The Boston Whaler that Carol Turner captains to work daily across Lake of Bays to reach Bigwin Island Golf Club in Baysville, Ontario, has its perks. “I get to see the sun rise. It’s hard to beat that,” Turner says.
Turner (right) brings new meaning to rise and shine. In February, she was promoted to superintendent for the first time in her career, at Bigwin, a member-owned, 18-hole facility. It’s where she got her start in the industry as a 19-year-old.
Turner enjoyed walk-mowing greens in those early days. “I could do that all day long,” she says.
What makes her industry climb extra special is that her skills are on display in the area where she was born and reared. Turner, a four-year GCSAA member, is from Huntsville, Ontario, which is 45 minutes from Bigwin.
“It’s like a dream, right?” Turner says.
For John Bladon, Turner’s merits made the dream come true. Bladon, president of The Chimera Group, in which he is the specialist in agronomy and sustainability and is a consultant for Bigwin, supported Turner when she applied for the job to replace Kevin Schultz when Schultz announced his retirement. Bladon loves to see capable people, particularly women, receiving opportunities in the industry, and, to him, Turner absolutely deserved this opportunity.
“She’s authentic. The authenticity comes shining through. What you see is what you get. She is the real deal,” Bladon says. “She separates herself with her passion for the business and for the Bigwin brand. She’s such a good ambassador for the brand, and it all makes it really easy to pull for her. I have to applaud the hiring committee, Greg Gutowski (CEO) and Luke Ridley (golf professional), for making a modern and progressive leadership decision with her hire. The membership should be extremely proud to have Carol now leading the department.”
After spending more than two years in another profession, Turner made a life-altering decision to pursue golf course management. She had gotten a taste of it mowing those greens at Bigwin all those years ago and revived those feelings for that lifestyle while making a living as a personal trainer. “I’d be passing by golf courses, wishing I was outside,” Turner says. “I took a year off (being a personal trainer) and never went back. Golf was always the thing.”
The journey began in 2013 at Lambton Golf & Country Club in York, Ontario, where she was a crew member who earned more responsibility as time went on. In 2016, Turner worked her way up to second assistant at Ladies’ GC of Toronto in Thornhill, Ontario. While there, she took another step toward solidifying her commitment to the industry when she enrolled at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario.
“She handled all the IPM work. I saw her develop. She always was trying to improve herself,” says John McLinden, the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Ladies’ GC of Toronto and an 18-year association member.
When an assistant spot opened in 2019 at Bigwin Island, Turner pursued it and was hired. That’s when she purchased that late-1980s model Boston Whaler from McLinden’s dad.
Bigwin Island GC is an 18-hole par-72 that stretches more than 7,100 yards. One hundred years ago, it was a nine-hole layout that was expanded to 18 holes in 1930. Photo courtesy of Carol Turner; top photo by Kelly Holinshead
Her start was delayed, though. “My first day was supposed to be Jan. 1, 2020, but I had to wait because the lake was frozen,” says Turner, who instead began Jan. 7. And since then, she’s responded in a fashion that Schultz — who’s been at Bigwin since 1999 and was an assistant during Turner’s first stint at the club as teenager — expected.
“She is competent. Her work ethic made her effective. She gave it everything she had. She proved us right,” Schultz says. “She’s a good handler of people. That’s kind of her forte. She’s got a good grasp on reading what people need.”
Turner wants it known that she didn’t reach this level alone. Support for her includes her husband, Scottish-born James Marjoribanks, who also works in the industry. “So many people have been willing to help me. Life is so much easier when you have a whole lot of people that have got your back,” she says. “People who are like you, learning and growing.”
Many of them are women in the industry who regularly convene for group chats. The original organizer of the group is 15-year GCSAA member Carey Hofner, superintendent at The Club at Cordillera in Edwards, Colo. The others are at different levels in their careers — some assistants, others superintendents and one who owns a specialty turf care business.
“We talk nearly every day, sometimes just casual funny stuff, other times advice on situations, anything from help on job postings to how to deal with certain situations with the crew. On your worst day, you always have nine cheerleaders who know exactly what you’re going through,” Turner says.
One of Turner’s inspirations and a part of that group is Karen Rumohr, the superintendent at Woodside Golf Course in Airdrie, Alberta. She became a first-time superintendent a year ago. Although she and Turner are 1,800 miles apart, Rumohr knows Turner’s reputation. “She puts in the time and goes above and beyond,” Rumohr says.
Bigwin presents plenty of operational challenges, including the weather, with temperatures that can range from 40 below to 90 above (that’s Fahrenheit; in Celsius, also 40 below to 32 above). Barges are required to bring equipment to the facility, and a ferry transports golfers to the course. The course features bentgrass greens, and ice in low-lying areas creates challenges every spring; losing large sections of fairways due to ice isn’t uncommon. “Being a super-short growing season, we have to hit the ground running,” Turner says. Black sand is applied (as early as late February) on greens courtesy of a spreader hauled on the back of a snowmobile after snow and ice is removed. Once the temperature warms up, those enchanting lake vistas are something to see.
As Schultz explains, Bigwin is “kind of on the edge of wilderness.” It also is a vacation destination from June to September for Canadians and Americans, with cottages and ample tourist options. Turner views Bigwin Island as a place “people want to spend their summers.” For her, Bigwin’s golf course is simply the place. “It seems like it’s where I’m supposed to be, helping these members prepare and grow their course. What a great time to be here. This area is where everybody wants to be. I couldn’t have timed it better,” Turner says.
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.