Golfers of all ages from across the province began teeing off Monday in BC’s first Indigenous golf tournament.
Competitors and organizers say it’s a step forward for a sport that has not historically been inclusive.
“Golf has traditionally been a fairly elitist sport and the doors have been closed to many,” said competitor and event chair Christina Proteau.
Over 100 Indigenous golfers representing 80 different nations across the province gathered at the Nk’Mip Canyon Desert Golf Course in the southern Okanagan Valley for the inaugural event.
It kicked off Sunday with an opening ceremony and practice round that featured an elder, dancers and drummers from the Osoyoos Nation. One round was played on Monday and the final round was played on Tuesday.
Proteau ended up winning the women’s competition, shooting a two-under 71 in the final round. Fifteen-year-old Austin Krahn of Christina Lake won the men’s competition.
The competition was hosted in partnership with the provincial government, BC Golf, and the Osoyoos Indian Band, which owns the course.
Congrats to 15-year-old Austin Krahn of Christina Lake (shown here with his dad/caddie Gene) on winning the inaugural BC Indigenous Championship at Nk’Mip in Oliver. Fired a one-under 71 today pic.twitter.com/2becXheYDa
“To have us all gathering together as a group doing this… to me that’s reconciliation,” said Proteau, adding it is intended to be a legacy event hosted by a different nation each year.
Proteau says Indigenous youth, in particular, face many barriers to entering the sport.
Those who succeed in the youth division at this competition will go on to represent BC at the North American Indigenous Games, held in July in Halifax.
At 14 years of age, Maya Smyth was the youngest golfer in the competition.
She has been holding clubs her entire life and has been swinging them since she was five.
She says there are several Indigenous golfing role models for young people like her to look up to.
“We’ve never had something like this happen before. I think it’s just showing that Indigenous people can do lots of different things,” Smyth said.
Smyth, who is from Burnaby and is a member of the Cree Nation, said Monday she hopes to qualify for the Halifax competition.
But regardless, she said she was looking forward to having fun on the course with her dad, who was a caddie for the event.
“This is a really big opportunity for Indigenous people to show that we’re here and we’re still having fun in the game.”
Hosting inauguration event
Mother-daughter golf duo Kylie and Sharon Jack were competing against each other at the event.
As part of the Penticton and Osoyoos nations, they said they were excited to be hosting the games and showing other nations their community.
“We’re really proud to host this event. Our course is in immaculate shape,” said Sharon, adding that she looks forward to visiting other nations’ golf courses in future years.
Kylie, who started playing competitive golf when she was 13, says it’s important to give young people the opportunity to try golf, either through camps or competitions like this one.
And she says sports like golf can play a role in reconciliation.
“Bringing us together in this way is really good.”