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Robert Thompson's Going for the Green, The National Post, June 2005

An innovative local program that uses golf as a metaphor for life to help youth in high-need areas broaden their horizons is going national.

Founded in North York's Jane-Finch area five years ago by businessman Kingsley Rowe, the National Junior Golf Academy announced Thursday that through a partnership with the Canadian Professional Golf Tour the program would be expanded across Canada over the coming years.

"We think it's an historic thing," Rowe said. "It's the beginning of a tremendous Canadian product."

Since its inception at the Driftwood Community Centre (where the program continues today), 250 youth have been exposed to golf and the philosophies it espouses, Rowe said.

"It's teaching life skills," he said. "The tradition of the game of golf teaches honesty, respect, all of the good things. It's just a game but the honesty and respect and integrity are what the program is about."

There are currently 50 participants in the program that runs in 10-week sessions, four times a year, with the help of volunteers.

Rowe said the immediate plan is to expand slowly first into the Moss Park and Flemingdon Park areas with inner-city suburbs like Malvern and Rexdale on the agenda down the road as it slowly expands. "One of the things we don't want to do is promise we're going to go somewhere and we can't get there for whatever reason," he said. "Then you're disappointing kids and that's something we don't want to do."

Richard Janes, commissioner of the Canadian Tour, the country's top circuit for professional golfers that was once home to such notable Canuck duffers as Mike Weir, Dave Barr and Dan Halldorson, said the program is laudable for its innovation.

"Golf is considered to be a sport that is largely inaccessible to people in underprivileged communities," he said.

"(We're) using a sport that is largely considered a rich man's sport and perhaps an old man's sport and inaccessible and we're taking it to communities that wouldn't otherwise get a chance to see it.

"We think this sport is one that can give value to communities."

Halldorson, a two-time PGA champion and Canadian Golf Hall of Fame inductee, said the program is about more than teaching championship skills.

"It gives the kids an opportunity to learn about the game," he said. "If we produce one player for our tour that would be tremendous but the program's not about producing golfers, it's about giving kids the opportunity to learn about the game and participate in a sport they might not otherwise be able to."