At The Helm – Rideau View Golf Club’s Steve Ducat

Steve Ducat (Photo: Joe McLean)

“There’s no other place I’d rather be than at Rideau View” – Steve Ducat

Flagstick sat down recently with Steve Ducat, who since 2008 has been the General Manager at Rideau View Golf Club in the Manotick sector of the City of Ottawa, Ontario. Rideau View is one of the top-rated golf clubs in the Ottawa Valley and indeed Canada.  

FGM – Was there ever a thought that you would be involved in the golf industry when you were a younger man?

SD – It is funny where life takes you and no, growing up in Verdun, I didn’t see myself in the golf industry when I graduated from McGill University in 1976 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Geography and a minor in Computer Science.

Golf was not a priority when Steve was young, but he would play with his Verdun buddies at the local municipal courses in the Montreal area. Steve also played baseball up to the junior level and in the winter, he curled. Steve started curling in high school and continued into his early 30’s. “I was a competitive curler at the time”, said Steve. “In 1978, our team went undefeated in the Quebec Provincials and went to Vancouver to represent Quebec in the Brier. It certainly wasn’t our best showing but that’s another story.”

FGM – When did you enter the work force and what is your job resume?

SD – I joined Bell Canada in Montreal in 1976 after I graduated from McGill. Bell moved most of their employees to Ottawa in the spring of 1978 due to the FLQ crisis that was getting very serious at the time. I held a number of sales and marketing positions during my 18-year career at Bell. I moved to a small high-tech company based out of Toronto in 1995 and opened up an office for them in Washington, DC. We had a really good 12-year run in the data security market with a number of U.S. Government security and military organizations. The real perk is I was fortunate to play Congressional a number of times while I was living there.

FGM – When did you start your job as General Manager at Rideau View and how did that come about?

SD – I started as the General Manager at Rideau View in March 2008. The previous General Manager left suddenly in January for the GM’s position at Camelot. I was doing consulting work at the time and decided to apply for the position. I had been Club Captain, Greens Chair and on the Board for a number of years and had a pretty good handle on how the Club works and what was needed going forward.

FGM – What are your strengths as the General Manager at one of the premiere private golf clubs in the country?

SD – During the past 12 years, I believe my marketing experience has been a valuable strength as golf went through a “down” period. There had been an incredible number of golf courses built in the 1990’s to the point that the Ottawa Market had become oversaturated. It had turned into very much a “buyer’s market”. I had heard statistics that we had more golf courses per capita than Myrtle Beach and the problem was there weren’t enough golfers to support the supply. The baby boomer era was coming to an end and so there weren’t as many golfers playing golf as was anticipated at the time. So, you really had to put your marketing hat on and think about what you were going to do about it to maintain a good level of membership. You had to do it in the right way and not just discount your prices or offer promotions.

FGM – What changes have you implemented or seen during your time at Rideau View?

SD – We introduced Family Memberships and a progressive fee structure for Intermediates. 

We set up a program with three different levels of family membership and it really took off quickly. We have 38 families as members now and it’s been like that for the last 2-3 years. It’s been a very strategic approach to growing our membership in a very effective way. The parents get their kids golfing and then they get to golf more as a result. Matt Robinson does a wonderful job of coaching juniors so it all ties nicely together for us. The family membership program made a lot of sense for Rideau View based on Matt and Paul Sherratt being here.

We have also redistributed the overall cost of membership in the intermediate category (19-39) using a progressive dues schedule with small, easily absorbed increments each season to make it more affordable for them to either become or remain members. It makes the financial planning for membership at one of Ottawa’s top tier private clubs easy to incorporate into a personal budget. We have eliminated large increases when progressing from one category of membership to another to eliminate the “sticker shock” that might be a detriment to an intermediate member, who faces the countless other financial pressures that come with starting a home and family.

FGM – It would appear to an outsider that you have been blessed with a solid team of key personnel who have been at the Club for many years. How have they assisted you in your job as General Manager?

SD – I have been very fortunate to work with some of the best in the country! My timing was good when I took on this job in 2008 because Paul was the Head Professional and Matt was one of the assistant pros and Gord MacMillan was (and is) the course superintendent. 

I think that any GM of a private golf club couldn’t ask for a better group of high quality and experienced individuals to suddenly join and be part of the team. Paul has been an amazing mentor and advisor over the years and still is today. He is a wealth of knowledge, extremely well read and a voice of reason at all times. For a rookie GM at the time, Paul’s advice was invaluable. And then to have Gord with his intimate knowledge of the golf course, combined with his ability to pretty much fix or build anything; I couldn’t ask for more. On top of that, those guys are two of my best friends. So, I’m extremely lucky to have that work environment.

Andrea Barnum, our Accounts Manager, has been at Rideau View longer than I have. She single handedly handles all of our financial, personnel and membership administrative functions and does so in a very professional manner. I really appreciate everything she does; although I probably don’t say that enough. Our young team running the F&B operation is doing a fantastic job! Taylor Kohlman, our Clubhouse Manager, and Chef Tyler McLeod have been introducing a number of new and exciting concepts each season. They had the opportunity to work with our former Clubhouse Manager, Jason Walmark, who had a great deal of experience and passion for the job. After a stint down east as a GM of a semi-private golf club in Nova Scotia, he came back to Ontario and has taken on the GM’s position at Brockville Country Club; a well-earned opportunity for him.

Overall, the management team at Rideau View is the perfect combination of sage experience, wisdom, along with youthful enthusiasm.

FGM – Your Boards are constantly changing. It must be interesting to work with the members that take on Board assignments? 

SD – A strong Board and especially an Executive Committee that provides leadership and has a well thought out vision for the future of the club is critical to the success of any golf club. I am extremely fortunate to be working with a top-notch group of members on our Executive Committee and our Board as a whole. They have always been very supportive and understand the challenges that come with managing a golf club, particularly during these challenging times.

Everyone has their own opinions naturally and that’s a good thing but at the end of the day, the Board members have the best interest of the Club at heart. What’s best for the Club and the business is usually how decisions are made. They have a genuine interest in the golf club and want to do what’s best for the Club overall.

FGM – What are you most proud of during your time at Rideau View as a player and as the General Manager?

SD – That’s a really good question. I’m not sure. 

Being a member and a golfer at Rideau View since 1985 seems so long ago. I know that I was proud to be involved with the club as the club captain, as course operations committee chair and being on the Board of Directors. We made a lot of progress during those years. One of those when I was greens chair was the whole bunker renovation program. Not that all the members were necessarily happy about the changes but overall, I believe that everyone was pleased with the results and it really, I think, boosted the course up a significant notch.

Personally, I have one hole in one on #4 at Rideau View. It happened on Media Day in July 2019 while I was golfing with Don Brennan, John Rodenburg and Shawn Simpson.

As the General Manager, the things I am most proud about are the things that are most recent. 

I think my latest concept that has come to fruition is growing our own hops and having our own #17 beer for the members brewed by a local craft brewer, Big Rig. It’s crazy how that has taken off over the past two years. We planted the hops over 4 years ago and by the 2nd year they were ready to be harvested. We brewed 1,000 litres and thought that would be enough for the season. We ended up having to brew 3,000 litres that year. This year we decided to introduce tall boys as well and we brewed 7,500 litres and even with the slow start at 7500 cans and the equivalent in kegs. Based on how it has been selling this year, we will go through it all by no later than the end of the golf season. It’s by far our best-selling beer and it’s not just because our members are proud to have their own beer but because it’s a really good beer. Deciding on the right style was very important to me when we were in our initial conversations with Big Rig. So, as you can tell, that’s my latest pride and joy. 

FGM – Are there any people who have been important in your personal and professional development in your life?

SD – First and foremost, Paul Sherratt has been an amazing mentor and advisor from day one.

FGM – Do you have any thoughts to your future?

SD – Ideally, I’d like to continue in my job as General Manager as long as they will have me or as long as I continue to enjoy doing it. I look forward to coming in every day and interacting with the members and staff; plus there is always something interesting to look forward to. 

FGM – Do your children play golf?

SD – I had them both out here early on. My daughter Talia attended a few camps and my son Sean took a few lessons but it’s not their thing. My daughter is into arts, fashion and music and is focused on her upcoming year in grade 11. She really wants to get into McGill in a couple of years, maybe taking a page out of my book. My son is into karate and achieved his 1st degree black belt by the time he was 11.

FGM – How did you get your “Seve” nickname?

SD – When I started out golfing at Rideau View, my short game was weak, so I took lessons with Paul. I would practise my short game for hours at a time and my short game became the best part of my game. Paul’s coaching probably saved me an average of 5 should a round! The nickname started when I hit my approach shot on #9 into the parking lot, which was stone dust and in play back in those days. I got up and down for par. After that, my golfing buddies started calling me Seve because he had done that in the 1979 British Open. It has stuck ever since!

FGM – We are conducting this interview during the COVID 19 outbreak. How tough has this year been at Rideau View?

SD – Obviously, it’s been challenging for everyone. It can be frustrating to have to apply the rules that we have to follow right now, but by the same token I think everyone is very fortunate to be able to get out and play golf. It has proven to be one of the safest sports to play under the current circumstances. The patios are open now, so it’s a bit more normal in people’s lives. It’s a lot more work, but by the same token it’s so much better than the alternative and our members are very appreciative.                 

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