Don Renaud – Living Through The Golden Age of Golf in Ottawa

A golf professional in Canada since the age of 15, Don Renaud sat down for an interview with Flagstick Golf Magazine just prior to playing in the PGA of Canada-Ottawa Zone Senior’s Championship at the Mississippi Golf Club in Carleton Place, Ontario, earlier this year.

Now in his 81st year, Mr. Renaud talked about 66 his years as a CPGA Member and his quarter century as a member of the South Florida PGA of America.

As he says “Golf and the golf professionals in Ottawa have been my second family. The game has been good to me and I love it.

Don continues with his story – “I grew up in Ottawa and my father used to take me to the Ottawa Hunt & Golf Club. At the age of 8, I began caddying for Harry Towlson, the Club’s head professional. When Mr. Towlson retired, Earl Stimpson took over for one year at the Hunt Club and he was followed by Ken Clark.”

When Earl went to the Chaudiere (now the Chateau Cartier), I went to work with Earl. A few years later I left to work with Johnny Hendrick at the Gatineau Golf Club as 2nd assistant. Half way through the year I became the 1st assistant when Frank Jenkins left. Because I worked in the pro shop, I was considered a professional and I wasn’t allowed to play in local amateur events. Ernie Wakelam and Ken Clark sponsored me to the Canadian Professional Golfers’ Association (CPGA). I appeared before the Board and told them why I wanted to become a professional and I was accepted, making me one of the youngest pros in Canada at the age of 15.

Then I worked with Kenny (Clark) in 1956 as the teaching pro at the Hunt Club and in the winter time I attended the PGA school in Dunedin, Florida. They taught merchandising, teaching, business and many other courses. I attended the school for about three years and got to know all the American pros who loved Canadian Assistants. I spent a few years working at the Oak Hill Golf & Country Club, Rochester, New York, and at Oakwood Golf & Country Club in Cleveland, Ohio, as a teaching professional to gain more experience.

In 1959 I came back to work for Kenny at the Hunt Club as a teaching professional and a year later I accepted my first Head Professional position at the Rideau View Golf Club at the age of 21 where I stayed for six years.

Lex Robson retired at Kawartha after 25 years and General Electric owned the course and I got the job out of 28 guys that applied. By late November, I didn’t know I had got the job, and the Eldorado Country Club in Palm Springs offered me a job and I went to work there, and I was all set up in a condo, the whole bit. I was there for about 3 months and played golf with Randall Scott and Chuck Connors. It was quite an experience. Then I found out I got the job at Kawartha, and I stayed there for 5 years.

The Cedarhill Golf & Country Club position became open and Ross Chiarelli hired me as the Head Professional. At the same time, I also operated my winter golf school for 15 years, very successfully.

Then I left Cedarhill to go to Rivermead as Pro-Play Director under the Head Professional Richard McBrearty. I had a key role in reducing a 1.2 million-dollar debt to under a half million in only two season. I was Chairman for the Canadian CPGA Seniors Championship held at the Rivermead Golf & Country Club. I brought in Ben Crenshaw, Jan Stephenson and Craig Stadler to help exhibit our great facility along with raising money in charity tournaments for the CHEO, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Cystic Fibrosis, and Villa Marconi Retirement Residence.

In 1987, I introduced Ken Venturi and Ken Scodacek to the Board and the membership at Rivermead. They were ultimately engaged to prepare a master plan for the development and renovation of the golf club.

I was also instrumental in the development of the Eagle Creek Golf Course. Bob Nicol suggested building a championship golf course in Ottawa and I agreed with the concept as long as he had the money ($10million) to make it go. My duties included hiring the golf designer (Ken Venturi); hiring the course architect (Ken Scodacek), hiring the course superintendent and pro shop staff. We also made a TV commercial and marketed the equity memberships and all promotional materials.

Won numerous Pro and Pro-Am Tournaments including the 1987 Senior Championship of Ottawa held at Outaouais. More recently won the Diamond Championship of Canada in 2007 and 2008.

Did you always have a passion for teaching?

I love teaching. I loved servicing the members; that was my big deal. I had golf schools for 15 years and they were always full, even when I was in Peterborough I came home in the winter to run the schools at the old Auditorium, then the following years at 240 Sparks Street I promoted my golf schools during the summer season and always had a full membership.

I’ve had the opportunity to teach with some of the golf’s best-known teachers including Ken Clark, John Hendrick, Dave Ogilvie, Bill O’Hara, Charlie McKenna, Bob Toski, Chuck Winstead and Mark Woods and Gary Braeseke.

Do you have a teaching philosophy?

Keep it simple. Simple is the name of the game. I find too many teachers today give too much information and most people can’t absorb half of it, particularly the kids.

Speaking of kids, you mentioned that you never charged kids for lessons?

I never believed in charging juniors. When teaching in Florida I give them free lessons. You never charge juniors because they are the future of the game.  When I was at Cedarhill, I would get 90 – 100 kids and I wouldn’t charge them a nickel. I’m proud of that. I worked with the PQGA and the CLGA giving free junior clinics and helping on the rules committee.

What in your mind have been your greatest accomplishments?

I enjoyed doing things for the community and I ran a lot of charity tournaments which raised money for various charities including the Heart Institute for Dr. Wm. Keon, Royal Ottawa Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, CHEO, TELCI Group, Cystic Fibrosis, Ileitis/Colitis Foundation.  Golf was so good to me and this was my way of giving back.

Proud to say that I was Captain of our group when we formed the association and became the CPGA Ottawa Zone.

The list of top amateurs and pros I brought in to Ottawa included Al Balding; Dave Barr; Gary Cowan; Ben Crenshaw: John Daly; Ray Floyd after he won the Masters; Sandra Post; Barbara Romack; Jan Stephenson and Ken Venturi.

I was also on the MacGregor Advisory Staff for 28 years. I was honoured at the Canadian Open where I was congratulated by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf and Ben Crenshaw.

Do you have any regrets?

Not at all, golf has been my second family. I lived through the Golden Age of Golf in Ottawa. We had great professionals and top amateurs, some of whom went on to become professionals. Sadly, a lot of my friends are gone. I’ve had a remarkable life and I’ve met people I wouldn’t have the chance otherwise.

What’s in the future for Don Renaud?

My health is still good and I’m enjoying life with my wife Teri and we have my daughter Debbie, who calls us every day. We enjoy our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We’re well set up in Florida with a good home overlooking the golf course. A good life in the Sunny South. Golf, the game of a lifetime.