is doing a great job of producing all these kids who play junior golf and hopefully we will get more girls out at some point.”
Will Burleigh, the under-17/19 boys winner Thursday, is a big fan of the tour.
“There is a lot of people I know here and I am comfortable here,” he said. “This tour is the perfect place for everybody.”
The tour has made Burleigh’s game develop.
“It helps you improve because you play all different courses. Here at Brock it is not the longest course so you have to play a lot of iron shots. You have to play a lot of different styles.”
It also helps with learning how to make a putt under pressure or compete in a playoff like Burleigh did Thursday. It was Burleigh’s first-ever playoff and it was quite the experience for him.
“I was really nervous but I just tried to stay focused on my own shots.”
Thursday’s girls champion Sierra Kowalyshyn can’t say enough good things about the tour.
“I love everything about it,” she said. “John White does an amazing job of running it and all the people who play here are such amazing golfers and they are great competitors.”
Playing on the tour has been a boon to her game.
“It helps me stay focused and it gives me experience for hopefully when I am older and I am playing more serious golf.”
The tour will hold its usual 10 tournaments this summer and the second stop will be next Friday at Rockway Vineyards.
Last year’s overall winner in the under-15 division of the junior tour got off to a great start on 2022 Thursday at Brock.
Sawmill’s Burleigh and Lookout Point’s Aidan Lopinski tied with three over par 60s in regulation play before Burleigh won it on the second playoff hole.
“I didn’t even know I was in contention until I came in,” Burleigh said. “I was kind of shocked because I wasn’t expecting it.
The 15-year-old Grimsby resident has set his goal high for his first year in the open boys division.
“My goal was to place in the top five in a tournament and I achieved my goal.”
The Grade 11 student at Grimsby trained hard to get ready for 2022.
“I worked a lot over the winter on my short game mainly. I was in the living room of our house putting on the carpet and hitting shots into a net in our garage.”
Kowalyshyn’s 69 at Brock was good enough to win the girls division by one stroke over defending points champion Casey Kenney.
“I’m not the happiest with my play but I think my short game really saved me today. I made a lot of good chips and a lot of good putts,” the 13-year-old Stoney Creek resident said.
She was, however, more than delighted with the result.
“I am super happy and it is a great way to start the season.”
Last season was her first year on the tour.
“I didn’t play very good last year. I think I had one win,” said Kowalyshyn, who is going into Grade 8 at St. Mark Catholic Elementary School
To prepare for this season, she worked with coach Travis Glass and her father Shawn Kowalyshyn.
“Every day, he (her dad) is with me working on my game. He keeps me on track and he is there for all my lessons. If I don’t have a coach with me, he is always there with me and he is the one who makes my game. He tells me what I am doing wrong.”
Under-13 boys: Brennan Turner, Pen Lakes 65; Daxx Partridge, St Catharines G&CC 66; 3. Vince Belardi, Sawmill 67; Jack Vitiello, Sawmill 71; Carter Thompson, Sawmill 86.
Under-15 boys: Kian Oelofse, Lookout Point 60; Andrew Burciul, Sawmill 62; Dawson Dermatas, St Catharines G&CC 68; Carter Fulkerson, Players Club Ottawa 69; Matthew Gray, Sawmill 70; Chase Partridge, St Catharines G&CC 72; Pearse Conlon, Players Club Hamilton 78; Gavin Christie, Twenty Valley 81; Lucas Sartor, Players Club Ottawa 82; Ryan Kirkpatrick, Sawmill 83.
Under-17/19 boys: Will Burleigh, Sawmill 60; Aidan Lopinski, Lookout Point 60; John Kingdon, Sawmill 61; Caleb Shorthouse, Twenty Valley 62; Cole Thompson, Sawmill 62; Anthony Sartor, Players Club Ottawa 64; Nathan Freure, Sawmill 64; Morgan Daly, St Catharines G&CC 64; Blake Furtney, Sawmill 65; Benjamin Morin, Bridgewater 66; Ben Kelly, Sawmill 66.
Under-19 girls: Sierra Kowalyshyn, Sawmill 69; Casey Kenney, Sawmill 70; Grace Stewart, Sawmill 75; Mikayla Lacey, Port Colborne 77; Ali Nickason, Sawmill 79; Sophia Reid, Lookout Point 81; Tiffany Kang, Sawmill 89.