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Introducing the class of 2020 of the Top 10 Under 40

Turf & Rec honours the industry’s top young guns

July 20, 2020  By Turf and Rec Staff

The class of 2020 of Canada’s Top 10 Under 40 has been helping to shape the future of the Canadian turf and grounds maintenance industry since entering the profession, and these young individuals are poised to ensure that the qualities of leadership, innovation and teamwork are in strong supply for years to come.

This year marks Turf & Rec’s third consecutive mission to find the best young talent in the industry in Canada who have yet to reach their 40th birthdays. Whether they are employed in the golf, landscaping, sports turf or other sector of the industry, these chosen individuals have made significant contributions to their profession over the years and are setting an example for their peers, paving the way for the next wave of up-and-coming professionals.

The following young individuals constitute our “top 10 class of 2020,” listed alphabetically.

Kevin Branch, City of Richmond Hill, Ont.

Branch is a natural and is always thinking of different ways to do something and learning from the experience, says Mike Rossi of Dol Turf in Bond Head, Ont. “He is formally trained and educated in his field with years of experience that contributes to his professionalism and expertise.”

Although his job can be challenging at times, he is a positive thinker and sees the good in everything, including opportunities that others may not see.

“Kevin comes to work every day with a very high level of enthusiasm for his job,” Rob Elliott of the City of Richmond Hill said. “He interacts very effectively with his team and steps up every chance he gets. He’s a decision maker with deciding what work needs to get done and what the best practices are for achieving top results.”

He and a co-worker earned a number of accolades for a training day they organized for new staff. Elliott added Branch is passionate about the results of his work, and has stepped up to the foreman role several times to assist when necessary.

“Always looking to try something new and improve our fields is what he does.”

Joe Breedon, outdoor recreation facility co-ordinator, City of Barrie, Ont.

Breedon began working for the City of Barrie in 2005 as an assistant with the recreation services department and became lead hand three years later. This led to him taking over operations at the Barrie Sports Complex in nearby Minesing, where he was originally hired in 2000 when it was privately owned.

“Through the Ontario Parks Association, Joe holds every certification that they provide,” Trevor Warner, Precision Athletics/City of Woodstock, Ont., said. “That to me is impressive. More impressive is that he is not mandated by the City of Barrie to have everything he has, but Joe does it to better himself and also to better his staff by having the confidence to teach them in all aspects of the parks environment and not just in the sports field environment.”

More recently, Breedon has joined Sports Turf Canada as a member of its board of directors.

He continues to share his knowledge and experience in the industry as a speaker at various sports turf-related events.

When hiring staff, Breedon said their level of experience and education are important, but their character and ability to get along with others is even more important.

Kyle Brodhagen, manager of operations, the Stratford Municipal Golf Course Association, Stratford, Ont.

A long-serving member of the golf club summed up Brodhagen’s contributions to the property in this way: “I have been playing here for more than 50 years, and the course has never been in better condition. I have had all kinds of positive comments from players I have brought to the course as visitors to Stratford.”

Along with managing the golf course, Brodhagen was tasked in 2018 with developing a lawn bowling green. Because the new green was to be located at one end of the club’s practice range, planning was required to extend its opposite end and develop a new tee area. Using his own skill set and those in his network of industry contacts, Brodhagen kept both projects moving along throughout the 2018 season. Partial use of the practice range was available in 2018, and it was in full swing for 2019.

Brodhagen’s goal was to have the new lawn bowling green ready for July 2019, but it was ready for play about three weeks ahead of schedule.

“The lawn bowling green was one of the best I bowled on this year in all of southwestern Ontario,” an experienced tournament bowler said. “For a first-year green, I was extremely pleased with how it rolled.”

Another club golfer/lawn bowler remarked, “I have complimented Kyle several times on the work he has done to keep the greens in great shape. He has commented about how he wants lawn bowling to be successful, and his work is showing how much he cares.”

Other comments about Brodhagen’s work include:

“Kyle went above and beyond in maintaining a consistent bowling green on young grass. Even though this was new for him, he was willing to ask his peers for advice to keep it in excellent shape all summer.”

“Because of Kyle’s hard work, and along with his staff, we now have one of the finest lawn bowling greens in southwestern Ontario. He is very friendly and co-operative to work with.”

Marco China, assistant superintendent, St. George’s Golf & Country Club, Toronto, Ont.

China graduated in 2017 from the University of Guelph’s associate diploma in turfgrass management program and was co-president of the university’s turf club. During his studies, he was a member of the first Canadian team to ever place in the top 10 at the GCSAA Turf Bowl, capturing sixth place with his teammates.

He has 13 years of experience in the turf industry, playing notable roles at West Haven Golf & Country Club in London, Ont., Cutten Fields in Guelph, Ont. and the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Penn. Among his awards include the 2018 CGSA/Toro “Future Superintendent of the Year” award, the OGSA turfgrass education award and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs leadership prize.

China has also contributed to a number of industry publications, including ONCourse and Greenmaster magazines. He currently sits on the industry advisory group for the University of Guelph turfgrass management program and is involved with organizing the annual OGSA assistant superintendent golf tournament. He recently took part in the Syngenta Assistant Super U program put on by the Ivey Academy and Syngenta.

In his current role at St. George’s, China has created and implemented a respected internship program, built and grown in a 25,000-square-foot nursery, participated in three USGA green renovation projects and a full bunker renovation project, and renovated and retrofitted an irrigation system for multiple greens complexes.

He has valued the advice and guidance he has received from industry professionals throughout his career and is committed to helping mentor new staff and creating a welcoming atmosphere of growth and development.

Jesse Cowan, superintendent, Gallagher’s Canyon, Kelowna, B.C.

Gallagher’s Canyon and the Pinnacle at Gallagher’s are the only golf courses where Cowan has worked, but he has left his stamp since joining the Gallagher’s team in 2008. Perhaps topping the list of his on-course accomplishments included the re-sodding of all 18 greens to bentgrass and the installation of a new pumphouse and mainline as the first phase of a project that will eventually lead to a “redo” of irrigation for all 18 holes.

The graduate of Kwantlen Polytechnic University became superintendent at Gallagher’s Canyon last December, and was gearing up to have the course ready this year for the Mackenzie Tour’s GolfBC Championship until the current COVID-19 pandemic suspended his hosting duties until 2021. He said this season – even without the Mackenzie Tour event – has been a hectic one amid the health crisis.

Cowan is serving his first year as a board member with the Western Canada Turfgrass Association, sitting on the communications and information committee. Outside of golf, he enjoys fishing, hiking, hunting and anything to do with the outdoors. He and his wife recently welcomed their first child into the family.

Chad de Groot, superintendent, The Vernon Golf & Country Club, Vernon, B.C.

With 17 years of experience in the golf course industry, de Groot has helped to successfully construct and maintain several world class golf courses. His love for golf, agronomy and the outdoors started at a young age, and he always wanted to pursue a career that could incorporate those passions.

After graduating from the University of Guelph, he completed an internship at Grey Wolf Golf Course under his long-time mentor Jason Carleton. From 2007 to 2017 he worked on three different, unique and challenging sites. He assisted with the construction, grow-in and opening of The Rise, The Ridge Course and Tower Ranch.

“This is where I developed a solid understanding of construction, leadership, turf management practices and plant requirements,” de Groot said.

He has also been fortunate to volunteer for several major PGA tournaments, including the Canadian Open and the Telus Skins Game. In 2016, he attended the Green Start Academy in North Carolina. This leadership and development program is aimed strictly at assistant superintendents to build a strong foundation for their careers, as well as to support the future of golf courses and the entire industry.

His breakthrough into a superintendent’s role occurred in 2017 at the Shannon Lake Golf Club, where he not only achieved some of the best conditions in the Okanagan, but also personally endeavoured to create a team environment, elevating the Shannon Lake Golf Club to a new level.

This year marks his first year as superintendent of the Vernon Golf and Country Club. Always looking to push forward and seek new challenges, he now has another new property to elevate conditions, share his wisdom and create a fun, hardworking environment.

“I am looking forward to creating some structure within the turf care department and help shape a new standard and level of maintenance.”

De Groot and his wife Melissa live in Coldstream with their son and daughter, Easton, 7, and Blayke, 5.

“Undoubtedly, I would not be where I am today without the support of my wife,” he said. “I can’t stress enough maintaining a healthy balance between family and our passions for this industry and its success.”

Robert Heggie, director of grounds, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (Toronto FC and Toronto Argonauts), Toronto, Ont.

Heggie has been employed with MLSE for 10 years and has been recognized as a sports turf industry leader in North America for several years. Named by Sports Turf Canada as its sports turf manager of the year in 2015, he has served as an active speaker at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute, the Ontario Turfgrass Symposium, the Ohio Turfgrass Conference and several other industry conferences. Additionally, he has done multiple tours for different universities and colleges.

His leadership in turf technology has resulted in ownership being sold ideas that have been brought into the country. This has led to BMO Field being one of the most technologically advanced sports fields in North America and the world. The technologies include a field warming system, SubAir system, grow lamps, inflatable grow covers and – most recently – the installation of a hybrid field. The latter project, which was installed during the spring of 2019, saw artificial turf fibres stitched in among the natural turf playing surface, resulting in a field that is still 95 per cent natural yet more resilient to wear and tear.

The 2016 season proved to be a challenge for Heggie, who had to continually convert the playing surface at BMO Field back and forth for soccer and football. The Argonauts of the Canadian Football League took to the field for the first time that season. On Nov. 27 of that year, the field also served as the site for the 104th Grey Cup Game and three days later played host to Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference final. Barely more than a week later, BMO Field was host to the MLS Cup final. Less than a month after that game, an outdoor rink was constructed atop the field to accommodate the National Hockey League’s Centennial Classic game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. The moment the New Year’s Day hockey game had concluded, it was back to work for Heggie to have the field soccer ready for April, with field reconditioning and re-sodding required.

Curtis Playfair, assistant superintendent, Innisfail Golf Club, Innisfail, Alt.a

Playfair has been in the golf course industry for 15 years, including the past seven at the Innisfail Golf Club. His journey began at the Carstairs Community Golf Club in the town in which he was raised. There, he developed a strong relationship with the members as he worked in the back shop of the pro shop, then as part of the turf care team assisting the superintendent and assistant. At Carstairs, he developed the skills and knowledge of maintaining the property of the course.

Currently the assistant superintendent at the Innisfail Golf Club, a layout of three nine-hole tracks deemed a hidden gem in Alberta, he has been an integral part of the turf care team for seven years and counting. He earned his degree in turf management at Olds College in Olds, Alta.

During his spare time at his home office, Playfair built and developed a website dedicated to the turf department. The site is detailed with information required for day-to-day tasks, including equipment inventory, fertilizer calculations, fungicide applications, a section for Audubon information (such as wildlife sightings and entomology records), updates on current events regarding the Alberta and Canadian Golf Superintendents Associations, measurements of the golf course in its entirety with the use of his personal drone and Go Pro, as well as hundreds of pictures of the golf course, including progress of construction projects.

He has used his time to help his fellow colleagues come together and have all the information they need with the click of a button, via their computers or cell phone. He is adamant about eliminating filing cabinets filled with paper and is willing to help anyone use the technology to modernize and enhance the turf care department’s productivity.

In addition to the website, Playfair has also built an electronic job board that sits in the staff room for the seasonal employees to see. He then connects the information to the office computers for the managers, as well as on their cell phones. The job descriptions for daily tasks can be added, changed and rearranged for the crew within seconds. This process helps with time management and efficiency.

Playfair has been invited to Olds College on several occasions to talk to the turf students about his website project. This knowledge provides a stepping stone for up-and-coming leaders in the industry.

Brendan Rutley, irrigation sales representative, Oakcreek Golf & Turf, Surrey, B.C.

Rutley has been employed the past five years at Oakcreek following a career as a golf superintendent at Sandpiper Golf Course in Harrison Mills, B.C. A native of Chilliwack, he spent seven seasons at the golf course. He began working there on the grounds crew while a university student “not really knowing where I was going.” He rose through the ranks to become assistant superintendent. While serving in that position, he attended Kwantlen Polytechnic University, earning his diploma in horticulture and turfgrass management, graduating with distinction and winning a couple of bursaries.

In his current position with Oakcreek, he strives to educate golf superintendents and assistants and irrigation technicians about troubleshooting methods for their irrigation systems. The goal, he said, is to make sure these people can work with their irrigation systems with confidence. Educating system users is important to their success.

Rutley said he enjoys sharing his knowledge of irrigation systems with others and would welcome the opportunity to speak on the subject at formal industry gatherings.

One of his most notable accomplishments on the job occurred last year when he installed three pump stations at the same time at three golf courses, tearing out the old stations and putting the new ones in.

During his free time, he enjoys playing hockey and slo-pitch in Chilliwack. He joined his local curling rink to both enjoy the game and provide volunteer work and also finds time for hiking and camping.

Trevor Warner, City of Woodstock, Ont.

Warner is the most impassioned person when talking about sports fields, and especially his love of baseball, Cindy Summerfeldt-Madeley of Hutcheson Sand & Mixes, says. “Trevor is a perfectionist and never settles for less when building and maintaining fields. He never holds back, telling it like it is, ensuring you know where he stands using his experiences, knowledge and humour.”

Warner’s experience as both a baseball player and field caretaker have been an asset to the city. His knowledge of sports – and especially baseball – help to ensure athletes using his fields reap the greatest possible enjoyment.

While playing junior college baseball in Tennessee, one of his tasks as a team member was to maintain the field. He found he not only enjoyed the work, but had an aptitude for it. Returning to Canada for summer break, he was hired by the City of Welland to maintain fields at a sports complex. Upon completion of his studies, he learned from some of the best in the southeastern U.S. sports field construction and renovation industry. Soon afterward, he returned to Ontario and became head groundskeeper for the Niagara Stars of the Canadian Baseball League and was also responsible for major renovations in Quebec for the league.

Before joining the City of Woodstock, Warner worked for Mar-Co Clay Products for 10 years. While with the company, he completed the sports turf managers short course at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute.

Honourable mentions

Dan Allen, Township of Langley, B.C.

Possessing the right leadership qualities, working well with others and being a team player are attributes that favour Allen, says Tab Buckner, a past president of Sports Turf Canada.

“He is well regarded by his co-workers and fits well into the maintenance protocols established,” Buckner, also from the Township of Langley, said. “Dan always thinks outside the box to solve challenges and is willing to try something new and learn from it. He’s very organized and ensures the details are always considered.”

A former golf course superintendent, Allen has a wealth of knowledge in the turf industry. He has high-level communications skills and likes to take initiative, not backing away from change.

Brian Macklin, City of Brampton, Ont.

Macklin is a natural leader in the industry, says Mike Rossi of Dol Turf in Bond Head, Ont. “Along with so many of his team, he is constantly learning and implementing new ideas which are done effectively and efficiently.”

Rossi said Macklin is detail-oriented and ensures things are done right the first time. He shares his expertise in the field by making a number of industry presentations.

Coming from a golf background with a strong knowledge of turf, he has an understanding of the needs of turf maintenance.

“When he joined the municipal side, he made (industry suppliers’) lives easier and helps them understand turf requirements so they can understand it clearly,” Gord Dol of Dol Turf said. “He has made significant changes at his municipality.”

Macklin is a consistent contributor to the turf industry, volunteering his time and making technical presentations. His strong understanding of the science of turf shows in his work. Due to his attention to detail, his maintenance practices are both effective and efficient.

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