Delight On The Rideau
With less than two years until they celebrate their 50th anniversary, the Carleton Golf & Yacht Club finds itself looking into their past to help define their future.
The Manotick, Ontario club, like most private golf clubs in this era, is working diligently to attract new members while at the same time providing as much value as possible for their current membership.
Unlike many private clubs who might choose to take a more exclusionary approach, Carleton seems to embracing a wider scope of clientele.
As General Manager Greg Richardson explains they are simply embracing the roots of the club which was founded as the Rideau Carleton Golf & Yacht Club in October of 1962. “In its infancy it started out as a family, community club,“ says the man who is in his tenth golf season at Carleton. “It was a family-focussed place with the people buying property along the course, and enjoying the course, the clubhouse, and the yacht club (the yacht club is no longer part of the club although it remains in the name), and the pool.”
Richardson says over the years, as the population aged, it became more of a senior-oriented place with fewer young families but that seems to changing once again, and they are ready to adapt to a shifting marketplace. “As we have been looking back at who we were and who we need to be, that has been something we have been looking at – maybe getting back a little closer to our roots.”
“It’s a challenging environment for clubs and I think you have to find your niche,” he says, citing the nearly 100 golf clubs in the National Capital Region that they must share the golf market with. As part of their long-term planning they are looking to predict what they might be by the time the calendar turns to the year 2016. Richardson assures me that they are confident about their position in the market and what they can offer to prospective members and their existing membership.
That starts with the golf course that winds through the 135 acre property at Carleton. Richardson confidently tells anyone that it is a course ideal for the widest range of golfers possible. “It really has developed into a good golf course, a parkland style course that is really well maintained. Our Superintendent, Joel Trickey, is one of the best in the business and has been here for fifteen years. We may not be a 7,000 yard golf course (the layout plays to par 71 and just over 6300 yards) but I think that makes it great for the whole family, the father the mother and the kids. Anybody will be challenged by the course but it is still easy to walk for juniors through to senior golfers.”
Carleton’s CPGA Head Professional, Gord Percy, concurs. As a fine player himself and an award-winning teacher, he knows a good test of golf when he sees it and says that often players will underestimate Carleton based on the length alone.
“We have had a lot of big events here and although a lot of good players can shoot around par we do not see a lot of low scores.” Percy attributes that to a number of factors. “…the course is very narrow, with lots of mature trees and can be difficult to play. You have to be accurate and all it’s always in superb condition. The greens are small so we tell players that if they aim for the middle of the greens they can usually have a no more than 20 feet for birdie. Because you usually have perfect greens there is certainly a chance to make some putts.”
A lot of investment has been put into the course in recent years, specifically in the drainage and irrigation, bringing the course to an incredible standard of agronomy that is appreciated by all who wander its picturesque fairways.
Another testament of the Carleton layout is the fact it has hosted many premium events including the 1998 and 2002 Canadian PGA Seniors’ Championship. Former PGA Tour player Gar Hamilton won the 2002 tournament and he still talks about what a great test the course was for him and his fellow professionals. In a recent chat during his induction into the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame he specifically mentioned how straight you needed to be off the tee but that it was just a “fun place to play golf.” That is high praise from a well-respected player.
In addition to the 18 holes the course sports a range, great short game practice area, and a large putting green maintained at exactly the same speed as those on the course.
Of course, as we know, it takes more than a golf course to make a club and Carleton pays great attention to their other amenities as well.
Most notably is in the pro shop where Gord Percy and his staff work hard to service the membership and their guests.
“We definitely try to stock all equipment they might need and as much to the good clothing as we can get in,” he explains. “We’re not a big shop but we certainly have a lot to offer. We do a lot of club fitting and have a number of fitting systems. We want to make sure members are getting the best information and service as possible.”
On the instruction side Percy says he and his CPGA Assistant Professionals offer a wide range of teaching services including a competitive women’s program (they have some of the best female golfers in the region as members, winter lessons, junior programs, private lessons, and some clinics.
The well-appointed clubhouse, which was rebuilt in 1990 after a fire the year before, is comfortable and offers plenty of space with a dining room, banquet rooms and locker facilities in addition to the pro shop and back-shop services. Various specials and dinner events (including wine tastings) fill the annual calendar.
The scope of those services fits back into the overall philosophy of the club as outlined by Greg Richardson. By not taking a single-minded approach they are working to be attractive to a wider range of people. That is growing even more important as the surrounding communities of Manotick, Riverside South, and Barrhaven swell in population with a heavy family demographic.
“When you are catering to the new age family, they want value, like in any industry,” says Richardson. “The idea that it is just the dad who joins a private club to play golf is a thing of the past. People want to know what else they can do at a club, whether entire families and children are welcome. “
Richardson emphasizes that although they are a private club they have always had a casual atmosphere. “We’re not high end, nor are we corporate. We offer a high level of service but we’re not the kind of place where you need a tie and jacket to be in the dining room. That is just who we are and we will continue to work on that.”
In that vein the club is doing a lot of things to help attract new members. Trial memberships are offered and on the development side there is some major strategic planning underway along with master planning for the golf course itself. Even with a changing economy and demographics they are holding true to their roots while embracing the demands of modern golf club clientele.
Carleton Golf & Yacht Club may soon hit the half century mark but it is obvious that is not causing them to slow down in anyway.