Mini Tour GOAT Champion For Junior Golf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioGolf.com

It’s only fitting that Steve Bennett, the Jack Nicklaus of the Greater London Mini Tour, oversees the Junior Tyson Tour, in its 52nd season this year.

Bennett, for a 10th season in charge of the City of London municipal golf system, is the local mini tour’s GOAT (greatest of all time), having captured the overall title 15 times between 1985 and 2003. His most prized junior student, Mike Weir, had a pretty good year in 2003, too, winning the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.

It would be foolish to define Bennett’s success as a champion for junior golf simply as Weir’s coach at Huron Oaks Golf Club in Bright’s Grove. In fact, Bennett has been involved with the Tyson Tour for more than a quarter century, and has always been on a mission to grow the game in Southwestern Ontario.

Steve Bennett, all-time GLMT champion with 15 overall championships. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

And having the mini tour GOAT as the Tyson Tour convenor is a perfect link between junior golfers and PGA of Canada professionals. As a successful tournament golfer, Bennett knows how important it is for youngsters to get a taste of tournament golf. Whether they go onto careers as golf pros or even if they simply learn life lessons from club pros and through competing on the Tyson Tour, they’ll be better prepared to tackle the demands of post-secondary school and of choosing a career path.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on the game of golf, but Bennett said golf is up to the task. And the Tyson Tour, Bennett said, is the perfect vehicle to deliver that message.

“I’m an advocate of junior golf and trying to promote it to the point where all clubs, public or private, should get involved in growing the game and allow the kids to try competitive golf. And that’s really what the Tyson Tour is about,” Bennett said.

“But golf really does teach you life’s lessons and helps you become a better person. That’s one of the reasons we launched the Pee Wee division in 2016. Golfers ages 7 to 11 can try competitive golf at Thames Valley’s Hickory 9 course, play in the time allotted, keep score, hand in a scorecard and familiarize themselves with golf etiquette and the rules of golf,” Bennett explained of the three events in July and August.

Every golfer, whether they’re 7 or 70, gets excited about the game this time of year when the Masters Tournament and its azaleas, Magnolia Lane and green jacket do for golfers what spring training does for baseball fans: it’s a sign of renewal and optimism. Bennett feels that way about junior golf 24/7, but even he gets giddy about the start of another Tyson Tour season.

This year, the tour has nine regular stops, beginning with the Tarandowah Junior Open July 4 at Tarandowah Golfers Club, and including the annual two-day Les Thomas Memorial Tournament. It goes July 29 at Thames Valley Golf Club and wraps up at Fanshawe Golf Club on July 30. Weir won the tourney in 1986 and ’87, a fact not unnoticed by 2018 Les Thomas overall winner Calvin Norris of Highland Country Club.

Calvin Norris. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

“It feels pretty good to win this trophy,” said Norris, a Tyson Tour veteran who captured the Tyson Tour Bantam division in 2016. “I’ve watched Mike Weir a lot on TV. It’s crazy to think that my name is now going to be on the same trophy – really crazy.”

The Tyson Tour championship invitational again goes at Sunningdale Golf and Country Club on August 28 and again uses tee times, rather than an early-morning shotgun start used at regular Tyson Tour stops. But this year, with Sarnia Golf and Curling Club back on the schedule, Bennett is experimenting with tee times and a limited field of 60 in order to combat weaker fields for out-of-town events.

“You’re always looking for new ideas,” Bennett said of the Sarnia experiment. “It’s a trial. We’ve found that attendance for out-of-town tournaments has been very low. Kids haven’t been able to get there, with mom and dad both working. And if you have an 8:30 a.m. shotgun, it would be very difficult to try to organize a bus trip at 5:30 a.m. Then there are insurance, liability and logistics issues, too.”

The early shotgun starts at most events are in place to accommodate public clubs relying on daily greens fee golfers, and private clubs whose members demand time on the links. But Bennett said it’s up to all clubs – public and private – to step up and host Tyson Tour events, in order to grow the game.

Golf Association of Ontario executive director Mike Kelly agrees with Bennett that it’s up to individual clubs to get more involved when combating golf’s stagnant growth. With lack of time, insufficient funds and accessibility issues delivering a triple dose of trouble, Kelly said growth of grassroots golf must begin at home: the club level.

“The reality is, it takes a village to grow the game in any given community, and it takes golf courses working together. It’s going to take people in the community to get involved, like we see in minor hockey,” Kelly said.

One group that has stepped up to assist the Tyson Tour is Freedom 55 Financial, again on board this year to award upwards of $5,000 in bursaries for post-secondary education to junior golfers. Since its launch in 1968, the Tyson Tour has awarded more than $100,000 in bursaries. The tour also awards trophies at its Sunningdale championship.

“But even the Pee Wee competitors are getting a lot out of golf,” Bennett said. “This is grassroots golf at its finest. About 20 kids have been competing, with four already graduated to the ‘big’ tour and 18-hole courses. Their scores are irrelevant, but it is a great way to introduce them to tournament golf, get their feet wet and perhaps see them graduate to the Tyson Tour.”

Meanwhile, the 11-stop Greater London Mini Tour begins April 29 at Fanshawe, and finishes with its traditional season wrap-up at Oakwood Resort in Grand Bend on October 7. A number of those competitors were introduced to tournament golf on the Junior Tyson Tour.

To register for the Junior Tyson Tour, visit JuniorTysonTour.com.

Follow the Greater London Mini Tour at LondonOntarioGolf.com.

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Jeffrey Reed has been a member of the London sports media since 1980, and is publisher/editor of LondonOntarioSports.com, and LondonOntarioGolf.com. Have a story idea for Jeffrey? Reach him at jeff@londonontariosports.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989.

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