Taking The “Serious” Out Of Golf
by Joe McLean
Most people look on teaching as a job but for Joe Booth, it is much more than that. “I run into people that I have taught all over the world,” says the Director of Golf at the Emerald Links Golf & Country Club in Manotick Station, Ontario.
Long ago, Joe chose a career as a golf professional and although he loves to teach golf and it pays the bills, it is another benefit of his career decision that stands out for him. It affords him the opportunity of making lifetime friendships.
Joe estimates that he has taught close to 15,000 students through the years and stresses that he likes to have fun with his students. He expands a little on his philosophy of teaching. “I use humour trying to make my students comfortable while I am teaching. Golfers have to learn that every shot is a miss in one way or another and that there are both good and poor misses. Teaching the basics of grip, posture, set-up and a proper swing are all important aspects of the game of golf to my students and they may determine the outcome of any given shot. But, I want my students to relax, have fun, get the ball up in the air and accept what they get. Understanding that golf is a game and not life and death will help them enjoy the game at any level.”
Raised by his grandparents in the Alta Vista area of Ottawa, Joe has fond memories of growing up in the neighbourhood. In typical Joe fashion he interjects a humorous story into our interview, telling a tale of a black and white pony he had as a child. Apparently it had broke loose and he laughs as he recounts that it was a future Ottawa Police Chief who ended up running down Alta Vista Drive trying to catch the stray beast. Even then Joe knew to see life for the humour it could provide. That joy seems to carry over to his golf teaching style.
As with most young Canadians, baseball, hockey and football were the sports Joe favoured in his youth. He has fond memories of Cradle League hockey games at the old “Aud”, the 7,500 seat rink located at the corner of Argyle and O’Connor streets where the original Ottawa Senators won the Stanley Cup in 1927. He played alongside future hockey stars like Ron Ellis, Mike Walton, Butch Corrigan and Murray Kuntz, often rushing home for a quick bite to eat before returning for more ice time.
After graduating from Ridgemont High School, Joe stayed in Ottawa and worked for the Department of National Defence as a draftsman for nineteen years, starting in 1968 and closing out in 1987. During that time though – he also pursued his other chosen profession.
Joe had picked up the bug to play golf at the age of 17 and with his $39 set of Spalding golf clubs became quite proficient at the game. An avid member of the Outaouais Golf Club in Rockland since 1962, Joe was encouraged by then head professional Ray Haines to get involved in the business of golf.
Beginning in 1973, Joe worked evenings and weekends at the Airport Golfland off Hunt Club Road, running the business for Gib Patterson and the Patterson family. “They are great people to work with and they have always supported me,” says Joe about his association with the Pattersons who operate five of the golf properties where he has worked over the years.
Joe turned professional in 1975, received his Class “A” designation in 1980 and was validated in the process by long-time CPGA – Ottawa Zone Professionals Ray Haines and Larry McCauley. It’s been a whirlwind tour ever since.
He has served as golf professional and Director of Golf at many area clubs including Donneybrooke Golf Club, Hammond Golf Club, Perth Golf Club (Links O’Tay), Lombard Glen G&CC, Mapleview G&CC, Cloverdale Links, Anderson Links and currently, Emerald Links. Joe has also taught at the Thunderbird, Airport GolfLand, Innes Road and Target Golf Ranges.
The highlight of his career (so far, he says) has been teaching Special Olympic children to play golf during several sessions at the Civil Service Recreation Association (R.A.) on Riverside Drive in Ottawa where Joe has been the resident golf professional and has run a winter golf school since 1980.
Even though the award for CPGA – Ottawa Zone Teacher of the Year has escaped him to date, Joe is proud of the fact that his peers have nominated him for the award on multiple occasions. Although awards are nice it seems the joy and success of his students mean more to him.
Junior golfers are first and foremost in importance to Joe and while his summer camps at Emerald Links may appear to be a picture of organized confusion, they are actually run in an orderly fashion. “The boys and girls are having fun.” And that, for Joe, is the bottom line when it comes to golf.
Joe has seen an increase in the number of female golfers and leagues through the years as well as a tremendous increase in the number of junior golfers, but makes the observation that “there are not enough junior girls entering the game.”
“More of the same,” says Joe when asked about his future plans. “I’m not even thinking about retirement. As long as I can get away down south for a few golf breaks during the winter, I get re-energized and return ready to teach.”
In almost three decades as a pro Joe’s only regret is not having gotten involved with the golf industry earlier in life but he is more than pleased with where the game has taken him.
With an old-school pro look accentuated by a large, bushy moustache, Joe Booth doesn’t appear to meet the mould of the “typical” golf professional, and that might just be part of why he is received so well by his pupils. He has colourful stories to tell and puts people at ease around him – breaking down defences and opening people up to communication – a key to effective golf instruction. In seconds his enthusiasm and love for golf and people shines through.
He is a unique spirit, that much is true, but with the golf industry looking to attract more golfers, we could use a few more characters like him.