Hamilton-area golf course owners have arms wide open – for workers
The masters are behind us, warm weather is upon us, and golf course owner-operators are tearing their hair out.
You’ll wonder why, since most golf courses have been coming out for two years with a record number of rounds played and many experts are predicting the same in 2022.
The problem is that many courts in Ontario, including Hamilton, Halton and Niagara, are facing staffing issues. And it’s in all aspects of golf, from course operations to golf course maintenance to food and beverage.
“We are understaffed in almost every area,” says Bryan DeCunha, owner-operator of Dragon’s Fire Golf Club in Flamborough.
“I’ve been in the business for over 25 years and I’ve never seen it look so bad. In fact, my daughter and son-in-law work 12 hour days seven days a week simply because we have no staff.
But DeCunha and Dragon’s Fire are not alone.
“I’ve been preaching to everyone that this is a problem and I’ve never seen anything before,” said Tom Vanderlip, general manager of Niagara National Golf and Country.
“Ten or 15 years ago when I was at Peninsula Lakes, we were having a job fair and 200 people were showing up and now you can’t even bring people in for an interview.”
Vanderlip said the problem is plaguing every course in Niagara.
“I remember when people were knocking on your door for the chance to work in a pro shop. Now we have to interview more people to get our compliments,” said Mark Arnett, who directs golf operations for the three municipal golf courses in the City of Hamilton.
“It has certainly been more difficult this year, but we are getting there.”
Barry Forth, general manager of Copetown Woods, considers himself one of the lucky ones.
“Last year, pretty much by design, we went through a significant overhaul and turnover of our staff and created a new culture and vibe for staff and golfers. People who joined us l he last year had such a good time that staff turnover this year was lower than ever, so we started this year three steps ahead of any other year we’ve had.
Forth added, however, that he had heard from some other operators, particularly in Niagara, that finding staff was like pulling teeth.
So why is it so hard to get people into golf?
“We owner-operators created this mess by not paying people enough over the years and giving them a good career path to keep them in the business,” Vanderlip said.
This is undoubtedly one of the reasons, but there must be others.
“Everyone has more to do now,” Arnett said. “When we hire students, they’re often still in school and they may have summer classes because of COVID-19, and then they have other part-time jobs.”
Ryan Surette, who is in his sixth season as superintendent of Mystic Golf Course in Ancaster, said the turf industry in general is struggling to attract people.
“On our Ontario golf superintendent website, there are probably 40 to 50 good career positions available and it seems like no one is getting any applications,” Surette said. “It may be due to how people perceive work, such as long days, hard work and low pay.”
Surette says he hasn’t had a big problem hiring students since he changed his way of thinking.
“I realize now that for most of them it’s not going to be a career,” he said. “You have to work with them and understand their mentality that it’s a way to earn money for school or whatever. Nobody wants to get up at 4:30 in the morning and that’s hard work and I think this is especially true if they are not golfers.
Ian and Lisa Ladd, who are majority owners of Southbrook in Binbrook and Beechwood in Niagara Falls, agree that turf service is their biggest staffing challenge.
“These days, a lot of students aren’t really mindful of schedules, starting early in the morning and working outside in the sun and the heat,” he says.
DeCunha says there’s one area of the golf industry he has no trouble finding people in and that’s the young women who drive the beverage cart or work in the halfway house.
“With tips, they make $40 to $50 an hour,” he says.
All in one :
— Ian and Lisa Ladd have changed the name of their Niagara Region golf course to Beechwood Golf and Social House.
At Southbrook, they expect to open their new 12th hole this summer. They will also have a new temporary practice green between the 1st and 10th tees and will use the existing practice green for special events.
Southbrook will have its first golf professional in a few years. Oliver Hunt will also teach classes and lead junior clinics.
— The Hamilton-Halton Junior Golf Tour is back for a 39th season.
Qualifying day is Sunday, June 5 at the Martin Course in Chedoke. To register, go to their website at www.hhjgt.com.