Mike Kelly reacted with good humour to a good-natured verbal jab about winning a national award at the tender age of 30.
Kelly, the director of Sport Development for the Golf Association of Ontario, was recently named the latest winner of the Canadian PGA’s Jack McLaughlin Junior Leader of the Year Award, a prize he will pick up later this year in Florida.
The truth is his age is an advantage for a couple of reasons. First of all, he’ll need the energy for all that Kelly is involved in and, secondly, he’ll need the time he has on his side to push those various programs into high gear. Then, you get the feeling he’ll start more in the 30-plus remaining years of his career.
Kelly began making his mark in 2003 while working in the shadow of Canadian PGA headquarters at Blue Springs, a ClubLink Corporation facility in Acton, Ont.
His dad was a principal before becoming a school board superintendent, so working with kids apparently ran in the family as Kelly, who was named 2008 Teacher of the Year for Juniors by the Ontario PGA, volunteered his time in establishing a Golf4Kidz program at local schools.
Kelly couldn’t figure out why golf wasn’t included into school programs along with other sports such as soccer, volleyball and basketball.
“Golf has more to offer kids as a character-building activity for a lifetime,” he said. “This provides much more opportunity than any of those sports ever will. I thought it was a crime that it wasn’t offered to kids in schools.”
It still wasn’t an easy sell, according to Kelly.
“Literally, we did it for free for two years because golf was so new to schools. You’re really selling something to schools that they’ve never had before,” he said, adding that the misconception among many was that the program would be bringing regulation golf clubs and golf balls into their gyms.
In reality, the program used more gym friendly equipment and was designed to be about teaching the game in a fun environment.
“It’s very innovative in the way we do it, with lots of running and jumping and lots of fun. All that was meant from that program was just to try to create a first exposure experience for the kids, so that they’ll always remember golf being fun,” said Kelly, who joined the GAO in 2006.
He immediately began working on a similar program which became the Callaway Golf In Schools program last year and reached over 15,000 kids and continues to add 100 schools per year. The program is going national this year and Kelly hopes organizers will take the lead from the pilot program.
“You just can’t throw golf clubs and a learning resource into schools and expect that kids are going to learn to play golf and are going to take up the game,” said Kelly, adding that golf professionals play an important role on field trips within such programs.
“You have to do your due diligence,” he said. “You have to connect the schools with golf courses, so they have a place to bring the kids. You have to try to help create relationships with the local golf professionals so that they get to know the kids. You’re trying to make sure that you cover all the bases,” he said.
Kelly’s work is branching out all the time, including the establishment of a community sport program that includes recreation programs and municipal programs that could bring golf even closer to the grassroots.
“Where are the kids going to be when they’re trying to take sports up? We’re just trying to get golf into every one of those avenues,” said Kelly, who is also involved in skills, mobile van, women’s learn to play programs, as well as CN Future Links.
At the other end of the spectrum, he is also involved in coaching and developing high performance golfers and developing coaches. Overall, he works on six different grassroots programs and more than a dozen high performance programs.
With all that going on, the energy of youth should be a prerequisite for the job.