Turf & Rec

Lesley Thomas

A ‘Leading Woman in Turf’

Lesley Thomas

Lesley Thomas has spent her entire professional career at the same golf club. This March would have marked her 35th anniversary at the Scarboro Golf & Country Club. Unfortunately, departmental restructuring late in 2023 led to the elimination of her job.

Lesley Thomas (foreground).

Thomas says she’s not ready to give up on working in the golf industry. Now that she’s a “free agent,” she said she’s open to working in a non-private country club setting or at a course outside of the Toronto area.

Despite the loss of her position as an assistant superintendent at Scarboro, she said she enjoyed her climb up the ladder and her list of accomplishments along the way.

She broke into the industry while still in high school, working as a seasonal labourer for about six years. Over the years, she became a lead hand, a crew leader and a weekend supervisor.

A second assistant position eventually opened, beginning a new chapter in her long career.

Over the years, she worked for three “amazing” superintendents who each taught her a different set of skills.

Working under Dennis Pellrene, who eventually moved on to the Capilano Golf & Country Club in West Vancouver before retiring from the industry, Thomas learned about construction and equipment operation.

“It was still just a summer job I had at the time with Dennis for four years.”

The second superintendent she worked under was the late Keith Rasmus who gave Thomas her second assistant position.

“He liked my work ethic and my ability to lead by example.”

Rasmus also enrolled her in the University of Guelph’s turf manager’s short course which led to further upgrading with Cornell University’s and Michigan State’s short courses.

“It’s really important to continue to upgrade and get more information,” she said, adding those opportunities inspired her to become more serious about her position at the club.

Under Bill Gilkes, Thomas was given more leeway and became his senior assistant in 2007 at a time when golf courses were making more of a positive environmental impact.

She adopted an environmental leadership role and helped Scarboro earn its Audubon co-operative sanctuary certification.

During the process, she led local school students in field trips to the golf course to learn more about Scarboro’s stewardship initiatives.

Thomas earned a conservation award just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic for her efforts in chronicling a tree-planting program at the golf course. Acorns from an old red oak tree on the property – estimated to be about 180 years old – were planted, and she kept club members abreast of new developments through regular social media postings.

Other career highlights include being part of the Women in Turfgrass Management program, which Thomas described as an “awesome” experience and being part of a similarly themed program sponsored by Envu.

“That’s a highlight for me, just to see that movement happening.”

Thomas attributes the rise of women in the industry to such programs that are tailored toward boosting female opportunities and the fact that through social media and the Internet women can learn more about the profession.

“Young girls are able to see women doing these jobs, and I think it’s getting more spoken about.”

She said she believes men are more accepting of women today than they were generations ago, no matter what position women might hold in the turf industry.

“Women are different from men. We have different strengths, but we can do a lot more than what they thought 20 years ago.”