Three years ago, almost to the day, I jabbed Steve Carroll as I was writing this story, telling him he’d be back in golf sooner rather than later because it was in his DNA.
The former executive director of the PGA of Canada was leaving Golf Canada, where he had been working for a year as Ontario membership director as the former Royal Canadian Golf Association continued a rebranding effort.
At the time, Carroll said his main desire in joining the Ontario Volleyball Association was to get back into sports administration, something that will continue in his new job.
As you may have read here on GNN last week, Carroll is indeed back in golf as executive director of the Golf Association of Ontario, replacing the retiring Dave Mills.
“This started in the summer. I played golf with Jim Carlisle, who was heading up the executive search,” said Carroll.
“The more we talked about it and the more I read about it, the more interested I became because I thought it was a really good fit between what the GAO is looking for and what would be the next step in my career development,” he added.
“I’m told that over 300 people applied for this position, so it was a very extensive search and very thorough, so I feel privileged and honoured to be the last person standing,” said Carroll, who is not exactly a stranger to the GAO.
“While I was with the PGA, I made it a priority to build bridges and links to other golf associations. That’s something that’s big for the GAO, that they want to have relationships and partnerships with stakeholders and organizations,” he said.
Those efforts included owners, superintendents, club managers, the Canadian Golf Industry Association, Golf Canada and provincial associations such as the GAO. His relationship with the GAO continued when he began working with Golf Canada.
“In that year, I spent a lot of time at the GAO office. I know the staff quite well and I think that’s one of the real strengths of the job is that you’ve got a very mature, knowledgeable, experienced staff there in all the departmental areas of the GAO,” he said.
One of those staff members is Dave Colling, now director of rules and competitions for the GAO, who preceded Carroll in his post as executive director of the PGA of Canada.
“Dave hired me, my first job with the PGA out of university in 1987. He took a chance on this kid with a sports administration degree out of school,” said Carroll, who stayed in that role for five years.
Caroll moved on to become executive director of the PGA of British Columbia for a dozen years until 2005, when he returned to Ontario to become the national executive director until joining Golf Canada in 2009.
With confidence in the GAO staff, Carroll believes he’s moving into a solid organization. “It’s a situation where it’s not a complete renovation or rebuild,” he said.
“It’s building on a strength that they have, traditionally, the core services around handicapping and course ratings. Those are solid and those have been in place for years,” said Carroll.
“I think the challenge with that though is the membership value proposition and there has been some challenge with that with the membership and I know that they’re addressing that as best they can,” he added.
“Other people won’t care about a lot of those benefits that you think are important to them. One size doesn’t fit all. You’ve got various programs for various groups of people, but if you can make sure those are programs of value and seem to be valuable, then you’re starting to resonate with members,” he said.
“(The GAO) has got some very creative, progressive thinkers on their board of directors, who don’t necessarily want to do things the way they’ve always been done,” he added.
“They’re very proud of their tradition at the GAO, but they want to look to the future and make sure that we’re growing the game,” said Carroll, adding that Ontario can also lead in high-performance sport development, which he says has worked well under Mike Kelly.
“That’s a very exciting area where Ontario has done well with the provincial teams,” said Carroll. “Ontario is regarded, I believe in Canada, as a leader in athlete development and coach development.”
Caroll says he’s like to work with Golf Canada to bring integrated support services together once he gets started on a job in an industry in which you knew he’d return.