Don McFarlane first came upon the Red Deer Golf and Country Club as a fresh-faced teen.
As a school-aged kid, he shined shoes for 35 cents a pair, or $10 for the whole summer.
“Every May I would walk around with a pocket full of money and every August, I’d be bumming money from my parents to buy more polish,” he said with a chuckle.
That was his first gig in golf, but far from his last. From the back shop to an executive and everything in between, it has been a lifetime in the sport for McFarlane, who is leaving RDGCC as the general manager, after holding the role since 2006.
“It’s been great. It’s been pretty rewarding. A lot of work, a lot of fun and got to work with a lot of really good people,” he said of his 44-plus year career in golf.
McFarlane is retiring this year and handing the reigns to Mike Kenney, but he won’t be far from the course. He plans on remaining a member at the club and playing three or four rounds a week, visiting his grandkids more often, but other than that doesn’t have much of an agenda.
It has been a lifetime of love for the sport and the people he’s got to work with over the years. In 1973, McFarlane was the first Canadian to ever enroll at the San Diego Golf Academy, a two-year program for professional and golf management.
He returned to Alberta and was named head pro at the Grande Prairie Golf and Country Club, where he owned and operated the pro shop for 29 years. The last seven of those he was an executive pro for the entire golf operation.
McFarlane says the main thing he’s seen change in his time involved in the game, is the professionalism that’s involved with it all. With the pros taking the game more seriously in terms of training than they ever have, there has been a trickle-down effect all the way to amateurs.
“The quality of the golf experience. The clubhouses are better, the golf courses are better groomed and the expectations of the members are higher. It’s justifiable,” he said.
“Golf has become a way of life, a way to get away from life. So, it’s grown quite a bit from what it used to be. Higher expectations in every area and a lot more professional experience from the time you get in the parking lot. It’s good, the game has grown.”
While he has fond memories of his time in Grande Prairie, whether it be in minor hockey, curling or junior hockey, McFarlane said being back where it all started has been exactly what he had hoped it would be.
“When I was in Grande Prairie I was able to get involved a lot more in the community, it was busy all the time. I owned the golf shop and we raised our kids there. When we came back to Red Deer, it was just like coming home,” he said.
“I love the golf course, I love the property and the staff kinda keeps you young. They’ve lapped me in a lot of areas, so it’s a good time for me to go.”