What is expected to be the largest Indigenous golf tournament in Canada is set to begin Sunday in central Alberta.
The All Nations Cup will run for the entire week at the Wolf Creek Golf Resort in Ponoka. It is expected to host more than 570 entrants from across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
Organizer Wayne Wood said he didn't expect the overwhelming response to the event.
"We just threw it out there thinking that, hey, if we got maybe 150 people would be happy," Wood said.
"But the response has been phenomenal."
Golfers must be First Nations to participate and they must play for their community.
Women included for 1st time
Typically the event is exclusive to senior men, but Wood saw the opportunity to expand the tournament to include women and golfers of all ages for the first time.
"We wanted to get everybody, from the moment they picked up a club to join the sport of golf when they have to retire for whatever reasons," he said.
It will also be the first time many of the participants are seeing each other since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There are so many people that are so excited they can't wait to get there and see old friends, people they haven't seen in maybe a year or two years since the last golf tournament," he said.
"A lot of them, they grew up together when they were little kids. And now some of them they're in their 70s. And they barely get to see friends from years gone past and it's a real pleasure for them."
Wood's company, Warrior Golf, which he runs alongside his nephews Jeremy and Cordell Makokis, took over operating the tournament in 2008.
While the unexpected turnout has been overwhelming, the support the tournament has received has made it easy to be excited, said Cordell Makokis.
"It's nothing but support," he said. "I think it makes it a lot easier with the support of the nations behind us."
Jeremy Makokis said he hopes the tournament will act as a unifying force among the First Nations participants.
"Colonization, residential school, the whole mandate was to separate, to conquer, right," Jeremy Makokis said.
"I mean, that's why we have small reserves. We were stronger in numbers in the past.
"I think this is one of those events that allow our people to come together again and to celebrate and be one together, like how we used to be."
Jeremy Makokis said he was also excited to see youth join the tournament. He said participating in Indigenous games growing up gave him a sense of pride.
"Being part of that atmosphere, the surroundings, made me … prideful within myself as an Indigenous person as well, to be a part of something like that."
Ryan Vold, president of the Wolf Creek Golf Resort, said the tournament will be the first big event the resort has taken on since the pandemic began.
"It's really an honour to be able to host this event," Vold said.
"I think this is going to be a great thing for them. I think they're looking forward to it. Hopefully we got a full week of great weather and some good golf."