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Driving passion: Burlington golfer Samji helps women achieve success

For international long-drive champ, golf is about much more than playing the game

When Fareen Samji was 10 years old living in Kenya, tennis was her passion. Despite performing at a national-level status, Samji was introduced to another sport.

“My mom got the (golf) bug hard,” said Samji. “She said to me and my two brothers, 'You need to golf.'”

According to her mother, who coerced her to the golf range, Samji was handed a seven-iron and hit the ball perfectly on her first swing.

“Obviously an exaggeration,” recalled Samji. “But I remember the look on her face, the look of pride. 'Wow,' I thought. 'If I do this, I’ll have her all to myself. I won’t have to share her with my brothers.'”

Decades later, Samji, a successful entrepreneur living in Burlington with her two children, is introducing young women to the sport who might otherwise not have the means necessary to take part.

Samji, 49, was one of the top long-drivers in country. In her prime she won five ILDC (International Long Drive Challenge) Canadian titles, as well as an individual division ILDC world title in 2016. Just last year at the worlds she won ILDC’s first ultimate long drive 40-plus masters division, which she considered a nice surprise.

Now she teaches and coaches Team Canada amateur players.

“I hit balls but I don’t train like I used to. I’m 49, trying to compete against 25 year-olds. It hurts,” she laughed.

The Team Canada amateurs are excelling, according to Samji. There are age division competitions from 7 to 17 and 50, 55 and 60-plus as well as men’s and women’s open divisions.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “We won 13 championships last year in amateur long drive.”

Samji’s biggest success, though, might be connecting women and young girls to golf. She founded the Smashing the Grass Ceiling program to attract female players to a sport that often develops business and career relationships on the golf course.

Her efforts inspired Golf Canada and the Golf Canada Foundation (GCF) to name Samji in February as one of two inaugural winners of the Lorie Kane Community Spirit Award for using the sport to positively impact their communities.

Samji was thrilled by the acknowledgement, which includes a $5,000 donation from GCF to advance a golf program of her choice.

“It helps reinforce the mission — to build community through golf, whether it’s with girls who are disadvantaged through Big Brothers, Big Sisters or Children’s Aid Societies or women who don’t have confidence to be able to use golf to build relationships.”

Her success at long driving and a book on the subject she wrote in 2017 led to her being hired for numerous appearances to hit drives.

“At all the events it was men, not women,” she said. “There are definitely more women golfers now, but they’re still super-underrepresented in the corporate arena. My goal is to help give confidence to women and girls so that they aren’t left behind with their peers and can go out there and golf and network and build relationships on the golf course.”

The family business Samji, a McMaster University grad, helps run includes making orthotics.

“But my passion is promoting and encouraging golf relationship building so I do a lot of women’s-only golf retreats,” she said.

It’s quite common for male golfers; not so much for females. “The women don’t really know how or are a little afraid or don’t have the confidence. I put these things together and have lessons and clinics in the morning and we play in the afternoon.”

She provides on-course instruction and they all enjoy socials in the evening.

More than once a woman on the retreat will tell Samji that they've never played golf with anybody but their husband.

“It’s so gratifying, and here she is playing with 16 strangers, being vulnerable on the golf course.”

Samji considers herself lucky to have had the privilege of having golf accessible to her while growing up.

“New Canadians probably won’t have the chance to play golf as they build their new life in Canada,” said Samji, who still golfs with her parents when they visit from Kenya. “I think that puts them at a disadvantage depending on the type of sector they’re involved in, such as finance, sales, insurance or marketing. Relationships are made on the golf course.”

The Lorie Kane Award money will allow 10 more girls to take part in her program this summer.

Anyone who knows a disadvantaged family that might benefit from Samji's program can contact her at [email protected].

“Let’s teach them how to play golf. Let’s give them a skill. It’s really not about the golf. It’s about the confidence and skill to be able to do something new.”

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Kevin Nagel

About the Author: Kevin Nagel

Kevin Nagel has been reporting and photographing events in Burlington for over 40 years as a sports/news editor.
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