Oakdale Golf and Country Club is not only the host of the 2023 RBC Canadian Open, but with a goal to make an impact beyond the championship, it has also opened its gates to children and non-golfing families in the community. By the end of this year, Oakdale will have introduced nearly 150 local youth to golf through First Tee – Ontario, at no cost to the participants, due to the generosity of the club’s membership.
First Tee is a youth development program that provides children with life-enhancing experiences through golf. First Tee – Ontario offers accessible introductory golf programming at golf courses, schools, and community centres, striving to ensure that the sport of golf reflects the diversity of Canadians.
Golf Canada partnered with First Tee in 2020 to launch First Tee – Canada, which is operational in nearly every region of the country, apart from Alberta, which is set to launch this summer.
As a private golf club, Oakdale’s access is typically reserved for members and guests. But with First Tee, Oakdale is setting itself apart from other private clubs by providing inclusive access to the game for high-density, lower-income neighbouring communities. Nearly 70 children from the nearby Oakdale Community Centre participated in First Tee programming last summer. This summer, more than 50 children from the Boys and Girls Club of Jane and Finch will be taking a short bus ride to the course to experience all that the sport has to offer.
“Our goal is to introduce golf to children from all backgrounds,” says Amaya Athill, Program Manager, First Tee – Ontario. “Together, we are actively addressing barriers such as affordability and accessibility by leveraging our resources to provide opportunities for meaningful access to golf.”
First Tee prides itself on providing empowering environments where children feel welcomed, safe to fail, and excited to grow. The curriculum is designed to introduce golf to children as young as five and incorporates a life skill component while focusing on having fun. Activities are modified to the age and ability of the participants and can include familiar sports such as baseball or bowling, but with a golf twist, while weaving in the continued development of skills such as confidence, perseverance, and integrity.
The junior golf coaches at Oakdale, Bob Beauchemin (Ontario Golf Hall of Famer and 2022 recipient of the Lorie Kane Community Spirit Award), and Izidor Markic, underwent First Tee training through the PGA of Canada last year. They have since immersed themselves in the brand and mission of introducing youth to golf, especially those who would not have otherwise had the opportunity and making a positive influence in their lives.
“It’s rewarding to be a part of this program, and a bigger movement to grow the game of golf. For most of the children, it’s their first time on a golf course,” said Bob Beauchemin, First Tee – Ontario Coach and Oakdale’s Director of Instruction. “To be a part of that first introduction to golf and then to see them progress through the program and gain confidence and skills, with a smile on their face, is amazing. We look forward to the continued success of First Tee in years to come.”
This year at the RBC Canadian Open, First Tee – Ontario and Golf Canada will host over 1,000 children from local community centres and the Toronto District School Board for behind-the-scenes tours and golf activations. The hope is to introduce children to golf in a fun and positive environment and expose them to the opportunities that are available in the world of golf, in addition to playing.
Beauchemin and his accompanying volunteer coaching staff have upheld Oakdale’s mission of making family the heart of their operations. Through First Tee – Ontario, Oakdale has created its own small family of golfers from the course’s very own backyard.
To date, First Tee – Ontario has nearly 20 golf facilities, 16 community centres, and 20 schools delivering programming across the province. To learn more about programming near you, or to donate, visit firstteeontario.ca.