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Continuing a growing trend

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The First Nations Golf Association continues to grow. The men’s professional golf tour, restricted to aboriginal players, began with a single event in 2005 in Minnesota.

The following year the FNGA featured five events, then six tournaments in 2007. There was another increase last year as eight tour events were staged. This year, there are expected to be nine FNGA tournaments.

The tour kicked off in Arizona in early March with the Salt River Pima Championship held at the Talking Stick Golf Course in Scottsdale.

Though two tournament sites for 2009 had yet to be announced in early April, other confirmed events were scheduled for California, Oregon, Wisconsin, Florida, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

There was a possibility that one of the tour sites would be staged in Canada. If this materializes, it would signify the first time an FNGA event was held on Canadian soil.

This year’s tour runs Nov. 5 – 8, when the FNGA championship will be held at Mississippi’s Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, an event hosted by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

This season-ending event will feature the year’s top 30 prize money winners from the tour.

FNGA executive director Jayson Ray, The Klamath Tribes, agrees there is still some work to be done but believes awareness of the tour is increasing.

“People are starting to recognize us more. Our purses are starting to get to the point where people will notice them.”

Tour officials are hoping to offer $250,000 in collective prize money at the nine proposed FNGA events this year. That’s almost double the amount offered last year.

And officials are hoping to better reward those that qualify for the year-end FNGA championship. The final event of the tour had a $40,000 purse in 2008. This figure could be increased to as much as $75,000.

A handful of new sponsors have come on board this year, which is the main reason the FNGA has been able to significantly boost prize money.

Most tour events tend to attract 50 – 60 participants. Last year, FNGA had 94 members (including four Canadian golfers) representing 72 tribes from coast-to-coast.

Those wishing to take part in FNGA events must first buy a $100 tour card; then there is a $350 registration fee for each tournament.

Ray said FNGA officials are satisfied with the present number of tour events. “We like the one event a month. I don’t know if we’ll get more than that.”

He said the goal now is to continue increasing the prize money available.

Ideally, he would like to see a purse of $100,000 to $150,000 at each tournament, offering prize money in the $1 million to $1.5 million range will entice more people to participate.

“It will take a few more years. That’s like a five-year plan for us.”

Ray said having a golf tour for aboriginal players is a big deal. “It means a lot to them. For some of them, these are the only tournaments they will play in. But there’s about 15 – 20 players that can get ‘er done and they are looking to move on to other things.”

This list includes Steve McDonald, Potawatomi, of Topeka, Kan., who has been named FNGA’s Player of the Year twice, in 2006 and 2007.

McDonald is hoping to qualify for the lucrative PGA Seniors Tour this year. While he may be thinking of his senior golf years, FNGA officials are thinking of aboriginal youth at all of its events.

Since the tour’s inception, free youth golf clinics have been offered at each tournament.

These clinics are offered to aboriginal youth aged 8 – 18. The clinics attract 15 – 25

participants.

Ray said the goal is to expose aboriginal youth to current FNGA players to inspire them to strive to compete.

“We ask all of the (tour) players to help out,” Ray said. “It’s actually written into their contract that if we ask them they have to be an instructor at one of the clinics. But most of the time they volunteer to do it.”