Plotting a course for golf’s future in Canada

Special to Western NewsLaurence Applebaum, HBA’94, was recently named Chief Executive Officer of Golf Canada. The Toronto native, who spent the last five years as Executive Vice-President of the Women’s Tennis Association, succeeds Chief Sport Officer Jeff Thompson in the position.

A photo has hung in Laurence Applebaum’s office for years. It’s a picture of six golfers – one lining up a putt – on Western’s campus in the late 1950s with University College in the background.

“I tell people that’s where I barely passed Philosophy in first year,” Applebaum, HBA’94, laughed.

That photo was a sign of things to come, as Applebaum now prepares to take the helm as the next Chief Executive Officer of Golf Canada. Most recently the Executive Vice-President of the Florida-based Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), the 45-year-old Applebaum begins his new role July 10.

“All the indicators are headed towards positive stuff for golf,” Applebaum said. “There are more Canadians on the global professional stage than almost ever before. There are six guys on the PGA Tour and four women on LPGA Tour. When you see that kind of breakthrough at the professional level, there is always a nice trickle down to the game in Canada.”

With a career in sports spanning more than 20 years in Canada, Europe and the United States, Applebaum, a Toronto native, is already prepping for his first day on the job. He was part of the announcement of Team Canada in Montreal and attended Golf Canada board meetings last week. He’s meeting with top golf executives this week at the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Hartford, Wisc., and setting up a cross-country listening tour to get feedback from provincial officials and weekend golfers alike.

His clear priority list includes the development of a long-term championship strategy for the two national opens – the RBC Canadian Men’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open. He also plans a “deep dive and review” of the Golf Canada membership model. Currently, the organization boasts more than 300,000 members.

“While that’s a wonderful number, we can drive even more value to these members and increase it,” Applebaum said. “There are almost six million people who play golf in Canada, so I want to work with the provincial associations to build on this membership.”

The sport’s success depends not only on the elite courses – Applebaum nodded to London area courses such as Sunningdale Golf & Country Club, the London Hunt and Country Club and Redtail Golf Course – but also on the many public tracks.

“Public courses need to be successful, so the Golf Course Owners Association of Canada, even the folks who take care of the courses, they need to feel they are an important part of Golf Canada. I want to be working a lot with them.”

It will also be a time of change for the game. The United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews have drafted more than 100 proposed rule changes to simplify and modernize the game, including changes to pace of play, water hazards, and moved ball penalties, among others. These would be the most significant changes to the Rules of Golf in more than three decades and will take effect Jan 1, 2019.

“Feedback from the planned changes have been welcomed with open arms. It’s a great step forward in the progressiveness of the game,” he said. “If there had been a knock on golf, it’s that it’s a little bit too traditional, too conservative, too stayed. It’s been a welcome progress to the game. We need to be relevant to a younger, faster and more responsive consumer. Golf Canada has had a seat at the table for this.”

Applebaum sees that next generation at play when he takes his 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter on the course with him. “It’s not screen time. You’re enjoying the outdoors and it’s an inclusive game,” he said. “These rule changes are going to make it better. My goal is to work with all components of the game and ask how can we make this a fun thing. At the end of the day, you want it to be something to look forward to.”

For the past five years, Applebaum has been working with the WTA in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he oversaw day-to-day operations of the women’s global professional tennis circuit, including tournament operations, on-site competition, player relations and development, sports science and medicine, broadcast operations and new business development.

“There is a lot of overlap,” he said. “To see the highest level of women’s sport, it was great exposure to global professional sports. There are a lot of things I’ll be able to bring to Golf Canada, such as working with athletes and their teams and helping in the development of these players.”

For Applebaum’s personal development, he harkens back to both the Ivey Business School and his time in Introduction to Administrative and Commercial Studies course – known as Biz 20 – within the Faculty of Social Science.

“What was a real big part of my education was Biz 20. That course was a game changer,” he said. “I didn’t have a handle of what I wanted to do. Biz 20 was really a window into something I’d like to do and be decent at. My professor started me on a great path.”

Now that he’s much closer to home, Applebaum is looking forward to returning to campus, perhaps this fall. “I would love to recreate that campus golf photo,” he said. “That would be fun.”