Golf pro has big plans for Sparwood Golf Course

Golf pro looks to a promising future for golf in Sparwood

The Sparwood Golf Course has hired a new operator, who is excited and ready to lead the business in a new direction.

Starting immediately the newly revamped restaurant will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. throughout the winter. On April 1, they will open for dinner. Come spring, the 40 seats on the deck will be open for dining. For the past two years, this restaurant has been closed.

“To just lock the doors at the end of October and come back in April, we know that there’s a need for more dining options in Sparwood,” said the new operator of the Sparwood Golf Club, Barrie McWha.

“If people feel, when they come through the doors, that they’re at home, we win,” said McWha.

The restaurant will feature a new breakfast menu, which includes items such as the Coal Miners Breakfast. For lunch, they will serve traditional pub food.

In addition to the re-opening of the restaurant, the golf club will also encourage cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and more throughout the winter. In December, the pro shop hopes to get a new golf simulator, which will allow enthusiasts to play a few holes with a roof over their head.

2017 marks McWha’s 50th year as a golf professional. He is a life member of the PGA of Canada, and served as president from 1983 to 1984. He has also been inducted into the Manitoba Golf Hall of Fame.

The new golf course manager took over on November 1. Soon after becoming a golf pro, he became a club manager. This led him around Canada, working as a consultant for golf courses. He came to Sparwood in May, at the request of the District of Sparwood to perform an assessment on the golf course. He did the report, and made some recommendations. McWha noticed that it was being operated by the Sparwood Golf Club Society, mostly comprised of volunteers with little expertise in the golf course management business.

He was asked to come back in August to further his report, with the intention of gathering numbers to lease it out. While there, McWha noticed a large number of people come through the valley, and he talked to many of them.

“My partners and I decided we’d make a proposal to them,” said McWha. “And it’s really based on gut feeling. We just think there’s a lot of potential here.”

Born in Winnipeg, McWha moved to the west coast as soon as he was able. Now, with this new exciting opportunity in Sparwood, he and his wife have decided to move and start a new life. They plan on moving in the spring.

“Really looking forward to getting up here,” said McWha.

His partners, Ray and Mike Riva, have some history in Sparwood. Their father used to manage Elkview Coal Corp. when it was owned by Kaiser Resources. They spent much of their childhood in Sparwood and Fernie.

McWha will be switching things up at the golf course with the addition of a brand new menu, as well as some kids training camps to get youth more involved in the sport of golf. He will be encouraging family-friendly golf. With a product called SNAG, he hopes this will allow beginners to learn the swing.

“In the game today, our biggest challenge is creating more golfers, particularly the younger generation,” said McWha.

In his eyes, golf has to be fun, it has to be different. He believes it has an image issue for anyone under 30, and this is what he hopes to address. Above being a good sport for youth, McWha knows that it can provide future opportunities for kids through many available scholarships.

Both McWha and his partners the Riva brothers believe there’s a real opportunity in rural 9-hole golf courses.

“We feel like we can bring an opportunity to places where they can’t afford a full-time superintendent, but they need one. They can’t afford a golf professional, but they need that skill set,” said McWha.

“In this particular case, we can provide that.”

When people started to find out about McWha’s plans for the golf course, they asked if he would build another nine holes. He said absolutely not.

“Elkford’s nine, Sparwood’s nine, Crowsnest’s 18, Fernie is 18. That’s a nice mix,” he said.

McWha has seen over the years, the negative view towards nine-hole golf in the industry; if you didn’t play 18, you weren’t a real golfer. But he believes that nine-hole golf is necessary. McWha believes that it is not only good for people that are time-challenged, beginners trying to learn, but seniors as well.

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