What Canada’s National Women’s Team accomplished in the middle of winter in a resort city on the Black Sea was partly possible because of what happens every summer down a country road just outside of London, Ont.
On Aug. 11, the eighth annual TELUS Going Fore Gold Classic at Redtail Golf Club, the largest one-day fundraiser for Canada’s National Women’s Team, teed off in Port Stanley. The money raised goes to the players during an Olympic year: first, a portion to those centralized ahead of the Games; then, later, the remainder to the players who make the final team.
For their donation, corporate sponsors, partners and other groups enjoy lunch, dinner and a round of golf with players and alumni.
This year it was four-time Olympic champion Jayna Hefford and 2010 Olympic gold medallist Tessa Bonhomme greeting the golfers on the ninth green.
It’s the least players can do to show their appreciation, says Hefford. “Up to that it’s us putting in all this work and telling them what we’re doing. This is our chance to say thank you by bringing a medal back and showing them what we were able to do with their support.”
And with players attending the event each year, it allows people to put a face to the team, says Bonhomme.
“It’s not just ladies with ponytails sticking out of the backs of their helmets,” she says. “We can share our stories and explain what we do day in and day out to compete at the highest level. And we can tell them how much their contribution means.”
Only 60 golfers play in the tournament, giving the event a more intimate feel. As people stroll between the practice tee and the clubhouse in the morning, they’d be stopped by the players, who know most everyone by name now.
With the event having had little turnover since its inception in 2007, it’s not surprising that the sponsors’ investment in the players is as much emotional as it is financial.
“You follow them – their training, trials and tribulations,” says John Sibley, the general manager of Nike Golf Canada. “You win and lose every game with them.” Having had the chance to get to know the players one-on-one, says Sibley, you can’t help but cheer for them.
Pat McEleney, executive director of the 2015 and 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships, chairs the tournament. He was inspired to initiate the event after attending the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. Then the senior director of sports and entertainment at Molson Coors, McEleney created Molson Canadian Hockey House, which hosted the families of the men’s and women’s teams.
“We spent a lot of time with them over the course of the Games and heard stories about the (female) athletes not being able to get their families over because they couldn’t afford it.” And for the families that did make the trip, the high hotel costs in Torino meant many of them were staying several hours outside of the city.
He came home, formed a committee and started an event that has raised more than $700,000 in its first seven years.
The players can use their money however they like.
For the Toronto-based Hefford, it helped alleviate some of the daily expenses that come with being a high-performance athlete, including paying for individual skills training, buying healthy food and renting a house in Calgary, where the team is centralized during an Olympic year.
Bonhomme was able to bring her family to Vancouver and not have to worry about anyone’s credit card getting over charged. “That’s what I chose so I could enjoy my experience without having to worry about my parents, and my parents could enjoy their experience without having to worry about covering costs.”
“A lot of our on-ice success has been because the families are there supporting their daughters and creating that great environment,” says Scott Smith, chief operating officer of Hockey Canada. “When you see the parents embrace the players after their gold medal win, it’s a nice reflection on the group that’s raising funds here.”
It’s a group that’s passionate about women’s hockey.
For TELUS, it’s important to support the women who support Canada.
“There are a lot of costs for them, as well as commitments as far as personal time, career and family,” says John Matthews, global account director for TELUS. “I think it’s important for us as Canadians to give back and ensure they have the finances to train and bring home the gold.”
That’s also why Nike is happy to be on board.
“When you think of the girls and the amount of time and effort they give up in their personal lives to make this happen,” says Sibley, “it’s a small thing we can do to help them and support the game.”