BRIGHT'S GROVE, Ontario - In this sleepy, blue-collar village 10 minutes outside of Sarnia, there stands a long, low masonry building that could easily be any one of countless grammar schools or Elks Lodges across North America. The unremarkable but sprawling structure houses the Huron Oaks Recreation Centre, a club for employees and retirees of nearby Polysar and NOVA chemical companies and their families.
Along with the swimming pool, tennis and racquetball courts, gym, weight room and restaurant, the center offers a 6,407-yard, par-72 public golf course, for which the entire town has become rather famous of late. This modest though solid track is the testing and training ground from which sprang Masters Champion Mike Weir.
From the sign at the entryway to the center, which states "Home of Mike Weir" directly above the newly added "2003 Masters Champion," to every single golfer treading these parkland links, the small-town, understated pride in their native son is palpable.
The pro shop, chock-a-block full with gear features a large frame with photos of Weir, including one of him receiving his green jacket from Tiger Woods. The most popular line of hats for sale is the Weir Golf logo-wear, complete with the maple leaf and Huron Oaks stitched into the fabric. For stateside golfers, it's worth a trek over the Blue Water Bridge just to purchase one of these sharp lids.
Mike Weir and his family now reside in Utah, but he comes back frequently for visits. His parents still live in the neighborhood, and his father is a member of the club. Despite keeping a fairly low profile when he is in town, it seems nearly every golfer on the flat, woodsy course knows Mike personally.
"Mike's a great ambassador for Canada," comments one player. Another older lady admits to golfing daydreams of trying to be like Mike on the course. "It's hard not to imagine how Mike would play his way around the course," she admits rather sheepishly. "And you try to do the same thing."
Huron Oaks' small greens, claustrophobically narrow fairways, and uneven rough do indeed evoke images of a young, wiry lefty manufacturing every possible shot, testing every angle, making every mistake and inventing all the escape shots necessary to win a major.
Each summer, during one of his visits home, Weir co-hosts a charity golf tournament at Huron Oaks along with another famous Sarnia area native, former NHL star Dino Ciccarelli. The tournament, held this year on July 29, raises money for the Sunshine Dreams for Kids organization, which grants wishes for terminally ill children. According to Barb McRitchie, Director of Membership Services, there's a three-year waiting list for people to play in the tournament, but admission is free to the public, and anyone can come and watch. "We're expecting huge crowds this year," says McRitchie.
By all accounts, Weir gives a lot of himself during the tournament. Pro shop manager John Limb calls Weir "a very genuine guy." Another club member says simply, "What you see is what you get with Mike."
When Weir won The Masters, one of the people waiting for him behind the 18th green at Augusta was Steve Bennett. Bennett was head pro at Huron Oaks when Weir was a kid, and became his golfing mentor. Although Bennett fired the teen-aged Weir from the pro shop for mistakenly selling clubs for too little, he continued to coach the gifted left-hander. "I just happened to be at the right place at the right time," concedes Bennett.
Bennett, currently the head pro at the private Sarnia Golf and Curling Club (stevebennettgolf.com), is always happy to chat about his star pupil. "Mike Weir hasn't changed one bit, before or after this [The Masters]," says Bennett. Early on, Bennett recognized that Weir had a gift, but "I guess I didn't even realize just how dedicated he really was." According to Bennett, Weir was constantly practicing, even while his friends were swimming or playing tennis at the club. "He always knew what he wanted to do - play the tour. He won the Canadian Juvenile Championship and the Canadian Junior Championship. From 13 on, he was very competitive, and enjoyed playing competitive golf."
"Mike's strong suit," says Bennett, "is his mind. People don't realize that. He knows how to prepare himself, and he knows how to deal with the tour pressure. He's always been a positive individual, and knows how to turn a negative into a positive."
Does he have a weakness? "Maybe his weakness is that he has trouble saying 'No' to people," speculates Bennett. "He must sign a thousand autographs during his tournament in town here. I don't know how he doesn't get writer's cramp."
By all accounts, Mike Weir hasn't forgotten where he came from. And it seems absolutely certain that the fine folks of Bright's Grove won't soon forget it, either.
Huron Oaks Recreation Center
2587 Lakeshore Road
Bright's Grove, ON N0N 1C0
If you REALLY like Mike, more information can be found at mikeweir.com.
July 15, 2003
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.
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