TLN Interview With Keith Lyall, 2013 WCTA President

12.04.24-WCTAlogo-grassonly.jpgTLN: Please start with your bio (current age, place of work & how long, how long in the business, where you live, family, etc):

Keith Lyall:  I’m 40 years old, I have been in the golf industry since 1995, but have been in landscape and residential construction since I was 13. Currently employed at Sun Peaks Golf Course where I have been the superintendent since 2005. My Wife, Bobbe and one year-old son, McLean and I live in Sun Peaks, we are both originally from Kamloops. I also have a ten year-old daughter, Ailisa who lives in Calgary.

13.08.31-The.LyallsThe Lyall Family - one year old son McLean, Keith, ten year daughter Ailisa and wife Bobbe

TLN:  You and your assistant Cody Inkster are charged with looking after the highest elevation golf course in BC.  You open mid-June and close mid-October for an extremely short 4 month season.  Can you give us another way to describe insanity?  What can you tell us about the differences in your role (because the season is so short) from say, the guy at Cordova Bay?

KL: Cody has nothing to do with it, it’s all me….Just kidding Cody. The golf season here is from June 1st to September 30th, as far as I know the shortest golf season in Canada. We can open the front-nine at the end of May but conditions are usually nasty wet. Insanity is the expectation that a course with a limited season and over 16% of rounds are complimentary, could make a profit.  I will also say that has been interesting seeing another side of the tourism industry and being a part of it, it does make me appreciate the camaraderie we share as turfgrass managers, you just don’t see that in the ski industry. 

TLN:  You’ve just hosted the BCGSA Exchange Tournament with over 80 golf industry personnel taking over your golf course.  Give us your thoughts on how the event went, where you think the mindset of the participants was and whether or not this is an indicator of the overall state of things:

KL: I think the event went well, I did like the idea of the field demonstrations but found it very challenging trying to provide suppliers with their needs. I think that event needs more actual time in a day to be called a success. I do know that the BCGSA and I will be discussing in the near future on the challenges and successes for upcoming exchanges.

Otherwise, other than the frozen rainfall I predicated and came to fruition, I would have to say it was pretty good. I don’t think we will ever see high attendance numbers from superintendents because of the commitment they need to fulfill at their own properties. Especially in these tougher times, however I would like to thank everyone who did attend. 

TLN: Besides the short season, high annual snowfall that can happen any month of the year, cold temperatures, constant drainage issues from run-off and springs, shade from surrounding peaks and probably poor soil conditions, what are your major agronomic challenges?

KL: The shortness of the season and continual weather challenges, does not allow for enough cultural practices to be employed, such as aeration, topdressing, overseeding, etc. As much as we try we just can’t seem get it all done in 4 months.

TLN: Besides a small budget, lack of staff, difficult to maintain property and dealing with the Sun Peaks Resort Corporation who know a lot about skiing and not so much about golf, what are your major management challenges?

KL: The Corporation does understand golf they also own the Harvest Club in Kelowna. The major management challenge is the staff that specifically came to Sun Peaks to ski and have found jobs on the course. They generally are less enthusiastic to work on a golf course and have limited knowledge of golf. One example, during interviews many will point out the window and refer to the all the turf as “greens”.

TLN: You are the current President of the WCTA and just had your second child.  What can you tell us about your current stage of life and state of mind?

KL:  I would have to say I have met many of my life goals. My second child was a boy and my ten year old daughter, make me so very proud. The ability to give back to this industry, which embraced me so early in my career, though volunteering with the WCTA leaves me another huge feeling of pride. As a good friend puts it so elegantly, I’m “living the dream”.

TLN:  The BCGSA and WCTA work together very nicely but there is talk about furthering and perhaps formalizing this relationship by some form of amalgamation of the two groups.  What are your thoughts on this?

KL: Cautiously optimistic, my concern is that these groups already have such unique identities, can we amalgamate more with golf without offending or losing sportsturf managers and other industry sector professionals? There is no doubt that we need to ensure that members of our associations are getting their monies worth for belonging and if that means us as directors need to look at this, then so be it.

As Directors we must also be aware of the concerns of our suppliers. I have heard a few times from Reps that in BC that they are supporting two associations, this is unique in Canada and costly to them.

Ultimately we all need to understand that these associations are by no way rich, all the dollars that come in are spent and if we do amalgamate, there will be an expectation that cost will go down. If that happens, what suffers? Research? Education?

TLN: You were in construction before entering the world of sportsturf management on golf courses.  What do you think people in the turf industry could learn from people in other professions?

KL: Regulations, other than pesticide laws, I find most are not familiar with regs pertaining to health/safety, environment and employment standards. I do think that our newly established environmental advisory committee will be the catalyst that takes our industry to next level.

TLN:  Compared to people you know in other professions, do people in the turf industry have attributes that stand out?

KL:  Absolutely, as I have stated many times before, I have never seen competing professionals so willing to help each other even when it can mean a loss of business to the ones “helping”. Without sounding to emotional, it is heartwarming to know that at any time I can call almost everyone from our directories to get advice on a situation.

TLN:  Here’s a set of standard questions that we try to stay away from but still need to be asked:

In your career, who was your biggest help / influence along the way?
First off my Grandfather for all the pump and mechanical skills he taught me as a kid. Secondly my Mom and Dad for their devotion to Horticulture and the game of golf. From the industry side, Terry Smith and Rod Siddons from the glory days at the Dunes. Bart Zayshley during my time at Morgan Creek. But I would have to say that the person I learnt the most from over the last 10 years is John Reid. He has always made himself available for my stupid questions and has really been a great friend. Thanks John, hope I can return the favor one day.

Any funny stories? Many but probably nothing that I would have published

Most exciting moment? Crashing tractors into creeks.

Greatest achievement? My two kids and my lovely wife.

Biggest frustration? The lack of respect from customers at this resort, walking, jogging, skiing, sledding and biking on this course, regardless of signage. But what bugs me the most when I confront these people and they say, “This is a golf course?” Open your eyes Skiers.

If you could have a mulligan? Probably start education sooner, pissed away most of my twenties.

TLN:  If you were zapped 300 years into the past, knowing what you know now, what do you think you would be doing?

KL:  Getting on the first boat to the New World

TLN: Give us 3 predictions for the future of the turf and golf industry:

1) Less courses and players, I think we may be heading to pre 1980’s, when members were our biggest revenue generators.
2) More opposition from special interest groups, these groups keep telling the public that we are not sensitive to our environment, and we all know how much BS that is.
3) The continuing saga of do more for less.

TLN:  Any other random thoughts, comments, ideas, tips, advice or w.h.y?

KL:  The tourism/hospitality industry needs to catch up with other industry in this province. Please stop undervaluing your products, charge your customers what the product is worth and pay your employees a wage which they can survive on. Otherwise it won’t be long before no one can afford to work in this industry, when the others are paying 3 times as much. Every year I lose my best employees to mining, oil/gas, construction and municipalities for jobs that are not all that different than what they do on the course.