Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 March 2008 06:29 Monday, 24 March 2008 07:32
iG met with Keith at his course on the West Coast of Vancouver Island earlier this month to get his thoughts about being a CPGA pro, running a golf course and the directions golf may be headed in the next few years.
iG: You became a CPGA Pro by what was then a less than traditional route.
KG: I was in the first full year of the Camosun Golf Program. That was from 1995 through 1997. There were 65 people in my class.
iG: Where did you apprentice?
KG: I went to work with "Storm" (Norm Jackson) at Cowichan for three years. Then I spent a year at Swan-e-set with Ed McLaughlin. Then I went six months on the oilrigs in Alberta. That's when I realized that maybe golf is not so bad. After that I decided that becoming a professional was the best route to become a club operator.
iG: Then you came here?
KG: Yes, I was going to take a position as head professional at Pheasant Glen with Barrie McWha but Long Beach was looking for a head pro and they offered me the job. Barrie tried to convince me otherwise but said if I was going to go out here that it was very important to try to stay in the loop and stay connected.
iG: You have been on the board of the PGA of BC for the past five years. Is that part of "staying in the loop"?
KG: Yes, but also I wanted to get involved with the PGA. We are golf's ambassadors . We are trying to grow the game. And the board is a great way to stay connected.
iG: You held the junior portfolio first?
KG: Yes. I was chair for junior development for two year and then education chair for two. Now I have been elected as Vice-President by the board with the financial portfolio.
iG: What do you think sets apart the zone PGAs out here in the West?
KG: The BC and Alberta PGAs are pioneers and spearheaders... from things like getting sponsorship to setting up our office staffs and being creative with member programs.
iG: How is the relationship with the national office? Has it changed with Stephen Carroll going from being your executive director to the CPGA's?
KG: There had been a little bit of disconnect but with Stephen Carroll being there, it has really helped get the national office in order.
iG: What are your thoughts about the new PACE Education Program being unveiled by the CPGA ?(editor's note: This will be voted on by the CPGA membership March 25th).
KG: It will definitely mean a more inclusive membership and it will allow PGA members to go off in more specialized directions. It's my feeling that it might be a move back toward the old lab report approach. My take is that the PGM (Camosun Professional Golf Management Program) was a good first step. You look at the guys who are moving forward. They all have (post secondary) education. Why not take another step and make it a requirement to have at least a B.Com? At least you know a guy has sat in a classroom and listened to Marketing 101.
iG: Any other concerns about PACE?
KG: It has removed the "mentorship aspect" of becoming a golf professional. I can't imagine my career without Storm's mentoring. But where was the mentoring program going anyway? They polled assistants in the U.S. and found that 70% felt that they were not getting enough out of the process. Both the PACE and the ELITE (the existing program) have some flaws. The real questions right now are, 'Are we ready?' and 'Is this too fast with some questions still unanswered?'
iG: Do you have any advice for the young pros coming out today.
KG: Yes, I would tell them to be willing to move to a smaller town and apply for the head professional jobs in those towns. There are good paying jobs that are not being filled. Give yourself a chance to build your credibility and experience. Six or seven years in a job like that could lead into the chance to take over the shop or into a top job in a bigger community. My advice is that you do need to commit to that community. My family and I have immersed ourselves in the community here and it's really nice. In addition, young professionals need to get involved in PGA initiative and programs... seminars and events.
iG: Let's go through the changes that Long Beach has gone through since your arrival.
KG: Well, back in 2000 it was an opportunity to be a salaried head professional. The course was board operated. There were 100 members and everyone had a 'private' deal (smiling). It took one year to see that this was not really workable so I submitted a proposal to take over and sublet the operation including the golf course restaurant and campground. I still wanted to make sure that we provided a community amenity, still be a community driver, but to get a control on staffing and costs and improve the golf course. The board agreed and off we went.
iG: What do you see as being the thing you are most proud of since you took over?
KG: It would be the creation of our main charity event, The Wickaninnish Pro-Am each September. It's a great time of year to have it. We get more than 30 local pros from around the island. The Wickininnish Inn is the main sponsor but there are other contributors, 40 or 50 other local sponsors. The other would be the overall quality of the course. Eight years ago the local hotels and attractions were not comfortable sending guests up here. That's no longer true.
iG: Who is the main beneficiary of the Wickaninnish Pro-Am?
KG: It supports the Ucluelet High School. We felt that it was the best way for both communities (Tofino and Ucluelet) to benefit. Over the six years we have raised around $48,000.
iG: Are there any other charity initiatives?
KG: We also have the "Stick-in-the-Mud" Open and the PlaceTV Glow Ball. I also participate in the ALS event and played 100 holes from 5 am to 5 pm. We raised $6500 which is really incredible when you consider the size of our community.
iG: Getting the word out about this great golf course must be a bit of a challenge. How do you do it?
KG: Our marketing message is, "Don't forget your clubs." We get the word out by participating in PGA of BC events and hosting our Pro Am and Amateur events. When they announce,"Playing from Long Beach..," that reminds the other pros that we exist. Maybe they come out and play in our Pro-Am and then they go back and tell their members. It all helps. Winning the Yonex Pro-Ladies last year at Sun Peaks helps too.
iG: That's quite a distance to travel to play.
KG: Participating in these events is all part of being part of the PGA. It's not about shooting 67. You are there to make sure that those ladies have a good time. That's not to say anything against the guys who can shoot. In BC we have a great contingent of good playing pros but participation is the key.
iG: It's tough to do both... play and run a business.
KG: There are golf professionals and then there are professional golfers. I remember Norm Jackson telling me that when he got the job at Cowichan there were three guys going for the job. Each had to play with each board member and it was clear there was a component of the hiring decision that would be based on how they played. If I had to get a job based on playing with a board member, I'd be fairly nervous and still be looking for a job.
iG: You had the junior portfolio on the board of the PGA for three years. What do you do locally to get the kids to participate?
KG: We have ten weeks of free junior golf lessons. We just purchased some US Kids golf clubs for them to use during the program. We also sponsor a high school golf club, not a team, a club. We also offer free golf for local kids. We are setting a program where we will do lessons at Tofino Elementary free of charge. It's things like this that has the regional district behind us.
iG: That's fairly important right now.
KG: That's right. The first 25-year lease is nearly over. It comes up April of next year. The land here is actually owned by the regional district, both the airport and the course. The course was actually built by a couple of loggers around 27 years ago. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the new lease will work out.
iG: Talk about your new neighbor up the street in Ucluelet, Wyndansea.
KG: I'm a big fan. I hope we have a good relationship. It will be a huge employer for the area and it's another attraction to go to the West Coast.
iG: What do you see as the biggest issue facing golf courses at the higher end like Wyndansea?
KG: You have to have a service model that works. People have expectations from watching TV and seeing these courses with perfect manicure. It's sort of bad. Then they go to courses in places like Phoenix where the courses get enough rounds and have a year-round season where these service models make sense. They come back to BC expecting that type of service. For them, it's important to stand out but you have to look at costs. Their models work great in June, July, August but come September.... (shrugs). And then you have to ask a price to maintain these.
iG: How do you see this working at Wyndandsea?
KG: Wyndandsea has brought Troon Golf in (a management company from the U.S.) with their high level of service. It will be interesting to see how that works out here. It's not going to be easy to provide that level of experience in January. Of course, with these developments the real estate is the important thing. How do you measure the golf course operations when the focus is on real estate.
iG: What about Bear Mountain?
KG: From a personal point of view, it's great for Victoria. It sets a standard for level of service for golf in BC. Tobiano, The Rise (set to open later this year) and even Wyndansea will follow this service model.
iG: What do you think about all the high end courses that we are seeing built these days?
KG: There are not a lot of courses for the average joe. It's kind of disappointing but that is the elitist world we seem to be coming to.
iG: Prices are a little different here.
KG: Yes, this time of year you can play all you want for $24. I think that the market for nine-holers will explode with the cost of golf, the amount of time it takes to play and the fact that they are welcoming to ladies, juniors and beginners.
iG: Long Beach is a challenging 9-hole layout but very relaxed.
KG: You don't worry about what you are wearing here. We don't even have tee times . And it's an amazing layout. The treelined fairways are spread over more than 130 acres. You may see deer, or even a bear or wolf but you won't see many other people. Everyone should come out to the West Coast, it's pure golf.
By Jeff Sutherland
Jeff Sutherland is the publisher of Inside Golf Magazine.http://www.insidegolf.ca