Indigenous Ontario Golf Championship set to launch in September
Indigenous golfers in Ontario have a big new tournament to look forward to this season, with the expectation that the newly created Indigenous Ontario Golf Championship will become a permanent fixture in the province.
The tournament was announced Monday by Golf Ontario as part of its annual general meeting.
Chief Mark Hill and the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory will host the event at Monthill Golf and Country Club near Hamilton on Sept. 19 and 20.
The two-day, 36-hole championship will feature both gross and net Stableford divisions and will be open to Ontario residents of all ages of First Nations, Métis or Inuk descent.
“It is our honour to play a role in this inaugural championship event,” said Susan Vail, president of Golf Ontario in a release. “Step-by-step, we are transforming the face of golf.”
Committed to diversity, equity and inclusion through a vision that Golf Ontario calls Golf for All, the provincial golf association, under the direction of chief executive officer Mike Kelly, has undertaken a welcomed and meaningful step to make the game more accessible.
“As an organization we have made significant strides in championing the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion and this new championship will be another great example of new opportunities for all golfers and a platform to build relationships with Indigenous communities for years to come,” said Kelly.
Golf Ontario has solicited three high-profile professionals to co-chair the first Indigenous Ontario Golf Championship.
Steve Tooshkenig, a member of southwestern Ontario’s Walpole Island First Nation who has been teaching the game to Indigenous youth across Canada for the past 15 years, will be joined by his sister, Cheryl Mitchell, a former Canadian touring professional, and Jesse Smith, head professional at Monthill and a Six Nations member, to oversee the tournament.
“This new championship represents an amazing opportunity for people of all Indigenous backgrounds to play in a true provincial championship and test their games against some of the best Indigenous in the province,” Tooshkenig said. “Having both a net and gross division will attract a wide range of playing abilities, making it truly an inclusive event.”
Mitchell won the 2003 Ontario Ladies Amateur, turned professional the following year and became the first North American Indigenous person to play on the Epson Tour, the LPGA’s feeder circuit. A former NCAA Division I player, Mitchell said she’s thrilled about what the tournament could mean to Indigenous people across Canada in the future.
“It’s an honour to be part of this exciting and new opportunity,” said Miller, who also played in several CN Canadian Women’s Tour events. “It’s going to be a privilege to work with Golf Ontario and our Indigenous people on this first ever Indigenous Ontario Golf Championship to grow the game of golf and provide a venue for our Indigenous people to shine.”
Smith, who figured prominently with Tooshkenig in SCOREGolf’s June 2021 cover story: A Nation of golfers, by Curtis Gillespie, competed in last week’s 16-for-1 Monday qualifying playoff for a spot in the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic in Jupiter, Fla.
Expressing pride to be a co-chair, Smith said he is equally pleased Monthill was chosen as the host venue.
“I think this event not only highlights and showcases the talented individuals who will play, but it’s an opportunity to grow the game, to provide access and introductions to the game of golf, and we’ll all be better for it,” said Smith, who won the Great Lakes Tour’s 2017 Barrie Classic and qualified for the 2013 U.S. Open and RBC Canadian Open. “Our 27 holes and world-class facilities will provide a great setting for this special tournament. We look forward to an event that not only showcases great golf but also leads to introduction, access and growth of the game in First Nation communities.”
Just 15 minutes from Hamilton Airport in the heart of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, Monthill is well suited to host the provincial event with two on-site restaurants, a driving range and banquet halls. Smith and his team at Monthill plan to set up an 18-hole composite course routing to showcase the best of the golf course’s three nines.
More details on player eligibility and registration for the Indigenous Ontario Golf Championship are expected to be made available by Golf Ontario in the coming weeks.
“We’re all passionate about strengthening our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within Golf Ontario and the golf industry and this Indigenous Ontario Golf Championship is another way we can continue to bring our core values and purpose to life, shaping lives through golf,” Kelly added.