NGCOA Responds to Player Honor

Last week I wrote a quick note about a press release I had received mentioning that Gary Player was to receive a lifetime achievement honor at the National Golf Course Owners’ Association meeting in BC. Strange, thought I, as Player hasn’t really done anything in Canada to warrant an honor. But I wasn’t attending — so what difference did it really make?

But I was wrong in my perspective on Player, says NGCOA executive director Jeff Calderwood. Calderwood rarely minces words — so here’s his response to me:

Hi Robert, returned from Vancouver conference last night, getting caught up today¦
I wish you had taken the time to do a little research before defaulting to that ever so easy negative journalism ploy. A simple email or phone call would have been the respectful thing to do, and provided your audience with some actual value, in my humble opinion.
So for next time, allow me to elaborate on what you missed¦
Our Golf Business Canada Conference & Trade Show was strategically positioned this year with an Olympic theme. Every year we apply a unique theme that connects back to the business side of golf, providing our delegates with a total experience rather than a normal conference. This approach is one of several reasons why our conference is the most successful of any golf business conference in the world, and there are dozens of them.
So we chose Vancouver for that reason, we picked dates right before the Olympics, we had a former Team Canada Olympic skier as our closing keynote, various other Olympic moments, and a more international scope that other years. Analogies such as the pursuit of excellence, importance of team work, setting high goals, discipline, stiff competition, going for gold, etc., were worked into our context throughout the 3 days as we connected the Olympic theme to business success in Canadian golf. Our opening ceremonies included the torch lighting the flame, and a look back at George Seymour Lyon, the reigning gold medalist from Olympic golf in 1904. And the announcement of golf in the Olympics for 2016 was obviously another relevant highlight.
And so we engaged Gary Player as our opening keynote speaker to support. As you know, hes one of very few within PGA Tour circles who is an effective enough communicator to carry a keynote speech. Normally, I wont accept anyone who isnt a professionally trained speaker, and even then I weed out any of them who are charging less than $12,000 per hour, no room for poor performances in a conference of this caliber. But Mr. Player is an exception communicator. And his stature as International Ambassador for Golf, including efforts to secure golf for 2016, and a whole career of helping to globalize the game outside of the USA and Britain, made him a perfect fit for us this year.
In terms of the Golf Business Canada Lifetime Achievement Award itself, it is not a competition. There are a number of deserving recipients, and they  Ëœreceive the Award rather than Ëœwin it. And we arent putting them in any specific order, more a case of finding the most appropriate moment for any one of them to be honored for a career of leadership in golf. Therefore, absolutely nothing to do with what, Arnie and Jack were not available? They simply were not as relevant to this moment for our audience.
I should also note that the Award is not about designing courses in Canada, or winning the Canadian Open, etc,. Those kind of reference points are more suited to consumer or media awards, ie catering to golfers. The National Golf Course Owners Association Canada is focused on the trade side of the industry, substantial difference.
So, within that context, and assuming you do have an appreciation of all that Mr. Player has done to benefit golf around the world, can you suggest any more appropriate moment for the NGCOA Canada to honor him than during our annual conference, in front of hundreds of golf course operators from across Canada, in Vancouver, right before the Olympics, a few weeks after golf announced for 2016, and in conjunction with his opening keynote speech?
Jeff Calderwood, CEO
National Golf Course Owners Association Canada

So let me get this straight — there’s a link, however loose, between Gary Player and the Olympics, in that he lobbied for it. And the NGCOA meeting was in Vancouver, and there will be a winter Olympics there. And though Gary Player hasn’t done anything directly for golf in Canada (aside from picking Mike Weir for the Presidents Cup team, which is something I suppose), he is a fine speaker and fits that bill. And if you need someone to keep you interested after the rubber chicken dinner, Player will do a fine job. He can talk about golf and the world, how it is exploding in Asia and how he’ll design marginal golf courses there and inflict them on the world. He is a legend — there’s no doubting that, and I can attest to Player being an engaging speaker having interviewed him on a couple of occasions.

Interesting though, that an organization built on golf courses seems to think that awarding those who create them is “more suited to consumer or media awards.” Like Thomas McBroom or Doug Carrick haven’t changed golf in Canada over the last two decades. Tom loves to talk — he’d make a great speaker, and he’s contributed to golf in Canada. Or maybe someone like Mike Keiser — the man behind Bandon Dunes — could be brought up to explain how to create truly world-class golf and create a destination while thinking outside of the expected norms. Now I might have flown to BC to hear that.

As for golf around the world, there’s no doubting Mr. Player’s influence. But none of that was referenced when the initial news of Mr. Player’s award was announced to the media. Would it have hurt to have included “Mr. Player is receiving the accolade for his service to golf not just in Canada — but worldwide?” Would fewer people have turned up on the conference call?

Anyway, a tempest in a teapot. Golf course owners in this country surely have more to worry about than whether Gary Player can point to Calgary on a map or explain why his much-discussed BC real estate development went silent. I’m sure their problems were addressed in one of those keynotes as well, right after the Olympic skier and before the British Open winner….

Related Articles

About author View all posts Author website

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.

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I so agree with the above article and am very surprised with Robert;’s comment prior .
    Robert next time do better homework before writing an article .

  • definition of shill:

    1. a person who poses as a customer in order to decoy others into participating, as at a gambling house, auction, confidence game, etc.
    2. a person who publicizes or praises something or someone for reasons of self-interest, personal profit, or friendship or loyalty.

    Given Gary Player’s stature in the game of golf, describing him as a shill seems inappropriate.

  • Weekend Enthusiast – do you remember his ads for his special Black Knight Golf Clubs? His ringing endorsements of his marginal course designs? He is often evangelical in his comments.

    You can be a giant of the game and still be a shill. Showing up to give some pro forma happy speech and pick up a cheque seems to be shill behaviour for me.

    I knew the definition without, thanks.

  • Endorsing golf clubs and course designs?…proforma happy speeches and picking up cheques?…Why single out Player? Nicklaus, O’Meara, Couples, Norman, Weir, Love…they are all guilty of the same.

    Player is evangelical in his comments? This is Player. He is passionate about everything he does. Have you heard him talk about the pace of the Augusta greens? His diet? His travel schedule? Competitive rivalry with his peers? No product placement there but plenty of evangelical type commentary.

    Still say shill is an inappropriate term to single out Player, especially given the general behaviour of most top golfing icons.

  • I own a golf course and was at the conference last week.
    R.T. I read you blog because your always brave enough to put your opinions out there for public scrutiny, I respect that about you…. and I learned Gary Player is the same…. so you both get my compliments in this overly Politically correct world for being straight shooters.
    What has he done for golf in Canada?
    Choosing Mike Weir to play Tiger in the presidents cup and giving him the confidence to win… Weir went on to win the next week also…. When Weir does well my tee sheet fill with juniors and occaisonal golfers who get inspired to play.
    His opinions on golf course design, playability and about operations who spend more money maintaining their sand traps then their greens were well stated.
    His story about starting as a miners son and becomming a world class golfer is inspiring and should make anyone in any country know its possible.
    His celebrity status brought a few extra owners to the meeting and when 300 operators get together and talk about growing the game ect ect. golf in Canada wins.
    R.T. when you stir the pot and get us all talking and typing about golf… Golf in Canada wins too! And some might argue your not lifetime achievement material either… but I’ll put in a good word for ya.
    The Shill comment is inappropriate in a sport… or a blog of this caliber

  • Robert, I really like Player and have met him several times since 1967 in the Bahamas. He’s a fine ambassador for the game, not as well liked for his designs, but a true legend. Great family man too!

    In the 60’s when he was playing around the world with his Black Knight Campbell of Canada clubs with fishing rod shafts from Sheakspeare he admitted it was all about money – and he also hated the ball he was using but had a “contract”. So he was shill but he’s one of my all time heros.

Leave a Reply