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Student intern finds COVID’s silver lining

Cancelled work placement leads to positive experience

February 5, 2021  By Nicholas Jones

The eighth hole at the Club at North Halton, where University of Guelph turfgrass student Nicholas Jones served his internship during the summer of COVID-19.

This past year was exceptionally tough for many people in the world as COVID-19 spread and rummaged how operations and personal lives were handled. Businesses had to pivot quickly and adapt to the challenges being thrown at them. Friends and family were isolated from each other and social groups were severed. 

I want to share my story through this exceptionally tough time. My feeling is that there is a positive story to be told as it authenticates that when things get dark and gloomy, there is always a silver lining to be found. Finding a little optimism and change of perspective can push us in getting through the tough times.  

At the time COVID-19 hit, I was a first-year student in the Diploma in Turfgrass Management (DTM) program at the University of Guelph. I had lined up an internship at Cabot Cliffs in Inverness, N.S. A marvelous course on the picturesque island of Cape Breton, I was very excited to spend the summer working on a stunning course while developing my skills and network in the turfgrass industry. Unbeknownst to me, a global pandemic would capsize these carefully thought-out and highly foreseen plans. 

I remember watching the news and hearing universities and colleges were moving to an online format for the remaining weeks of the winter 2019 semester. I remember thinking “this pandemic may be around for a while.” I was almost certain that this was going to affect my internship. I kept communications open with Cabot Cliffs in hopes that things might still go my way and the internship would still be on. All the provincial borders I would have to cross to get to Nova Scotia were being closed or tightly monitored. While being optimistic, my start date was continuously getting delayed and my gut had a sinking feeling that I may need to start looking elsewhere. 


Plan B
Ultimately, the day came where I was in jeopardy of not working at all. I needed to start formalizing a Plan B and keep it local. The problem was that most opportunities had been revoked due to the pandemic. No one was openly hiring. Golf courses were running skeleton crews and had reduced themselves to only minimum maintenance practices. By May, I was getting a little tired of just sitting around the house and doing nothing. I was tired of feeling sorry for myself and knew that I needed to respond to assure I made the best of this situation. I am an active person, and I was itching to get back to work wherever it be. In spite of the overwhelming disappointment associated with my internship at Cabot, I had to start focusing on my priority – to learn.

I remained in contact with a few other students who were all in the same boat. As luck would have it, one classmate had a connection at a private golf course, The Club at North Halton in Georgetown, Ont. – right near my hometown of Acton. I texted him inquiring if they had space for one more intern at the club. Thankfully, there was an open position and it took only a quick reference and a snappy interview with Colin Young and Ken Tilt, superintendent and assistant superintendent, respectively, to solidify the job. It seemed as though the sun was beginning to break apart those gloomy clouds.


Author Nicholas Jones, turfgrass management student at the University of Guelph.

Looking back, the summer of 2020 turned out better than I could ever have hoped for. The lessons I learned from Colin and Ken at The Club at North Halton were astonishing. Colin is a hands-on superintendent. If you don’t know him, he redefines the words “work ethic.” No one works harder than he does. He and Ken just seemed so full of knowledge, and they were always willing to share it. 

But it was more than just a work relationship. Colin would share countless stories from his days coming up in the turf industry and playing competitive hockey. This personal touch to leadership from Colin and Ken always kept the mood light, even on the toughest days. 

Beyond Colin and Ken was Jake Hiller, the second assistant. He is also a hard-working individual, and we had an instant connection since he is also a graduate of the DTM program at the University of Guelph. 

Perhaps one of the best parts of the summer was that I also got to work alongside my classmate, Brooks Primo. He also had his internship opportunity (at BMO Field) not pan out.  Our relationship and bond grew as the summer went on – keeping each other on the level with jokes, stories, discussing turf and providing moral support to each other when needed. 

These individuals I described made an unforgettable internship at The Club at North Halton. The internship was a prodigious experience. It always started with the meetings in the morning where we talked of the day’s tasks and what should be accomplished. They were always a good way to start the day. Throughout the whole summer I was well informed of everything that was happening on the course. Colin and Ken always communicated and explained things in a way that helped me gain a deeper understanding (remember I had only one year in the turf program under my belt at this time) and take it to my next venture wherever that might be. 

We worked very hard throughout the summer, but Colin also allowed us some free time to go out and play golf, too. These simple gestures of his showed us his appreciation of our hard work and helped motivate us to continue delivering for him on the job. I think Brooks and I both wanted to show him how grateful we were for the opportunity to learn under him and his leadership team at North Halton, but know that nothing will compare to the knowledge he has given us throughout the summer. 

Months later, I can appreciate the obstacles that I was forced to overcome when searching for an internship during the pandemic. I have so much gratitude for everything I gained over the summer – the knowledge, the friendships, and the opportunity to better myself as someone entering the turf industry. Looking back, I wonder if I would be as appreciative of these experiences if the summer hadn’t started out with panic, stress and disappointment. I will be forever grateful for not only the knowledge and skills that I gained, but for the long-lasting connections. 

I was able to find a silver lining and will now believe there is always one there.

Nicholas Jones is a student at the University of Guelph, enrolled in its turfgrass management program.

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