The 2017 Golf Business Canada Conference and Trade Show at The Westin Hotel in Ottawa is underway and the significance of this year’s gathering is not lost on many who are taking part.
This marks a quarter of a century that the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) Canada has been in operation. Flagstick.com caught up with founding President Mark Seabrook (and Canadian Golf & Country Club co-owner) for some perspective on how the organization has progressed since 1992 when he and a few others established it.
Mark’s continuing passion for the association is still strong and evident in the following brief interview.
“The first handful of years, maybe the first ten were easy, we got the low-hanging fruit and, as the golf industry has constricted and tightened a bit and got a little more difficult, the Association has delivered terrific value back to the owners but it’s been tough to sustain a membership.
We are growing. Other people have come into the group path purchasing space that are not giving back to the Association. They don’t lobby on behalf of the owners, they don’t do advocacy, they don’t run golf programs and sometimes some of the owners don’t see the value. They forget that everything they do, how they behave towards the association also in the long run will negatively or positively impact the outcome of their association. It is their Association. It was a culmination of hundreds of board members who volunteered their time, thousands of hours. Jeff (Calderwood) taking what was a concept from a few people and growing it into a $4 million operation, I think, is beyond belief. If you took that business model to a bank and said by the way, I’m going to do this with no funds, they would laugh at you. Jeff, being the entrepreneur that he is, I said to him to run it like it was his own business and you will be successful. It’s who you are. He’s never backed away from a challenge and he’s probably one of the top five most respected Association people in North America for sure and possibly the world. He’s sought after as a speaker and we’re doing a lot of things right.
Our business model, with our chapters integrated to the National, is an envy to other trade associations within and outside the golf community. He speaks at meetings of Club Managers, the Pro’s, the European Associations and NGCOA in the United States and you know I think that we should be really proud of what we’ve accomplished. A lot of people put a lot of work into it and we’re on a good track but we’re going to have to be careful. It’s certainly something that the members today, it’s easy to think that it’s just a Board of Directors and it’s not your Association. Part of this Conference this week is to remind people and show people how it started and that it’s their Association and they need to support it and use the buying group and they need to bring members to the Association. They need to attend the conferences and the golf tournaments. Together, we do have a solid foundation but that will crumble if people don’t work together at it.”
Are you pleased to see how far the Association has come since you and a few others started it twenty-five years ago?
“Absolutely! From a personal standpoint I’ve made friends all over North America. Somebody will talk to me about a place they’re going or something they want to talk about and I can say I’ll give that person a call. When we get references from suppliers, a lot of time on that reference list will be the name of an owner I know so I’ll pick up the phone and call them.
From a club standpoint , financially, we recently received a huge property tax rebate from MPAC that paid my dues for the rest of my life. We’ve had so many home runs such as beverage carts on the golf course and not having to put a licence plate on them. On golf carts in B.C., if you crossed a road with any piece of equipment you had to license that piece of equipment. If you had a fleet of work vehicles and power carts and had to license them, the average savings to a club in B.C. was $15,000 per year. But we don’t have every golf club in B.C. in our association. How come? I don’t get that.
We’ve got a fantastic staff. Jeff has managed to hire excellent people along the way as we could afford to. Every time he did that, it was a stretch. When he hired Nathalie (Lavallée) to run conferences, Nathalie came out of the hotel industry and she’s a fantastic choice. She knows how to negotiate effectively with the hotels. We’ve had a run of first class conferences.
A lot of people think that it’s been easy and that you just wave this wand and it happens. It’s been a lot of work and I can’t thank the Board of Directors over the years and all of the volunteers enough, it’s been thousands of volunteer hours. I think the golf course owners in Canada should be very proud of Jeff and his staff and what we’ve accomplished collectively.”
I mentioned that Mark and those others who started this program could take credit also and give themselves a pat on the back.
“We can but that’s just the nature of collaborating. It’s being inclusive. Looking back I remember talking to Don Ferne and jokingly telling him that he could give me a cheque for one thousand dollars or four cheques for two hundred and fifty dollars, it really doesn’t matter but you will be giving me a cheque. Maybe Jeff couldn’t have done that at the time. We raised eight thousand dollars and that helped get us going. The Ottawa Chapter had some proceeds, I think had $25,000 in the bank from the sales of Red Books that we had already started, so Ottawa evolved into the first National Chapter.
It was the right place and the right time. I was a little further down the path. I had rounded the first curve and saw what was happening in the United States. I eagerly brought that back to Canada. We attended the U.S. Conferences and then we tried to come up with a revenue share program with them but they were not interested. So we came up with our own organization.”
In the latest Golf Business Canada magazine published by the National Golf Course Owners Association Canada, Mark made the following comments in his column titled The Parting Shot.
“As we plot our success for the next for the next generation to get involved, attend the NGCOA Canada events and volunteer for a regional Board. Knowledge is success!
I still believe my best resource is the NGCOA Canada and all the programs they offer me. I look forward to seeing you at our 25th Anniversary in Ottawa.”