Story by: Jim Clagget
Photos by: Judith Gauthier

Some history was made in Calgary last November when the National Golf Course Owners Association of Canada gathered for their Annual General Meeting.

Lesley McMahon
First Woman President of Canadian National Golf Course Owners Association

Lesley McMahon, a golf course owner in Red Deer, Alberta was elected as president of the country-wide association making her the first female president in the not-for-profit group’s history.

McMahon, who was NGCOA Vice President the past two years says she was honoured to take over the helm.

“I honestly never thought in a million years I would be the president of this board. I am proud that they have the confidence in me to lead this organization.”

There are about 1,200 golf courses under the NGCOA Canada umbrella with 187 of those in Alberta where McMahon was Chapter President since 2008. This appointment carries some weight and makes her one of the people who can enact change in the game of golf in our country.

The mandate of the NGCOA is to be the representative for golf course owners and operators. That is on the surface but there is more underneath when you dig a bit.

“The professionals have the PGA, the superintendents have the CGSA, Golf Canada is there to govern the sport of golf and then you have the Canadian Golf industry covering all the equipment,” she said. “So, the NGCOA was formed ( in 1992) as a group to take care of the concerns of the owner/ operators. So that starts as simple as group buying, the ability to get prices down on important things like credit car rates, fertilizer, things that every golf course has to buy.”

The group is also an advocate for things like property tax issues, lobbying for golf as a legitimate business expense, pesticide ban issues, etc..

“Also, an ability to get all of the golf course owners across Canada to talk. We don’t really have a forum to get together and network and share ideas and help each other.”

One of the issues which got some deep discussion was the legalization of cannabis in Canada and a how it will impact golf courses in 2019. It most certainly isn’t smoke and mirrors.

Every province has its own liquor laws and pot falls under those rules which were discussed with two lawyers brought in to shed some legal light on the matter.

“It was really interesting. They gave us some advice regarding not only your customers but what if your employees have a medical marijuana card, how do you deal with that,” she said.

(L to R) Kevin Thistle CEO of the PGA of Canada, Mark Patterson, President of PGA of Canada, Lesley McMahon President of NGCOA Canada, Kendall Costain President of CGSA, Jeff Calderwood, CEO of NGCOA Canada & Executive director of CGSA(Canadian Golf Superintendents Association), Reto Steiner Past President of NGCOA Canada.

The NGCOA knew this day was coming so there had been some previous dialogue, but McMahon says it was in a more lighthearted manner. This talk took on a more serious note and people in the room paid more attention to the discussion, she said.

“If you think this is a joke, I’m sure your insurance company you pay liability insurance to doesn’t think this is a joke,” she said.

It boils down to a basic formula for the courses under the rules governing alcohol-if you are licensed to serve alcohol then you can’t sell marijuana. Now each province has created their own governing bylaws making for the golf version of Reefer Madness. It just adds to the confusion for the NGCOA members to be on the same page across the country.

“It’s going to fall on the property owners to make the decision on how they want to deal with it if those rules aren’t in place.”

A key issue she wants to address has to do with women in the golf industry. Sixty-five women turned out in November out of 285 delegates at the AGM to share their thoughts.

“It was not man-bashing. That was something we talked about right away. This is a safe room where we can address issues.”

It was simply being able to speak their mind when it comes to those issues they may have to deal with in their position at a golf course came up, she said.

“Let’s say they’re a food and beverage manager and they say the beverage cart operators have to wear a certain uniform and then the general manager says, tell her to unbutton her shirt a bit more or tell her to wear shorter shorts.”

McMahon says a lot of these women are up against these situations and even though they may not be driving the cart they are put in very uncomfortable positions. She says she would gladly bring in less income from the beverage cart if it meant the cart person was not put in a bad situation on the course.

She says she sees this Women in Golf conference growing and helping women realize they have the right to speak up about their work environment to make it better.

“I have talked to my male friends who are golf course managers and they say they can’t even imagine some of the things I have to put up with that would never even cross their mind.”

As an example, she explained how a salesman came into her golf course and was giving his sales pitch to one of the male employees when he pointed to her and said she’s the general manager, you must talk to her.

“He continued to make eye contact (with the employee) even though he clearly explained he could not make the final decision.”

A couple of items she wants to check off as president includes getting the membership of the NGCOA to understand the programs offered. Further to that is being more in touch with those members especially when it comes to updating them on those programs.

“Some of these programs change once a year but some of them change quarterly and you have to actually be paying attention,” she said.

One of the biggest moments of the AGM was the announcement of the NGCOA, the PGA of Canada and the Golf Course Superintendents are going to do a joint conference in 2019.

“Years ago, they weren’t even talking to each other and now we’re going to run a joint conference.”

She says it shows the territorialism is lessening and the groups are figuring out a united voice will make the golf industry in Canada stronger.

“That was a big moment for the golf industry,” she said “I had a lot of people come up and comment to me that this is incredible. I never thought I would see the day when superintendents and the pros and the owners would work together.”

More history being made which bodes well for the next couple of years under her watch.

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