By Keith Lacey
Marli Mikulecky insists she would never have become a talented and successful golfer without her participation in the Osoyoos Junior Golf Development Program.
Bob Blount, one of the founders of the successful program that has taught the basic fundamentals and proper etiquette to hundreds of young golfers for more than 20 years, organized a special celebration luncheon recently at the Osoyoos Golf Club.
Mikulecky was one of Blount’s star students in the early days of the program as she went on to earn a golf scholarship at Mississippi State University, before transferring to Eastern Washington University, where she has earned a Masters degree in business administration.
Mikulecky, who now works and lives in Kelowna and is the three-times ladies club champion at the Kelowna Golf and Country Club, said her love affair with the game of golf had already started when she joined the junior development program.
The skills and work ethic she developed as an elite young player were honed during her participation over many summers in the junior program, she said.
“It really, really helped my game,” said Mikulecky. “I already loved golf when I joined the program, but Bob and the other teachers worked on my skills, taught me sportsmanship and helped me develop a work ethic and you need a solid work ethic to succeed in golf.”
She met many good friends through the junior development program and has remained good friends with Blount and the other volunteers who dedicated their time and skills to help young local golfers, she said.
Blount, 82, who is a retired high school teacher, said he had to do something special to honour all of those who helped found the program and make it the huge success it became over more than two decades.
“I couldn’t just walk away without doing something special,” he said. “This program has been a huge success for more than 20 years and I wanted to try and bring as many people as I possible could that were involved in helping the original group that got it all started back in the mid-1990s.
“To the members of the community and the Osoyoos Golf Club who came together over the years to establish and fund the Junior Golf Development Program for the youngsters of our community, as well as all of you who volunteered over the years to create and support a very positive experience for our youngsters, I say thank you,” said Blount.
Blount took the time to single out Don Forsyth, who was in attendance at the luncheon on Saturday, as well as John Gane and Brian Petreny, for their hard work in getting the program established in those early days more than 20 years ago.
Financial support from the local business community has allowed junior golfers to sign up for the program at very low rates for more than 15 years, said Blount.
The Osoyoos Credit Union has sponsored the program since 2002 and allowed the program to develop the motto, “to not let financial difficulties stand in the way of a child’s dream,” said Blount.
The program has been a resounding success from the first year and helped develop an amazing amount of young golfing talent, said Blount.
The Junior Golf Development Program was developed to give the children of our community an introduction to the game of golf and to help individual youngsters to expand their skills and compete at the highest level. As well, many of the members stayed in Osoyoos, raised families whose children became members of the later program, he said.
Players like Andrew Goncalves, Lee Alarie, Robbie Wildman, Neil Ferreira and Tyrell Griffith all graduated from the program and went on to play professional golf at various levels, he said.
Mikulecky became one of the top female players in the province, he said.
The key to success of the program was to teach the basics and instil a love of practice in the kids who joined, said Blount.
“We started every single session since I got involved with the basics such as proper grip, stances and backswing,” he said. “We never strayed from the basics.”
It’s a testament to all of the volunteers through the years as Osoyoos has produced an incredible number of outstanding junior players for a small town this size, said Blount.
Blount said he and his wife Lynne have developed some of the best friendships in their lives through their involvement with the junior development program.
Blount was near tears when he admitted he’s going to miss his involvement helping junior golfers develop.
“I’m age 82 now and aside from my family and friends, being involved in this program is one of my proudest achievements,” he said.
He’s thrilled Claudia Wood, a three-time ladies club champion at Osoyoos Golf Club, and a strong contingent of volunteers have committed to continuing a junior golf program at Osoyoos Golf Club this summer.
“I’m really happy there will be a program for junior golfers,” he said. “We did a great job for more than 20 years and now it’s time for another group to take over.”
Blount said he hated to leave out anyone who has helped him through the years, but wanted to make sure he acknowledged many long-time supporters.
They include Arnie and Anne Polischuk, Maxine Day, Donna Mikulecky, Laura Slater and the Slater family, Sharon Gesce, Osoyoos Golf Club office manager Audrey McCulloch, Ben Petreny, Justin Snoeke, Alex Brunner, Mia Stevens, Rick Harris, Stan and Wendy Coutu and Lou Turcotte for his great philanthropy to the program over many years.
“I hate to miss anyone, but there are certain people we could not have done this without,” said Blount. “This get together was all about saying thanks for the memories.”