The inaugural Indigenous Golf Championship was a "hole in one" with participants and organizers effusive over its success not just for the golf but for relationship and community building in the process.
Osoyoos Indian Band golfers Sharon Jack and James "Jedidiah" Baptiste both took home medals and 16 golfers (eight each for women and men) have qualified and will represent BC in the Challenge Cup tournament playing against Ontario this September.
"We are beginning something here that I just hope will carry on," said Steven Point, the first Indigenous Lieutenant Governor for BC from 2007-2012.
"Our native people have been through so much in our communities, and it seems that all we do is go to sorrowful ceremonies because we have so much loss.
"But to come out to a golf tournament well," he chuckles, "you get to play golf, meet new friends, and spend the day watching deer walk by sometimes."
Point continued: "I think we started a bit of a bushfire here, but I hope it runs across the country and we see more Indigenous people - youth and adults - getting involved and bringing their young people to the game."
When he's out on the course he forgets about everything and just enjoys himself, saying it's almost a medicine or a kind of healing. "I think that's the kind of peace of mind I'd like to see for a lot of our people," he added.
Patrick Kelly, the tournament director, previous chair of BC Golf and member of the Leq:amel First Nation said the tournament was "an amazing experience for all the people that came from literally all over BC."
He commented that wherever you went on the course you could hear "happy, laughing people". He added that many of the golfers relayed their feelings of a "real sense of community," at the event.
The tournament came about because of a conversation he had with his friend Steven Point 15 years ago. And with the strong support of current Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin, the tournament got off the ground.
That conversation revolved around how they get more Indigenous youth involved in sports, and golf was the idea they cottoned on to.
"One of the things that we tried to accomplish in our time in Government House was to encourage the youth to find something they can be passionate about, something that will help them get over the troubles of adolescence they go through," Point told the Times Chronicle on the sidelines of the closing ceremony.
"So we got onto the idea of golf. It gets you out of your house, it gets you involved in a sport and it's not so competitive, golf is a very good sport for that," he said.
Point also notes that for some reason over the last five or 10 years, Indigenous leaders and communities have gotten into golf. "I don't know what it is about the game but I go to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and it's Indigenous people golfing. It seems to have caught on!"
He speculates that it could be due to the fact golfing is a social event as well as a sport and it gets people together.
He references the fact many of the youth spend their time indoors on computer devices, and he's hoping that if they get involved in golf, they might get involved in basketball or badminton, or some other sport. And with sport there are the spinoff benefits of mutual respect, courtesy, fair play, etc. he notes.
Championship golfer Christina Spence Proteau, who with her win at this event has now racked up 10 championship wins, spoke of the significance of this tournament.
"I've been very blessed by golf over the years, but this is by far the most special provincial championship I've ever won."
Proteau also took time to highlight the two other golfers who won silver and bronze in her division.
"Two extremely impressive young women from the Okanagan, impressive on and off the course, not only being excellent female golfers in their own right but an Indigenous law student with Kylie [Jack] and mechanical engineer with Rachelle [Nielsen]."
She also spoke of her father who died from cancer 15 years ago. In her father's generation and before, it was "not okay to be proud of being Indigenous in his generation or his parents," she noted.
"I really felt my heritage here this week," she said, voice choking with emotion. "My father could never have imagined something like this happening in our province - this coming together through sport in this way."
For youth golfer and winner of his division, Austin Krahn, the event was nothing less than "amazing".
"It's one of the best events I've ever competed in and it's really been a joy," he said thanking the other competitors.
"It's been wonderful playing against you, it's been a great atmosphere out here and it's an honour to be the first men's group winner of this tournament, and I hope it lasts for many, many years to come."
It will in fact return next year on June 2-4, 2024 once again at the Nk'Mip Desert Canyon Golf Course.
When asked how the BC team might fare against Team Ontario, Kelly said the BC team is strong with some of the players at a +3 handicap, noting that Tiger Woods for instance is a +3 handicap. "A couple of +2s and a +1, we've got some amazing quality golf happening here for sure," he said passionately.
Women's Net Stableford Division
Gold - Joan Hinkey (Cree Nation)
Silver - Andrea Leech (Ts'kwaylazw First Nation)
Bronze - Sharon Jack (Osoyoos Indian Band)
Men's Net Stableford Division
Gold - David Krahn (Mohawks of Ahkesasne)
Silver (tied) - Jared Walter McMillan and Reg Ogen
Women's Gross Division
Gold - Christina Spence Proteau (Métis)
Silver - Kylie Jack (Penticton Indian Band)
Bronxe - Rachelle Nielsen (Kispiox)
Men's Gross Division
Gold - Austin Krahn (Mohawks of Akwesasne)
Silver - Cody Bailey (North Central Métis)
Bronze - James "Jedidiah" Baptiste (Osoyoos Indian Band)
Team BC - Women
The women's team is composed of: Christina Spence Proteau, Sharon Jack, Joan Hinkey, Andrea Leech, Gloria Morgan (Splatsin First Nation), Kylie Jack, Rachelle Nielsen, and Keala Zachariuk (L'Heidl Tenneh Prince George).
Team BC - Men
The men's team consists of: Leslie Walkus (Gwa'sala Nakwaxda'xw Nation), Reg Ogen, Jared Walter McMillan, David Krahn, James "Jedidiah" Baptiste, Cody Bailey, and Austin Krahn.