Abbotsford, over the decades, has produced more than its share of elite golfers.
And as it happens, the prolific local golf scene also boasts a powerful sense of community.
That much was clear last Thursday, as the University of the Fraser Valley’s annual pro-am fundraising tournament took over Ledgeview Golf and Country Club.
Every local golf luminary, it seemed, was in attendance at the event, which raised money for the Cascades golf team and Holmberg House, part of the campus of care being constructed at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
Former PGA Tour pro Ray Stewart hosted the event – his son Brett is a former Cascade. Andrew Smeeth, a former B.C. junior (1990 and ’91) and B.C. amateur (1993) winner, and James Lepp, the 2005 NCAA individual champ, were also in the field, along with the current torchbearers for Abbotsford golf – Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor.
That the two young pros took time out of their travel-heavy schedules to attend underscored that this is a tight-knit fraternity.
“It’s really cool – it’s kind of a throwback day,” Hadwin said. “You’ve got Lepp and Nick and his brother Josh, and Ray and Andrew. It’s everyone who grew up here and played out of this course. It’s really fun to play with all of them again.”
Hadwin enjoyed a breakout season in 2011, rising up the World Golf Rankings to become the top-ranked Canadian. The erstwhile Canadian Tour regular appeared in and made the cut in five PGA Tour events – the U.S. Open, RBC Canadian Open, Frys.com Open, McGladrey Classic and the Greenbrier Classic – and earned $440,752.
Hadwin is on the Nationwide Tour this season, and has earned $44,838 while making the cut in six of the first nine events. He’s still seeking his first Nationwide win – he’s been in the mix on Sunday at two tournaments, but faded out of contention both times.
Hadwin’s goal is to finish among the top 25 on the Nationwide money list, which would secure him a PGA Tour card for 2013. He currently sits 36th.
“A few less shots on Sundays, and I’d be in a much better position than I am,” he noted. “I may have won an event already.
“But it hasn’t been too bad. I’m still adjusting to the travel and new courses and all of that. It’s progressing, maybe not as quickly as I wanted, but it’s moving forward and that’s all I can ask.”
Big upcoming dates on Hadwin’s calendar include U.S. Open sectional qualifying (June 4 in Rockville, Maryland) and the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open (July 26-29 in Hamilton, Ont.).
On the business front, the 24-year-old struck a unique partnership with the Vancouver Canucks last week that will see him display the NHL team’s logo on his apparel and participate in Canucks for Kids Fund charitable events.
Hadwin believes he’s the only golfer currently sporting a pro team’s logo.
“Jeff Quinney used to partner with the Phoenix Coyotes, and Ben Curtis was with the NFL for a while,” the Bateman Secondary grad said. “But those are the only two I’ve ever heard of. It’s very unique, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“It certainly gives me some more exposure, being with the Canucks. I’ve got to scoop up some hockey fans.”
Taylor, also 24, is one step behind Hadwin on the pro golf ladder – his second full pro season will be primarily spent on the Canadian Tour, which opens its schedule next week with the Times Colonist Island Savings Open in Victoria.
Taylor fashioned a productive spring, with a pair of confidence-boosting results on smaller tours. In April, he won the championship event of Arizona’s All-American Tour, topping a 64-man match-play field. In early May, he turned in a second-place finish at the eGolf Tour’s Columbia Open in Blythewood, S.C.
“I’ve felt, since the new year started, that I’ve been playing pretty well,” said Taylor, a Yale Secondary grad who spent 21 weeks at the top of the world amateur golf rankings in 2009. “I’ve been to a lot of one-round qualifiers, and some of them, I haven’t played well. But in most three or four-round golf tournaments, I’ve been playing well. That’s all that matters once the Canadian Tour starts. I’m excited for that.”
Taylor turned pro in the summer of 2010, and he said he’s experienced a steep learning curve.
“But I think I’m learning pretty quick,” he said. “I’ve been happy with the last four or five months, how it’s been going.
“It’s about managing the game a little more. I’m working a lot more on the short game, which you always do, but playing with guys out there, their short games are always very sharp. That’s where they’re scoring.
“My driver’s been a lot better this year, which has kept me in play and has given me the opportunity to make birdies. That’s another big thing.”
• Lepp, 28, doesn’t play as much these days – his primary focus is running his shoe business, Kikkor Golf. But he showed he’s still got it, shooting a 64 to edge Taylor and Vancouver pro Phil Jonas by one stroke to win the UFV tourney. The Stewart father-son duo – Ray and Brett – shot matching rounds of 67, while Hadwin carded a 68.
• Ray Stewart plans to participate in Monday qualifying for the Senior British Open in Turnberry, Scotland in July. He finished ninth at that event in 2005.
“I haven’t played at all for the last six or eight months, so I’m just getting started now,” Stewart noted with a chuckle.
• Chris Bertam, UFV’s interim athletic director and golf coach, said the revenue generated by the pro-am was in the neighbourhood of $50,000.
“It’s just great to see the outpouring of support,” he said. “It shows the community cares about growing the game of golf.”