I first met John Caven in 2000 when I joined St Andrews Links Trust at an industry conference where he spoke about customer service. I enjoyed his presentation and his passion for delivering a 5-star golf operation.
We got the chance to work with each other when I moved to be CEO at Loch Lomond and needed someone to run Dundonald. John initially became my Director of Golf and then my Operations Director at Loch Lomond and we worked together for 4 years through some tough financial times for the club.
John loves what he does and is always very proactive, upfront and central when looking after members and guests and loved getting involved in every aspect of the Barclays Scottish Open.
John left the Loch about two years after I did and briefly went to GWest and Glasgow Golf Club as General Manager before contacting me about a position in Canada at Oakdale that was being advertised by Kopplin, Kuebler and Wallace who I represented Internationally.
John’s wife, Lora, has an aunt & uncle that lived in Toronto, close to the club and like a number of GMs in Europe John was keen to take advantage of any connections that might allow him to take a job in North America. John went through a long selection process and with the help of a family connection and delivering a first-class interview was selected to run the club in 2017.
John and I kept in touch and he always seemed like he was enjoying the role and was learning a lot and getting to understand the needs of a demanding membership and working with a large team with strong leaders. The club was also due to host the Canadian Open in 2022 but with the pandemic, this got pushed back to 2023. In September 2021 John was approached about the position of General Manager at St Georges Golf & Country Club, voted the second best course in Canada, and located in a very wealthy suburb of Toronto.
John was successful again coming through a tough interview process and took up the role in October of 2021 just 9 months before the club was due to host the 2022 RBC Canadian Open.
In my new role as GM of The Lockhart Club, I put together trips for our members, and I knew that Toronto and the surrounding area had great courses one of which was St Georges, so I reached out to John and we set out to put a little 5-day trip together for me to see his club and some others in the area.
It was around 8.00 am on a beautiful sunny summer day when I drove up to the gates at St Georges and unlike some other clubs it seemed more impressive than the photographs on the website. I was asked to park at the back of the clubhouse where John would meet me.
Although we had spoken many times on zoom and telephone calls it had been 11 years since we had actually seen each other face to face and John had not changed. Radio in hand saying hello to members and staff directing operations, it just felt like we were back at the Loch setting up for another busy Friday. I had driven a couple of hours to get to the club, but I had no time to relax John’s enthusiasm was still infectious and he wanted to show me every inch. Starting in what had been the curling centre which was now a very impressive indoor golf facility with 6 bays with the very latest simulators and launch monitors with a wonderful indoor putting facility.
We then headed out to the course through a tunnel which goes under the main road into Toronto and has been in place since the club was opened in 1929 It was just two months after Rory McIlroy had won a spectacular RBC Canadian Open which I had watched on television but again the course was so much better than it seemed watching the telecast. The rolling fairways and the immaculate condition and attention to detail just made you want to play the course.
The club has 42 green staff at the height of summer and the course manager Ian McQueen, who happens to be a Spurs season ticket holder, is renowned as a bent grass specialist and hand waters the greens and approaches every day.
The course starts well and just gets better. John told me stories and showed me videos of the set-up for the Canadian Open and some of the lines Rory successfully took off some of the tees and showed why he won shooting 62 to beat Justin Thomas and Tony Finau coming down the stretch! Totally different from the lines that members and mere mortals would take.
Leaving the course and entering the clubhouse we came into one of the nicest locker rooms I have seen only surpassed by their terrace restaurant that overlooks downtown Toronto.
The good thing for John is that there are a number of projects to undertake and complete along with the club celebrating its centenary in 2029 with the Canadian Open being targeted to return around this time. This will keep John active and he very much sees this position as a long-term role proving that European managers can be successful in North America.
John highlighted that he gets a lot of managers asking how they can get a job in America or Canada and as he pointed out it is not that easy and he had to work very hard before he even got the chance to fend off strong competition from local managers who are easier for clubs to hire.
It was great to see John again and I can’t wait to bring some Lockhart members to St Georges next summer and enjoy one of the nicest clubs in North America.
Until next time