The recent announcement of this years Canadian Golf Hall of Fame inductees brought back some great memories. but for me none were stronger than those of the late Ben Kern.
In life, if you’re lucky, you will meet one or two people who will influence and make an impact on who you are and who you will become, both professionally and personally. For me, Ben was one of those people.
I first met Ben in the winter of 1978-79 when I was 18. Ben and Al Balding, then the director of golf were creating a whole new staff and culture shift at the National Golf Club of Canada.
I had played there, but wasn’t really aware of what the club was all about at the time. However, I applied, had an interview and was hired in the spring.
That was the start of what I consider my life and education as a golf professional.
We accomplished so many things over the years and while I won’t come close to being able to talk about all of them, I think it is important to understand the roots of what we do today within the golf industry. It’s also important to understand what I think are cornerstones of the golf profession.
First, what made The National the No. 1 golf club in Canada, which it still is today, is the culture of excellence created by Ben, Al and the original owner, Gil Blechman.
Gil was behind Ben all the way, which was critical. Right from Day 1, you understood that, as a staff, we were expected to lead, not follow others.
We were constantly being pushed to improve, innovate and, most of all, do what no other golf club, at least in Canada, was doing when it came to member service and overall experience.
When we went south or away in the winter and visited other clubs, Ben would expect us to bring back two or three things or ideas that we saw or experienced at the clubs we visited that we didn’t do at The National.
If they made sense, we worked with the membership or if we needed to tweak them a bit to fit the National and make us better, then we did.
The second important trait I learned was the importance of hiring key staff. When I started at The National, Ben and Al had hired a whole new staff from top to bottom.
I am sure they had spent a lot of time interviewing a number of candidates and they were very clear on the personality and characteristics they wanted in their professionals.
From that point, any hires were all done by the professionals. Ben’s reasoning was that if he hired the key staff right from the beginning, when he needed a new professional, then his staff knew other good candidates that Ben knew we work with so, in the end, we put our own reputations on the line when we recommended somebody.
Perhaps the characteristic I found reflected Ben’s respect for and the Canadian PGA was the responsibility he felt to support and assist his professionals in finding their first head pro jobs.
When you were ready to “leave the nest”, Ben felt it was his obligation to support his staff and if he could assist with helping you through the interview process, if he knew anyone on the board of directors or the selection committee, then he would talk with them on your behalf and his was a great name to have behind you.
On the other hand, if he felt you weren’t qualified or ready for the job, then you would not get his endorsement which he felt protected not only his and The National’s reputation but also that of the Canadian PGA.
He did not want any of his staff assuming a position where they couldn’t be successful and be a positive example of a well-trained Canadian PGA club professional.
As I alluded to earlier, the owner of the National, Gil Blechman, was very clear in his vision of the National and supported Ben at every point in this vision.
It is critical that you get your owner or board of directors to buy in to the vision you wish to create for your club. We have all been hired at clubs where a vision that may be desired is not understood or it’s given a budget that is not realistic.
I was very fortunate that, along with a great owner, I was hired by Ben Kern and worked and played beside someone for 16 years who is now rightfully recognized as one of Canada’s finest golf professionals and a true builder of the game.