For the last two years Jean Pilon has been the Golf Operations Manager at the Hylands Golf Club in Ottawa, one of the busiest golf clubs in the National Capital region. But his affiliation with golf began many decades ago, in his hometown of Aylmer, a place he has lived his whole life.
We recently sat down with the 53 year-old PGA of Canada member to discuss his life in golf.
FGM. Did you start playing golf when you were young?
JP. My first golf game was when I was fourteen. I bought a membership at Champlain (Golf Club) when I was fifteen. I played 90 games in 90 days and I fell in love with the game.
FGM. So what got you interested in the game; why did you buy that membership in the first place? You mentioned that your parents did not play golf.
JP. Well, because I always lived in Aylmer I always drove by the Champlain, the Chaudiere, and the Royal Ottawa (all golf clubs on Aylmer Road), l kept looking at Royal Ottawa and that club-house and golf course and how beautiful it was said to myself “one day I’m going to play golf and I’m going to play that golf course.” That was my thing. That was what I wanted. I HAD to play golf, I came from Aylmer. Everyone played.
FGM. So who did you play with early on, if your parents did not play?
JP. Some of my friends from school played. I went to grade school and high school with Mike Dagenais (another long-time PGA of Ottawa pro and fine player). So Mike played and a few of my other friends played but I had never thought of playing because I played hockey, and I was a ping-pong player.
FGM. When did you begin to think you could work in the game?
JP. I was a member for two years at Champlain and then I went to Gatineau (Golf Club) as a junior member. I saw Gilles Leduc (then the Champlain pro) at a marina one day and he said “Are you looking for a job; I’m looking for somebody in the pro shop?” I was 18 and that’s when I started. I worked right away in the front shop. That was 1981 and I worked there until 1987. I did all my university while I was there (Pilon has a Business Administration and Management degree from Université du Québec en Outaouais). After that Gilles told me he thought I was good with people and a good player (Pilon had won three club championships) and suggested I turn pro. I was going to be an accountant but I thought I would try it out.
FGM. I know you play golf right-handed now but the word is you were playing left-handed back then?
JP. (With a laugh) When I was playing left-handed I was pretty steady. I did not hit it very long but I did not miss many fairways and a I had a good short game so I got my pro card as a lefty. A few other pros were always after me to switch to right handed because I did not have any power. I would hit a few balls at my indoor golf school but I left it at that. In 1999 I was having trouble with my left knee. Eventually I had surgery and they took out 70% of my meniscus out. After that they told me not to golf for six weeks but after four I wanted to play so badly I took a set of rentals (right hand as to not screw up his knee) and my left hand wedges and putter and I shot 87. It took me five games to break 80 and a few weeks to break par. For the first few years I didn’t know where it was going to go with the driver but I’m okay now. I can’t chip to save my life but I can still shoot in the mid-70’s from both sides.
FGM. So did things progress from there?
JP. I went to work at Rivermead (another Aylmer golf institution) for two years, 1990 and 1991. That was where I got my Class A (PGA of Canada designation) and then I went to work for Gib Patterson from 1992-1996. I did everything for Gib; I worked at Emerald Links; I opened Cloverdale Links, and I even managed his Airport Golfland for a year. I sold balls, me and John Ollson gave a million lessons, and I made ice cream cones, french fries, and hot dogs. I did it all. It was quite an experience. In 1997 when the HP position opened at the Gatineau I took over and stayed until 2013….Wow, 17 years of my life; I really put my heart and soul in that club. It was really difficult to leave the Gatineau after all those years.
FGM. So have you travelled to play golf much and where might you want to visit to play one day?
JP. I go to Cuba for a couple weeks a year to teach golf at a resort and for a vacation and play golf. That’s where I play my best golf, actually. I am away from work and I can relax. My brother and I want to go to play in Scotland and Ireland. It’s a dream of mine to go there one day because that’s the birthplace of golf.
FGM. You’ve worked in golf for 35 years now; do you ever look back and consider all that has happened to that kid going down Aylmer Road and dreaming of getting “over the fence”?
JP. I have had many challenges in my life, and one of them would be how difficult this career has affected my personal life, other than that I love being in this industry. All the various types of golf courses I have worked at over the years has made me a better head professional and made me more confident with difficult situations that come my way. I’ve always tried to make this job fun; not just for me but for my employees.
I’m still a kid at heart ; I’ve kept my sense of humour and I still love talking with people and getting out and being around the game.
Interview by Scott MacLeod / @Flagstick