The Professional: Ushering in the New Era of the CPGA

The Professional: Ushering in the New Era of the CPGA

* This story was featured in the NGCOA Canada - Golf Business Canada Magazine/Summer 2007 Edition

Instead of heading an association of more than 3,500 golf professionals, Steve Carroll could do something difficult. Like, say, work as an ambassador in the Middle East trying to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Or get SUV drivers to switch to Smart Cars to save the planet. Or get the rest of Canada to like people in Toronto. Well, that might be a stretch. Carroll is the epitome of the glass half-full guy. No matter how bleak the prospects or agitated the proceedings, he’ll find the positive—something to grasp that will allow good things to happen. That skill and approach comes in very handy as Carroll faces the biggest challenge of his career—to reinvigorate and re-invent an association that’s nearly 100 years old and burdened with a lot of baggage from poor leadership in the past decade. In fact, many CPGA members scattered across Canada do not have a lot of faith in their organization and they don’t see value for their annual dues that range from $470 to $1,200 annually.

A STEADY HAND - Those who know Carroll say he’s the ideal man for the job. Paired with President Warren Crosbie, the respected Head Professional at Bayview Country Club in Toronto, the two provide the Canadian PGA with a strong one-two punch. “Steve’s 20 years of experience working for the Canadian PGA affords him a unique understanding of the association and the industry as a whole,” says Gary Bernard, the association’s director of education. “He has incredible patience, he’s very smart and he knows how to get the best out of people. He can keep his cool in situations where others might fly off the handle. If there was ever someone made for the job of heading the Canadian PGA, it’s Steve,” said Bernard, a Class A professional who has worked with the association in education for the last 12 years. In Bernard’s view, Carroll, along with officers Warren Crosbie, Lindon Garron and Doug Wood, are providing “powerful leadership that is moving this association forward, tackling problems and leading us toward changes that are remaking the Canadian PGA into a modern and vital association for our members.”

LEADERSHIP LESSONS - Through the ’90s and early part of this decade, the Canadian PGA was experimenting with different people in the executive director’s chair, trying different management styles mainly in an effort to make the organization more financially secure and business-oriented. The experiment largely failed and many members, alongside some people in the industry, felt that the association had lost much of its effectiveness in fulfilling its mandate to advocate for its members and to support and enhance golf professionals’ careers. The association was saddled with a reputation for over-promising—particularly on reforms and new programs that would bring greater value to the members—and under-delivering. Communication out to members from the national office staff was poor and relations with some of the regional “zones” were frosty. Many members believed that education programs they were mandated to pay for and follow did nothing to enhance their careers, and that some programs were just not relevant to their situation. Even the association’s website, a visual symbol of the association, seemed like an appropriate representation of the Canadian PGA’s status: antiquated, tired and not in step with the modern needs of the industry and its members.

FALLEN CHAMPIONS - As one of the country’s great championships of the past, the Canadian PGA Championship had slipped with the loss of title sponsor Samsung after the 2004 event, and many members questioned the alignment with the Nationwide Tour that provided few spots for CPGA members. Other than the name, the event didn’t really have much of a Canadian personality or showcase Canadian golf professionals. When the association announced in May 2006 that it was canceling the championship for that year—the second oldest in North America—citing a lack of sponsorship, many in the industry inferred this was evidence of the continued decline of the association. However, the decision to cancel the championship was also viewed by many as a brave one that signaled strong leadership under the new Carroll regime. In fact, since coming on board with the Canadian PGA in late 2005, Carroll had slowly been working toward reforms and changes to re-invigorate the championship and the association as a whole. “To turn around an association that’s in a traditional industry like golf and as large and complex as the Canadian PGA takes a lot of time,” Bernard said. “By early 2006, Steve had a clear understanding of the challenges the association faced, and he was taking steps to make necessary changes, and that included canceling the [Canadian PGA] championship when it didn’t have title sponsorship.”

THE SHAKEUP - As executive director of the British Columbia PGA for 13 years, Carroll had proven that he was capable of making hard decisions. During his stint, he had developed a well-deserved reputation as a capable and effective leader in golf, in which he was immersed both professionally and personally. A native of Toronto with an undergraduate degree from the University of Calgary and a Masters in Physical Education from the University of Ottawa, Carroll began working with the national office of the Canadian PGA as education and program co-coordinator, but was soon presented with the opportunity to lead the national body. “It was an irresistible opportunity,” he said. “I had worked with the CPGA right out of school, so I felt that I could contribute a lot. Given the right conditions, I felt that I could do a lot to modernize the association.” Now that he’s been in the job for two years, he’s put his stamp on the association with some important moves that have included:

• Pushing forward with a proposed new education system to bring the association in line with needs of the industry, members and prospective professionals (see sidebar Association in Transition)
• A renewed emphasis on consulting zone offices on important matters
• A commitment to increased communication with members and the media
• Undertaking a review of its governance structure to meet the needs of golf professionals and the evolving game in Canada
• The re-launch of the association’s web-site – a great reflection of the sweeping changes taking place from within

In discussing proposals for new plans or programs, Carroll finds that many people—including members are cautious about rocking the CPGA boat or upsetting tradition. He’ll often be forced to ask them not to dismiss new ideas because they don’t conform to what he calls “yesterday’s CPGA.” “The association has been saddled with this reputation among its members and by the industry as being more concerned about protocol, meeting criteria and abiding by tradition,” Carroll said. “With the support of Warren [Crosbie] and the board, my goal has been to remake the association into a knowledge-based association. With the new education proposal [which goes to the members for a vote this summer] and other programs, our aim is to provide our members with the skills to enhance their careers and fulfill their dreams and ambitions,” Carroll said.

OPPORTUNITY OUTREACH - While the majority of Canadian PGA members have traditionally worked as professionals at golf facilities, opportunities have opened up in new realms. Many professionals are now working as general managers, superintendents, as executives of golf companies such as ClubLink, and as salespeople and managers of large retail operations such as Golf Town. “We are taking important steps to ensure that we are helping our members prepare for the many new opportunities available today, and to help golf facilities and businesses to find professionals who can help them run effective and profitable operations,” Carroll said. The association is also working hard to increase its outreach to the public to help grown the game, which requires corporate support for programs and events. For instance, Jeff Dykeman, formerly manager of education and employment, was recently promoted to a newly created position as manager of business development. With a marketing background and a deep passion for the game, Dykeman is well-placed to generate new business opportunities and programs for the association. One of those initiatives will include the association’s Centennial celebrations in 2011 which are intended to touch all Canadian golfers and underscore the tremendous value and expertise that golf professionals bring to the game in this country. And while Carroll has focused much of his attention on making the Canadian PGA more valuable to its members, the association is working hard to make golf a better game for more than five million Canadian golfers. “Obviously, it makes sense for us to help grow the game in Canada because the future of the game depends on it, but our members are golfers first and professionals second,” Carroll said. “They are passionate about the game and they want to promote golf as a lifelong sport for fun, health and competition. The game has so much to offer everyone.”

THINKING LONG TERM - Among its most exciting initiatives, the Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA), in partnership with the Canadian PGA announced the Long Term Player Development Guide in January. Bolstered by 11 CPGA members on its taskforce, the LTPD Guide sets out a highly structured road map for increasing the numbers of recreational golfers in Canada and fostering more Canadian golfers who can excel at the top levels of the game. Developed in association with Sport Canada with the world-renowned expertise of the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC), the LTPD has adapted leading-edge development programs that have produced world class athletes at the top levels in many sports, including the Olympics. With help from the CAC, the association has developed a new National Coaching Certification Program. “This program is very exciting to many of our members,” Dykeman said, “because it will enable certified Canadian professionals to coach in the 2009 Canada Games when golf will be a medal sport, and to potentially coach in future Commonwealth and Olympic Games.” The LTPD compliments CN Future Links, another RCGA partnership, the national junior development program that consists of multi level instruction, camps and special programs to raise awareness of junior golf.


Power in golf is usually affiliated with 300-yard \drives, but knowledge also brings great power. The key factor in the Canadian PGA’s transition into a knowledge-based association is the new membership and education proposal that has been six years in the making. With a wide variety of input from Canadian PGA Members, staff, CPGA zones, education experts and golf industry leaders, the proposal has been thoughtfully developed to provide Canadian golf professionals with the best education to meet the needs of today’s industry. “The proposal strives to provide members with access to knowledge, competencies, skills, abilities, tools and certifications that will improve their ability to successfully compete in the marketplace,” said Executive Director Steve Carroll. Through education, the association wants to empower its members so they can differentiate themselves in the industry and pursue their passions, gain greater expertise in their areas of talent and skill, and make a better living. The Canadian PGA has a strong history of education, dating to the association’s first year in 1911 with on-the-job apprentice training. The system has evolved over the years with lab reports that included mentoring from head professionals, and then a more self-directed program. Rather than a training based program, the new education program will become more competency based, comprising a “certification” recognition system that provides comprehensive education in specific areas of expertise. While still in the draft stage, some of proposed certifications include golf shop operations, food and beverage operations, turf management, finance, marketing and sales, customer service and so on. The intent is to provide professionals with education that will enable them to aspire to and reach their employment goals in areas of need and those that they are passionate about. “Many employment opportunities exist today that have not historically been in the domain of Class “A” professionals and the process of change in the industry will only accelerate in the coming years, especially with the pace of technology,” said Gary Bernard, Director of Education. “It’s crucial we provide our members with education that allows them to adapt quickly to changes in the marketplace.”

Article by Tim O'Connor

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For more information contact:

Erica Bury
Communications Coordinator
Canadian PGA