NatPost: Final take on Stephen Ross

Here’s my take on the Stephen Ross situation, from Saturday’s national edition of the National Post (no idea why it didn’t run in Toronto….)

Sponsor woes prompt change by RCGA executive: Executive
director ‘fired’: Ross pays price for absence of name behind open event

Stephen Ross, the long-time executive director of the Royal
Canadian Golf Association, was removed from his position yesterday
amid the organization’s struggles to find a sponsor for the Canadian

Saying he was feeling “a little bit tired and a little bit worn
out,” Ross, who joined the RCGA in 1977 and has been the head of the organization’s operation for the last 18 years, was told of the
decision yesterday morning after a meeting of the RCGA’s executive

Ross led the RCGA through a tumultuous time, including the
increased popularity of golf in the era of Tiger Woods and the huge
surge in interest in the game domestically following the success of
Canadians such as Mike Weir and Lorie Kane. He also led the sale of
the Glen Abbey Golf Club to Club Link Corp. for $40-million in 1999.

However, under Ross, the RCGA had a rocky relationship with
sponsors of its professional tournaments and with those in the media who were often critical of what they saw as the diminishment of the Canadian Open.

These issues became increasingly problematic for the organization
after long-time Canadian Open supporter Bell Canada announced last year that it would step down as the primary sponsor of the event.

Since then the RCGA has struggled to find a new sponsor, and some
within the organization began to believe it was time for a
leadership change. The organization recently hired sports marketing
giant International Management Group to work alongside RCGA staff in trying to secure a sponsor for the Canadian Open, a deal valued at between $4-million and $6-million annually.

“Has Steve Ross overly protected the game or not protected it
enough? I don’t kno w,” he said on a conference call following the
announcement. “Whatever decisions I made for the RCGA were based on principles.”

However, those principles were not enough to save his job after the
RCGA’s executive committee, a group that consists of 11 governors,
became increasingly concerned about his leadership. Ross said he had increasingly been “struggling with the question of leadership,”
though he added he would likely still be with the RCGA had the
executive committee not forced the issue. Ross was given a severance

“I think I was in mid-air,” Ross said. “This was not a0 resignation. I don’t want to be seen as quitting.”

The RCGA portrayed the departure differently in a press release,
describing it as being “mutually agreed upon by Ross that he steps

Despite being directly involved in Ross’ removal, RCGA president
Garry West praised him for increasing the stature of the
organization during his tenure.

“The growth of the RCGA and what we owe Stephen for driving that
growth is tremendous,” he said.

West confirmed a search firm has been hired to locate Ross’s
successor. In the meantime, the RCGA’s chief operating officer, Rick
Desrochers, will assume the role of executive director.

Dick Grimm, the RCGA’s former director of professional tournaments and a previous chairman of the Canadian Open, said yesterday that it will be difficult to find someone with the appropriate skills to replace Ross.

“You have to have a passion for the game, first of all,” he said.
“You have to live golf 26 hours a day, and you might have to walk on

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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