Sunday, 18 February 2018

C Columns

Where Are They Now? Links Players Hitting on Par on Growth Plans

By Gaye Bunderson

Photo of Links Players' leadership includes, from left, Connie Johnston, Jim Waters, Tom Purdy, and Jerry Johnson. (Photo by Gaye Bunderson)

Editor's note: Christian Living featured Links Players, a golf­based faith organization,in its June 2016 issue. The group is flourishing in the valley and has set goals for more expansion in the future. We recently reconnected with members for an update.

Forget mulligans, divots and sand traps. Well, don't forget them completely, just don't focus on them too much. Put your mind instead on fellowship, in a place you might least expect it: the golf course.

The Treasure Valley Links Players Fellowship launched in 2016 as the local affiliate ofLinks Players, an international golfers' organization. The fellowship started out with threeoriginal co­founders at two area golf courses: Centennial Golf Course in Nampa and Purple Sage Golf Course in Caldwell. About 10­12 men met regularly for fellowship and golf.

Now, Treasure Valley Links Players has grown to 32 members at five courses and includes a women's fellowship as well. Beginning golfers and experienced golfers are all welcomed.

“The amount of time you've been golfing has nothing to do with it — you can still be a bad golfer,” Jerry Johnson, local Links member in charge of media, said. “Skill level is not relevant.”

“We want to be known for our fellowship, our fun, and our commitment to each other. We want to be an inclusive, not an exclusive, group of golfers,” Connie Johnston, who does marketing for the group and leads the women's fellowship, said.

In a brief written statement titled, “Where Are We Now?”, Johnston listed three defining elements of the local Links organization that remain ongoing in 2018:

1. “We're still taking Jesus golfing with us.”

2. “We're still golfing with generosity.”

3. “We're still providing a safe place to grow in the Word.”

Links fellowships start each meeting with prayer, praise, and Bible study. They have a daily devotion they get from the international organization, so each fellowship follows the same lesson each week. They also take time to discuss the giving projects they are working on. One of their original projects was Advocates Against Family Violence; they have also supported Chrysalis Transitional Living and Cole Valley Christian School through participation in golf tournaments.

Investing in local ministries is a way to put their faith into action, Johnston said.

One of the original co­founders of the local affiliate, Tom Purdy, said the members who meet at his chapter in Nampa throw money into a pot (there are no membership fees), and at one point, they had $2,000, which they gave to a young man to support him in his mission trip.

Jim Waters, who's helping start new chapters in the area, said Treasure Valley Links Players Fellowship also takes on service projects. They helped rebuild and repaint a gazebo at a Caldwell women's shelter. “I got the nickname 'Spotty' because I had paint going everywhere,” including on himself and others, he said.

Each fellowship at each course is led by the same person each week.

“You have to be willing to share your story and be transparent,” Johnston said.

The fellowships strive to be a place where people can be open and honest, and prayer requests are always welcomed. Not only do members NOT have to be great golfers, they're more than welcome to come as they are as people: unfinished projects still under construction.

“Fellowship is more important than golf,” Johnston said. “We know each golfer has a story, and we are eager to listen to each story and be willing to share our stories of redemption and faith.”

“We're changing the conversation while golfing,” said Purdy.

“We don't keep score,” Johnson said. “I go out and try to be the kind of person other people like to be with, to be a good example for people.”

“We're not just one denomination. We're just all Christians,” said Waters.

Treasure Valley Links Players wants to continue its upward growth. Current fellowships are held at Centennial (Nampa), Ridgecrest (Nampa), Purple Sage (Caldwell), and Lakeview (Meridian); the women meet at Falcon Crest (Kuna). The goal is to ultimately start more fellowships at more courses in the valley.

Links is striving to “reach critical mass and become well known at each local course,” Johnston said. Links members also want to continue to invest in local ministries and to create partnerships with other faith­based groups to better serve the community.

One of the big items on their 2018 agenda is what they are calling “un­tournaments,” where believers may connect outside the walls of a church.

Jerry Johnson said the un­tournaments (or non­tournaments) will be just for fun: no scores, no winners, no losers. There will be raffles, and more importantly, an opportunity for fellowship outdoors on a beautiful golf course. Exercise will be a side benefit.

The un­tournaments will take place off and on from May to September.

Links Players will also have a booth at the Boise Golf & Travel Show February 9­11 inthe North Expo building at Expo Idaho. (For more information, go to https://www.expoidaho.com/event­calendar/event/101­boise­golf­travel­show.) The group had a successful showing at the event last year, with more than 40 people stopping by the Links booth for information.

“We’re excited about where we’re going,” Johnston said. 

They’re marketing themselves and making plans for the future, with long­term goals and promotional ideas.

“We’re embracing technology, even though putting and chipping may be more our strengths,” she said. “We are creating an online presence to promote Links and introduce golfers to our events and provide a relevant, God­view of life through really great devotionals provided by Links International.”

Go to https://www.tvlinksplayers.org to check them out.

Some of the die­hard members of Links love to golf all year long, weather permitting. And some continue with the fellowships throughout the year, no matter what, as well.

“It becomes a habit,” Purdy said. “When you meet once a week, it becomes part of your life.”

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