Canadian inspiration

Departments - Teeing Off

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October 4, 2019

I saw five women walk mowing tees on a pair of idyllic Ontario mornings in August. I saw two more women mowing tees before noticing two women who looked the same – they were identical twins – mowing collars as a woman operating a triplex zoomed past me.

I never thought much of it. I then returned to the United States and haven’t stopped thinking about what I witnessed while visiting Magna Golf Club for the third part of the “Our Major” series (pages 54-57).

The CP Women’s Open, a LPGA event contested at Magna, a magnificent private course north of Toronto, boasted a field of the world’s best female players. One of North America’s most inclusive maintenance teams prepared the course for professionals from 26 countries.

Besides affable players who lauded the fellow women they spotted mowing playing surfaces, nobody on the course before dawn found the presence of all-female mowing crews unusual. Efficient, determined and enthusiastic women are omnipresent at Magna. Superintendent Wayne Rath says he once considered swapping the female and male locker rooms, because he thought women might eventually outnumber men on the 50-worker crew. This year’s peak-season team included 15 female employees, most of whom found fulfilling summer work between school semesters. “There’s nothing any of these girls can’t do that the guys do,” Rath says.

Next year’s crew should include a significant female presence. Seasonal employees return to Magna for second, third and even fourth summers. A few employees might bring along a family member or friend. Magna had two sets of sisters on its 2019 summer crew, including twins Alyssa and Michaela Point.

Magna’s female workers have a manager who can relate to what they might be experiencing. Kendra Kiss, a spray technician who also meticulously handles administrative duties, started working on an Alberta course as a 19-year-old. She admits to being initially overwhelmed by an environment where workers use complex equipment to meet high expectations. Now an industry veteran, Kiss collaborates with Rath and assistant superintendent Terry Magee to ensure new employees of both genders receive significant training and mentorship. “I try to help them as much as I can, because I know how intimidating it can be walking into a golf course and not understanding something,” Kiss says.

Coaching and care yield a significant reward for managers. Young employees who experience a positive first season are more apt to become loyal, which isn’t always the case in summer labor markets with more available jobs than reliable employees. Working outdoors for supportive bosses convinced Alyssa and Michaela Point to spend four summers at Magna between semesters at Brock University.

“We are always asking questions,” Michaela says. “We are just never doing something to do it. We want to know why we are doing stuff. There’s a reason behind everything we do here.”

Their CP Women’s Open week assignment involved hand mowing collars. It’s likely the first time in LPGA history twin sisters mowed tournament bentgrass together. “When we came here and heard that the girls do all the same stuff that the guys do, it made us feel useful,” Alyssa says. “It felt nice to know that we were actually doing something and not just being given some odd jobs.”

Associations and companies are investing considerable time and resources into promoting and helping expand opportunities for women in turf, especially at the managerial levels. Their efforts should be lauded. But summer visits to Magna and Hamilton Golf and Country Club, the fabulous RBC Canadian Open site with a diverse crew featured in Part 1 of the “Our Major” series, demonstrated what conference room chatter can’t replicate.

Supportive managers with structured training programs will make golf course maintenance an attractive job for all employees. Listening, answering, demonstrating, empowering and caring are universal practices. There shouldn’t be anything unusual about seeing what happens when they are implemented.