When Stephen Ross, the predecessor to Scott Simmons, left what was the Royal Canadian Golf Association in March of 2007, there was no hiding the fact that his decision to leave wasn’t exclusively his own.
There was little doubt that Ross had a passion for his position he’d held for 18 years, a big chapter in his 30 years with the RCGA.
Ross admitted that the job was starting to wear on him, but that didn’t mean he was quitting on anything. While he was moving towards the end of his tenure, he was helped in making the decision by then-RCGA president Garry West.
“I think I was in mid-air and I got pushed,” said Ross at the time.
A renowned rules official, Ross orchestrated the sale of Glen Abbey to ClubLink, the $40-million the RCGA received now serving as a soft cushion for what is now Golf Canada in difficult financial times the past couple of years.
Ross also helped launch the association’s Player Development Program, the RCGA Foundation, and the Future Links junior program and was behind the RCGA’s amalgamation with what was the Canadian Ladies Golf Association.
Those are among the many accomplishments of the self-described control freak, but despite having his enemies, history looks kindly upon Stephen Ross as illustrated by his induction into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame the following year.
Into every career, a little rain must fall and a particular downpour for Ross at the time was that the Canadian Open was still without a title sponsor after Bell had ended its association with the national championship in 2005 and there was concern for its future.
A title sponsor still didn’t exist when four months after Ross’ departure, Scott Simmons, who had once worked in marketing and communications at the RCGA, was named the association’ executive director.
Simmons had to hit the ground running on the new job.
Right after the announcement of his new position, the Open was being held at Angus Glen and speculation began to run wild when Jim Balsillie, CEO of Research in Motion, was playing in a pro-am and word hit that RIM would become the new title sponsor.
There was no immediate confirmation when Balsillie came off the golf course to a swarm of media types. The reason for that is that it never happened.
The hand-wringing continued until November when it was announced that RBC instead of RIM would put its name on the Open, a rather large plume in the cap of Simmons’ young tenure as executive director considering its sponsorship of Team RBC, which brings marquee players to the Canadian event, with its awkward date right behind the Open Championship.
In July, it was announced that RBC had extended its sponsorship through 2023, but Simmons won’t be around to see it all play out, at least not as executive director and CEO. He announced his resignation on Wednesday although he’ll stay on until February as the search for his replacement continues.
Remembering Ross’ comments about being pushed in mid-air, the question immediately popped up when Simmons addressed the media, but he insisted the choice was his own and that he was looking for new ventures at the age of 54. One suspects that he simply felt beat up after 10 years on a demanding job.
Like Ross, there was little doubt that Simmons was dedicated to his high-profile position. Only a day before his resignation, Mackenzie Hughes, after his first PGA Tour win at the RSM Classic, was unabashedly singing the praises of the national team program, its resources and coaches such as Derek Ingram and financial help provided by the Team Canada Young Pro Squad.
Simmons successfully transitioned the organization from a golf association and governing body to the National Sport Federation (NSF) for golf.
That transition included a corporate rebrand in 2010 from the RCGA to Golf Canada. He also worked with the association’s executive committee on a revised governance structure that streamlined the board of directors from 35 individuals to an 11-member board of directors.
Title sponsorship of the CP Women’s Open is good through 2018 and the Golf In Schools program was rolled out under Simmons’ leadership in 2009.
He was also one of the key players in the development of the National Allied Golf Associations (NAGA), which brings together other golf associations to work on common goals, efforts that weren’t always the case when many of those groups were also fighting turf wars against one another.
There were, no doubt, positives to Scott Simmons’ tenure as executive director and CEO and, as Roland Deveau, president of Golf Canada, put it, Simmons provided a foundation for the person who will replace him.
“We live in a different environment now than perhaps 10 years ago. The digital world now, social media, even the sponsorship environment is a lot different, so we’re going to consider all our options, whether it’s external or internal,” said Deveau of finding Simmons’ replacement.
He’s right. The future isn’t clear going forward and, like Simmons, the new person will need to hit the ground running too on some major concerns that perhaps aren’t as high profile as Canadian Open sponsorship.
The elephant in the room right now is revenue, although Simmons says a surplus will be announced at the AGM in January, after Golf Canada showed significant deficits the last couple of years, which required dipping into the $40-million provided by the sale of Glen Abbey back in 1999 under Ross.
There has always been the question at the grassroots level about the value of RCGA membership, but with many golfers not putting stock in things such as handicaps or rules, more playing public courses and dwindling participation overall, that revenue source is shrinking.
And when Simmons first took over, the plan was to move the Canadian Open around the country, which in theory is the way it should work for a national championship, but it was found to make more financial sense to hold it at its unofficial home, Glen Abbey.
Now what happens if ClubLink does manage to develop Glen Abbey, which is the company plan right now, even if it’s meeting resistance in Oakville, Ont.? Conceivably, that could mean more revenue lost.
Simmons’s response was that it could mean a deal with a private partner to build a new Glen Abbey, for lack of a better term, but right now, there are no guarantees. Just a lot of question marks.
Recently, Golf Canada cut four positions while other contracts weren’t renewed in what was called restructuring, but since it included a couple of entry level positions, one wonders if it was more about cost-cutting.
Simmons does leave a solid foundation for the new person and while it’s clear that history will look upon his tenure as favourable, that’s just one side of it.
The future doesn’t seem quite as clear.