– by Joe McLean
Who among us can honestly say that after over 30 years at the same job that they still enjoy their job and look forward to going to work each and every day?
One such person is Royal Ottawa Golf Club Superintendent Steve Verrall, who is in his twenty-fifth year at the club and during his tenure has supervised the upgrades made during the years to the venerable property.
So, who is Steve Verrall and how did he acquire his passion for his profession?
Born in Darlington, England, Steve came to Canada while still an infant. His father owned the Wentworth Curling Club in Hamilton and Steve grew up cleaning and making ice at the curling club.
In 1974, Steve applied for the ice-makers job at the Dundas Valley Golf & Country Club and while he didn’t get that job, golf course superintendent Steve Millar signed him on as a labourer for the summer season. When Mr. Millar moved to the Burlington Golf Club Steve followed. He worked with him for the next two seasons. “I fell in love with the job from the start. I enjoyed working outside.”
Steve worked on a construction crew for the experience in 1977 at the Upper Canada Country Club. Putting in 11 hour days for six days of the week, he admits that the job was a “little tiring.”
By the way, you probably know the Upper Canada Country Club by its current name – the Glen Abbey Golf Club.
Through 1978 and the winter of ’79, Steve was working back at the Burlington Golf Club and furthering his education taking the turf management short course at Guelph University.
“I pestered him three times a week until he hired me as his assistant,” says Mr. Verrall about his job in 1980-81 at the National Golf Club under Golf Course Superintendent Ken Wright.
Looking for year-round employment, Steve applied for a number of vacant golf course superintendent positions and won the position of golf course superintendent and ice-maker in 1982 at the Stanley Thompson-designed Cataraqui Golf and Country Club in Kingston, Ontario. “At 26 years of age, I was one of the youngest golf course superintendents in the province.” Steve would remain at Cataraqui through 1987, responsible for the golf course and six sheets of ice during the winter months.
“It was intimidating,” is how Mr. Verrall describes the Royal Ottawa clubhouse when he first saw the clubhouse and the property coming across the Champlain Bridge for an interview in 1988. Also intimidating was the fact he was interviewing to become the golf course superintendent of a 27-hole golf course with more staff and more equipment than he had previously encountered. He also realized that winning the position would give him the responsibility of nurturing a golf course steeped in history and tradition.
A quarter of a century later, Mr. Verrall is a little more relaxed. “I enjoy the job more than ever. It keeps getting better and better.” Reporting to General Manager Richard Signoretti and working with the results orientated greens committees, Steve feels that his advice is respected and he is left alone to do his job. “The course conditions can be attributed not only to the work of my staff, but also to the Club giving me the resources to make the end product better,” says Mr. Verrall.
Steve has supervised many key projects on nearly every portion of the esteemed golf course property through his tenure at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club. Two greens on the main course were rebuilt in 1989 and five greens on the Royal Nine that had been in existence since 1904 were rebuilt between 2002 and 2004. Four holes on the Royal Nine have been completely rebuilt this season and will be open for play in the spring of 2013. In 1996, a slit drainage system on the fairways was completed and the greens benefitted from an irrigation system that was completely replaced in 2001. A complete bunker renovation project was completed in six weeks in the fall of 2004 with new drainage, new sand and a complete redesign for ten bunkers with the rest being excavated.
Possible improvements to the course are always on the mind of Mr. Verrall as he conducts his daily inspections. A regular occurrence on the Royal Ottawa is the pruning or removal of trees to promote more sunlight and air circulation to keep the putting surfaces healthy.
Graham Cooke is the architect of choice at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club and he has worked closely with Steve Verrall through the years in making the Royal Ottawa Golf Courses what they are today.
“Steve Verrall is a consummate professional who knows his stuff,” were Mr. Cooke’s words in a recent interview. “It’s a pleasure to deal with someone who is relaxed and appreciates the difficulty of the game. I have always had full confidence in Steve and his team in carrying out the on-site work laid out in the approved plans.”
Golfers who have had the privilege of playing golf at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club can attest to the course conditions which are second to none. The slick, undulating greens on the course have gained recognition throughout the years not only by members, but also those participating in Provincial, National and Professional tournaments. Members also appreciate playing on a golf course cut to championship levels throughout the golf season.
A challenge for any golf course is keeping a good core of staff, whether it’s in the clubhouse, the pro-shop or working on the golf course. Steve indicated that Mike Van Sickle, Mike Menkhorst and Dan Kazymerchyk are three of his key staff members who have been with him for years. “They have a lot of talent as well as a lot of accumulated local knowledge in their jobs and I’m lucky to have them.”
On a personal note, Steve doesn’t play a lot of golf but enjoys cycling and working out at the YMCA each day. He also enjoys writing articles for the Royal Ottawa Newsletter and is a student of history. Steve is also an Ottawa Senators fan.
So there you have it.
Steve Verrall is a man who appreciates his profession, enjoys his job on a daily basis and has the respect of the Royal Ottawa membership, his employer and his co-workers.
When asked about possible retirement, Steve answered that he wasn’t even considering leaving a vocation he holds near and dear. “I decided at a young age what I wanted to do and I’ve enjoyed my job all my life. I have a few more years left in me.”