New owner for Haliburton Highlands Golf Club
By Darren Lum
Published July 17, 2018
Randall Wood knew life up in the Highlands was different than Uxbridge, but when he saw an emu from his club house’s back deck in June he soon realized how different.
Wood had just finalized the sale of the Haliburton Highlands Golf Club a few days before, when he saw the four-foot bird, commonly regarded as the second largest living bird by height and associated with Australia.
The 50-year-old laughs about the encounter (the emu was found and returned to its steward) and said buying the club from Dale and Eldon Bull was a dream come true.
“I worked my way up the ladder from starting as a 12-year-old kid in Oakville in a back shop to being a general manager of a 45-hole facility. I started thinking, ‘Well, I can’t really go up. I can go to other golf courses and be a GM, but I’m always going to kind of be at that level and how do I go to the next level. Ownership was really the only way that I could see that advancement. It’s nice that my board meetings are now just when I brush my teeth in front of the mirror.”
After more than 30 years in the golf industry (38 years, he said, if you count working in a back shop at a course in Oakville), he said this purchase is a move towards retiring.
“This is kind of my halfway point,” he said.
His partner Julie Skinner, who lives in Stouffville, will be helping Wood with his dream.
The club will employ nine staff and continue to offer the same offerings as before.
Raised in Oakville, getting to live a quieter life within the Highlands when compared to an urban centre was definitely a draw.
“I missed how everything just kind of slows down a little bit and people are a little ... friendlier and accommodating and willing to help any way they can. You know in the city everyone is too busy doing their own things,” he said.
Wood has always appreciated the area ever since he was young when his grandparents had a cottage in Dorset. He remembers golfing the nine-hole course for fun when he was a competitive junior.
The golf professional since 1990 has no intention of making any drastic changes to something that is so well-liked by residents.
“A lot of locals take pride in the golf course and the history behind it. I want to be part of that,” he said.
The pride starts with its past owners, Dale and Eldon.
He believes they sold the business to him because of his respect for the tradition of the club. He promises to only add a couple of photographs and keep the club house essentially the same as it is now.
“I hope they feel they found the right buyer,” he said.
Right now he is renting a place and commuting from Minden.
By Sept. 1, Wood will move in and live above the club house and laughs about how he’ll probably never really leave the property.
This new venture isn’t without its challenges.
Much of his work in the golf industry recently was in administration and now it’s shifted towards work on the greens and services. The new role has also included running the irrigation and cutting fairways.
Despite the learning curve he’s faced with the new duties, he’s thankful to past owners for how well they maintained everything and obvious pride they had for the business.
“Kudos to them for what they’ve been able to build and establish. I came in with an open mind, thinking I’ll review what works and what doesn’t work and tweak as I go. There are so many good things that are running well – they should be applauded for that,” he said.
The couple also were instrumental in making the transition for Wood much easier by helping for three weeks (one more than they were contractually obligated following the official closing date on June 8. Wood said they remain helpful.
With his golf pro background, which includes 12 years at the Deerhurst resort, Wood would like to provide patrons with an opportunity to develop their skills. He also wants to enhance marketing through e-blasts. He’s in no rush and, if required, will do that work in the offseason.
“Nothing’s broken and needs fixing,” he said.
The physical dimensions of the club’s course is a selling point and it’s something he hopes golfers get to appreciate.
“It’s short in nature, but the par threes are really long and the par fours are shorter, but it’s a niche nine-holes because you can get out and play and be back on your dock, having their barbecue or having time with their family without spending your entire day there,” he said.
He adds golfers can play two rounds of nine to play 18 holes.
His primary focus is to keep golfers happy and returning.
“I think it’s fair to say that if I can produce a good product (the tee to green is good, it’s enjoyable and consistent) then I think people are going to want to come back,” he said.