Phil McCluskey always felt he’d like to return home to Red Deer.
So when the Director of Golf/head pro position at the River Bend Golf and Recreation Area opened up this year he jumped at it.
“I always loved Red Deer and despite my parents moving away several years ago I still came up whenever I got a chance … I will always call this home.”
McCluskey played River Bend the year it opened in 1987 and watched it grow.
“The trees were a bit smaller then,” the 50-year-old said with a laugh. “But this is an unbelievable facility. I don’t think there’s anything like it … the driving range and practice facility are top notch, short of a private club.
“The par-3 mini links and of course Discovery Canyon … the whole facility is amazing. We’re so busy it never stops.”
McCluskey, along with new general manager Rob McPherson, are among a group looking to add even more opportunities for central Albertans to enjoy the facility.
“We’re already doing things (with entertainment) plus there’s things we want to try, such as a movie night on the driving range or an outdoor concert. The facility is owned by the people of Red Deer and we can do things besides golf … things to do to bring more people here and the more they come the more they’ll like it.”
McCluskey grew up playing soccer but got into golf when he was 11.
“My brother was a member of the Red Deer Golf and Country Club and he bought me a membership for my 11th birthday. That was the start. I got into the management side in 1988 when I worked with Golf Plus running the course at Cluny.”
He ran the course until 1992 when they hired a head pro.
“He took me on as an assistant and that was my start as a pro,” McCluskey added.
In 1993 he moved to Dinosaur Trail Golf and Country Club in Drumheller as an assistant pro. In 1996 he became head pro and in 2001 GM and was there until moving to Red Deer.
Phil has always been interested in working with juniors.
“I love working with juniors and beginners, that’s where I’m most qualified,” he said. “There’s a difference between a club pro and a teaching pro. I like to teach certain elements but there are other elements where you need more of a teaching pro.
“I do some teaching, but my two assistants (Melissa Perron and Logan Hill) do more of that.”
Both Perron and Hill played for RDC and have been involved in the pro side of the game in central Alberta
‘They’re both excellent. Great to have which is important because I can’t do everything.”
Phil likes what he sees from the junior program.
“The guys before us did a great job with it and we just continued on,” he said. “This year we have 176 juniors in all different programs. We started at the beginning of May with the clinics finishing up next week. The junior league will continue to September.”
Phil is married with a 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. His family still lives in Drumheller.
“My wife (Amberlee) manages the X-ray department at the hospital. It’s such a great job and it’s a process to find something equal here, especially with her seniority and all the things combined.
“I miss my family, but this was such a great opportunity for me it was to good to pass up. I know she worked so long and hard to get where she’s at and I’d never ask her to drop it, but we’ll figure it out.”
Phil, along with the board and management, will also figure out ways to keep improving the picturesque layout.
This year they had some problems with their greens, as did several central Alberta courses.
“It’s not just us, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to take,” he said. “But it’s an anomaly. If it happens three years in a row it would be a problem.”
Phil is also on the grounds committee. One thing he’d like to see is trimming the trees up from the ground.
“It’s something we hope to do. I believe a tree should still be a hazard, but you shouldn’t lose your ball or not be able to chip out from it,” he said. It doesn’t need to be high, just a couple of feet.”
River Bend is one of the finest courses in central Alberta and McCluskey, along with McPherson and superintendent Jason Brattley, will continue to put their heads together to make the course, and the whole facility for that matter, a place for all to enjoy.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org