Remembering Gordon Witteveen
February 17, 2011 By Mike Jiggens
In December, the golf industry lost one of its best-known ambassadors
when Gordon Witteveen died after a long battle with leukemia. The
former long-time superintendent at Toronto’s Board of Trade Country
Club was said to be perhaps the first “celebrity” golf superintendent
It’s not surprising, considering that he was also a successful author—having written several books about greenkeeping—was a much sought after lecturer on the conference circuit, and co-instructed a travelling turfgrass management course called “The Magic of Greenkeeping” with Chicago-area superintendent Michael Bavier.
Gord was also a regular contributor to Turf & Recreation for several years, giving the publication some much-needed credibility after it was first founded in 1987.
I first met Gord about a month before I officially began work at Turf & Recreation in 1994. I was still working in the newspaper business at the time, but played hooky one day so that I could meet this influential individual whom Iâ€ˆwould soon inherit as one of my regular contributing columnists. We played golf that day at The Board of Trade, riding a cart together and talking about the publication, which he knew much more about than I did at the time. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Gord upon that initial meeting. He was in the midst of a renovation project at the golf course, and he came across as being somewhat gruff. In fact, I was braced to be chewed out when Iâ€ˆwasn’t able to track one of his shots that got lost in the blinding sun.
But he didn’t chew me out, and his gruff exterior was attributed to the angst he was experiencing with his renovation project. I just happened to catch him on a bad day. In quick time, I came to realize that Gord was actually a very nice guy and was extremely helpful to me in my early years on the job when I was still trying to learn this industry by the seat of my pants.
Gord encouraged me to take part in one of his Magic of Greenkeeping courses as a student, not as editor of Turf &â€ˆRecreation. So one Saturday in the fall of 1996, I drove through pea soup-thick fog to Stouffville and took his course. After writing the exam, I was pleasantly surprised to learn I had scored 88 per cent which I didn’t think was half bad, considering I had no previous formal training in turfgrass management. I still have my diploma proudly mounted on my office wall.
Gord was always providing me with good story tips which I always pursued. Even after he retired from contributing to our magazine as a writer, he continued to stay in touch and pass several story ideas my way. He described my writing style as “folksy” which he meant as a compliment, telling me my work was easy to follow and understand.
I hadn’t seen Gord in several years, but was looking forward to saying “hi” to him again this past November at the Cutten Club in Guelph, where he was slated to be keynote speaker at a seminar put on by turf management students from the University of Guelph. Unfortunately, Gord was in the hospital that day, suffering a setback from his condition. He died just a few weeks later.
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