Joel Trickey: The Road Less Travelled

Joel Trickey / Photo: Scott MacLeod (Flagstick)

By his own admission, Joel Trickey wasn’t the most talented athlete.  In fact, for many things in his life he has travelled a slightly unorthodox route.  But it is no matter; in the end he has had success, whether on the football field or as one of the most respected golf course superintendents in the Ottawa Valley.

Known by most as the keeper of the greens at the Carleton Golf & Yacht Club in Manotick, Ontario, few people are aware that this master at agronomy spent much of his formative years on several varieties of turf, starting with the golf course but quickly progressing to the grid iron.

One of a group of bothers who have found prominence in their fields (Flagstick readers are likely familiar with his older sibling Malcolm, a CPGA professional), like the rest of the boys Joel spent his summers in Westport at the family cottage.  On seasonal retreat from life In Nepean, he would fill his days playing game after game of golf.  A family tradition (they have had a family tournament since 1963), Joel got his first taste of the game as a caddy for his father, eventually leading to those rounds at the Rideau Lakes Golf Club.

A fair athlete, he did not have the natural aptitude that Malcolm showed but he worked at it, enough to win the club championship at Rideau Lakes in 1976 at the age of 15.  He even spent some time informally working in the back shop and on the course at the Chaudiere GC (now Château Cartier Resort). But as much time as he spent at golf, football grew to be the passion of Joel’s life.

A standout on a high school team that was far from stellar, Joel was a determined 195 lb all-star who eventually landed at the University of Toronto.  He says “taking a pounding” at the hands of Malcolm as a kid had pushed him to work out hard to get bigger and stronger and it began to pay off at the collegiate level.  In 1983 and 1984 he was an OUA conference all-star selection as a defensive lineman.

When Joel talks about football, even today, you can sense the passion he has for the sport.  “I loved football, I loved the game; it was all I ever wanted to do,” he states.  Asked why, he is clear about the appeal for him. “It’s not hard to say. I loved to hit, I loved the camaraderie of the team.”  He attributes the interest in the physical aspect of the game to days as a kid spent in the backyard going head to head with Malcolm, hitting each other with little restraint.  He had to push himself to beat his older brother and that inspiration never stopped fuelling his efforts.  “I was a journeyman player at best.  I did not have much god-given talent.  I worked and worked for everything I did,” says Joel.

During his final years at U of T, Joel stayed in the big city for the summers. He and a group of buddies lifted, ran, jumped, and sweat, all with the goal of one thing – playing professional football.  After year four at university Joel (who was now a 260 pound defensive lineman), tried out for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger Cats but failed to make the cut.  Undeterred, he returned to school and pushed himself harder.  The next spring he tried out for the Toronto Argonauts, (as an offensive lineman) and he stuck.  For awhile at least.

Joel suited up for the boatmen four times in the 1984 CFL exhibition season, the last being a huge game with the rival Montreal Alouettes at Olympic Stadium.  “It was the most fun I ever had, I think,” he says unabashedly. Little did Joel know at the time that it would be his last time on the football field as a player.  Just as his career was reaching a crescendo with the Big “O” appearance, the next day brought a meeting request by Coach Bob O’Billovich.  He was released.  After clearing waivers and considering trying out for other teams the next year, he made the decision.  His football career was over.

Faced with the prospect of life without football, Joel could take solace in the fact that he got the most out of his abilities.  As he says, “I was right there; I got to the show.”  He could at least move on with no regrets.  And that is exactly what he did.  “I loved football but if I had not been cut I probably would not have met my wife and been where I am now.  In retrospect I am glad it happened when it did.”

Still unsure of what his future would hold, Joel and Malcolm (who had just hung up his spikes as a touring golfer) embarked on a new venture, Devil Lake Wood Products.  Their wood cutting business was a lot of hard work.  Unfortunately it was not a real profitable one either so it was soon time to move on to bigger and better things.

For Joel, that meant starting life with new wife Janis and trying to find a new career.  With a degree in Commerce and Economics Joel briefly considered life as an Accountant but he knew an office really wasn’t his style.

Knowing his passion for golf, someone suggested the agronomy side of things and before long Joel was introduced to Tom McPhee, the pro/superintendent of the Smiths Falls Golf Club.  Tom offered him a job on the grounds crew and Joel had his new career.  It was 1990.

“I have a lot of respect for Tom and what he did for me.  He let me do just about every job there and I was always picking his brain as I got more interested in the job,” says Joel.  It was Tom who also pointed him to the University of Guelph and their Turf Management Program.  Those correspondence and short courses fit Joel’s working schedule over the next few years. He says, much like his football efforts, he worked at them to get the most out of them and the result was a Diploma in Horticulture and a whole new level of knowledge.

During this time Joel had moved on to work as the Superintendent of the Perth (Links O’Tay) Golf Club, a position he believes was a matter of fate.  Joel needed on the job training while the club needed to fill the position for a reasonable sum, so each party got exactly what they were looking for in the relationship.  Joel points out, “It was a great place to learn.”

Jumping to a head superintendent role in just a year is highly unusual in the industry but normal routes are not really Trickey’s forte.  “I didn’t really take a traditional path to where I am today but it worked out in the end.”

Continuing to hone his craft, Joel worked at Perth for four years before catching on at Carleton Golf & Yacht Club in 1996.  Since then he has proven to be a great asset to the private club.

Asked about Joel’s role with the club, General Manager Greg Richardson was lavish in his praise. “Joel’s name has become synonymous with Carleton. At a private golf club, the Superintendent is sometimes expected to work miracles, and Joel has consistently produced in both good times and poor times. Through his easy-going approach to day-to-day operations, club member-interaction, Greens Committee work and even working with the 250+ homeowners’ that border our course, he has become extremely well-respected by everyone that has been privileged enough to meet him. Not only has he raised the bar in terms of course conditioning, even at times when his tools to work with left much to be desired, he has established Carleton as one of the best maintained golf courses in the Ottawa Valley on a consistent basis.”

Joel says he has relished the time at Carleton and evolution of the course, which has now played host to many prestigious tournaments including two CPGA National Senior Championships.  “A lot of things have happened here.  This course has transformed a lot over the years.”

In fact, in Joel’s era the golf course has been reshaped. Ponds have been added while the irrigation and bunkers have been thoroughly revamped, among many other major and minor projects.  “They are always challenges in this job, that is what makes it interesting, but having support from the club makes it easier to deal with them.”

Dedicated to his profession, Joel is also an active board member of the Ottawa Valley Turfgrass Association, a group he finds critical to his success. “We have a lot of great people in the area who take care of the courses and they all deal with the same issues.  We are lucky we have so many great professionals who are willing to share information with others.”

As fulfilling as his role at Carleton is, Joel says he could not do it without the support of his family.  Early mornings and long days cannot be avoided in his profession.  “If you don’t have a strong family to support you, you are done in this business,” he says adamantly.  “After all, if you haven’t got family and friends, what have you got?”

Being of such mind is part of the reason Joel makes the drive to Carlton from the Westport area each and every day.  Living by the lake, in the original homestead of his grandparents, he is able to really enjoy time with Janis and children Ben, Julyanna, and Alex, a long way from the fairways he tends daily.

“I don’t have much to complain about,” says the highly respected Superintendent.  “I guess you just work hard and see what happens.  It seems to be working out so far.”

For a man with such a diverse past, and a fulfilling work and family life, it certainly appears that it has.

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