The Right Place, The Right Time
- Category: Inside Golf
- Published: 2021-06-07
By JEFF SUTHERLAND, Inside Golf
When Dale Jackson asked a rules question 20 years ago, it would have been hard to imagine what that would lead to.
The member at Royal Colwood Golf Club on Vancouver Island may modestly say that his rise to the upper echelons of Canadian golf may be about being in the “right place at the right time,” but, other than the original incident that sparked his interest, chance really has had little to do with it.
It all started when Jackson was playing in the Colwood Amateur in 2001 and was unable to get a clear answer to a rules question.
“We had an incident and none of us in the group knew what to do. There was some confusion with getting the correct ruling and I thought that maybe I should try to learn the rules. I took my first rules seminar that April and it just grabbed me.”
That brought him to the attention of Lawrie Kerr who was the BCGA’s Rules Chair at the time. Dale almost immediately found himself officiating at the province’s top tournaments.
“It just happened that year the BC Junior Boys was at Duncan Meadows and the BC amateur was at Royal Colwood. I ended up working those two events and met Kris Jonasson and the other people from the BCGA. It all just kind of snowballed. This was not something I had planned out.”
Fast forward five years and Jackson was now on the staff at the BCGA as Tournament Director when the Canadian Open came to Shaughnessy in 2005.
“My career in golf, it’s just being in the right place at the right time, being part of the BCGA and from that I met the rules director for the RCGA. It was not very long from the time that I started, that I was officiating at the Canadian Open… not something I am sure that I would necessarily recommend for others.”
Jackson may be underplaying his level of rules expertise at the time but he clearly has the respect of other top officials in the game.
Since that first Canadian Open, Jackson has officiated at many international tournaments and more than a dozen Majors. And the officiating on golf’s biggest stages has been a highlight for Jackson.
Asked to pick one experience that really stands out proved too tough for the person who was also part of the seven-member international group that decided golf’s major rules changes in 2019.
“I’ll tell you what, I'm going to give you three.
“My first one was my first Open at Muirfield, the first day. I was standing on the first tee a few minutes before (my) group was going to tee off. I introduced myself to the players. I introduced myself to Ivor Robson who was still the starter then. So I was just on the side and it just hit me, ‘Oh my god, I'm officiating at the Open.’ Anyway, the players hit, we all walked off the first tee and I had tears coming down my face. It was just unbelievable.
“The second time was 2015. It was not really one particular incident but the overall experience when the Open is at St. Andrews. The whole experience is just magic.
Canada's Dale Jackson Was Among The Officials Crew For The 144th Open Championship At St. Andrews.
The third is still going on and it’s the quality of the people you meet. I know it’s cliche but it’s just so true. I have friends I keep in contact with all over the world."
Not surprisingly, Jackson became Golf Canada’s Rules Chair in 2013 and, over the years since, has sat on almost all of the Association’s committees as well.
In 2016, he joined the Board of Directors and began a gradual move toward the administrative side. This culminated with his election as Vice-President earlier this year meaning that he is in line to become the Association’s president two years from now.
But that was not always his intention.
“When I first went on the Board, I never thought I'd want to be an officer or president. I can't really give you one sort of logical point where that changed. At some point you just start to think, 'If I'm just going to finish this whole experience, I should probably see if I could do this part of it too.' Part of the motivation was that Royal Colwood had never had a Golf Canada or CLGA president. And I thought that'd be pretty cool to have that as part of the Club’s history. That's certainly not the only reason but it is part of it."
Jackson does not just bring a rules expertise to his new role. His business background is in consulting and management.
“I know something about management. I know something about how businesses operate. I thought I could offer that point of view to the running of the Association. Over the years of being involved, I think I'm up to speed on everything we do. It's a large organization. Having been on almost all the committees, having been exposed to all the various programs, that's what prepares you.”
And according to Jackson, Golf Canada is a big operation, almost unique in the world with the large role it plays.
“We have a broader scope than any other golf organization in the world. And I don't say that just off the top of my head. The R&A... its scope of operations is not as large as ours. Even the USGA’s scope is not as large as ours; they don't do anything in player development, for example. So it's a very broad organization. There are other countries that come close, Australia comes close, but they have contracted out the operation of their national open which we have not. You know, we're in a unique position in golf in the world.”
Jackson Was A Rules Official For The Return Of Golf To The Olympic Games In Rio de Janeiro In 2016.
Golf Canada does have a clear separation between governance and operations, something Jackson sees as very important.
“The Board provides strategic direction and then we leave it up to staff through CEO Laurence (Applebaum). It's the board's role to work in close collaboration with Laurence and his team to set the strategic direction of the organization and then to monitor our achievement of that. It sounds simple, but it's a lot more difficult."
One item that has needed direction over the past five years has been finances. Golf Canada has run operational deficits that they have been working hard to correct.
“We have an investment fund that goes back to when we sold Glen Abbey 20 years ago, that gives us pretty good returns. (But) we got to a position where we are not able to break even operationally and had to use the returns on those investment funds to cover those deficits.
"The Board, about three years ago, passed a resolution to break even by 2022. Laurence has brought in an executive team that is extremely diligent about managing financially and we actually achieved that (breaking even operationally) last year. We've been fortunate some strong sponsors came on board and that has definitely helped. So, if we're able to do that going forward and COVID does not cause an impact, then we'll be able to use the returns from the investment fund for strategic purposes.”
COVID has had a high impact on Golf Canada. The Men’s RBC Canadian Open has been cancelled for two years now and the CP Women’s Open will likely follow suit. As noted above, golf’s relative success has helped but Jackson is not necessarily seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We thought last year that the impact of the data pandemic would really impact our operations but as it turns out, we've been fortunate. Through good management, good fortune and some government programming, we were able to have a surplus (in 2020), much like British Columbia Golf was able to do. But while, by the financial year-end, we did well, COVID doesn't follow year-ends and we face the same challenges this year. We've had to cancel the RBC Canadian Open and we don't know all the ramifications of that. We still have to deal with the women's Open potentially being cancelled. We are hopeful, but who knows. The new variants are not helping anybody. We're still struggling to see if we can put on our national amateur championships.”
COVID aside, one could see Jackson being concerned about working into the role of leading Golf Canada in 2023 but he sees it differently.
“In reality, I view the president's role as one of building consensus… Hopefully letting people do their jobs, getting out of staff’s way, enabling our Board to function properly. It's not like Lawrence of Arabia charging into the desert exhorting everyone to follow, the President should build consensus to help the organization move forward."
Some of the initiatives Jackson sees as being important to build consensus on, centre around growing the game.
“We are working diligently to try and leverage the increase in rounds played and connect with the new golfers and keep them - as much as we can - on board. So we're working very carefully with the NGCOA and the PGA and club managers. And we've launched a golf retention campaign. We are bringing the First Tee program to Canada to broaden access to junior golfers. It's going to roll out first in BC and across the rest of Canada, probably over the next three years. It’s about grass roots golf activity."
Overall, Jackson remains most focused on what he sees as Golf Canada’s core mandate.
“We exist to serve our member clubs and member golfers but we also exist to serve - and this is important to me - the game of golf in Canada. So, even though we may not have every golfer in Canada as a Golf Canada member, we do view ourselves as responsible to everyone.”