OHS Canada Magazine

Gearing up for golf season

ClubLink shares strategies for training seasonal staff for work on golf courses across Ontario, and beyond


ClubLink adds close to 4,000 seasonal workers prior to the annual golf season. (Courtesy of ClubLink)

Editor’s note: This case study was originally published in the March/April issue of OHS Canada. Interviews took place prior to the restrictions currently in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each February, ClubLink begins its annual recruitment drive of 3,900 seasonal workers.

The management company in King City, Ont., is the largest owner-operator of golf courses in Canada — with a total of 40 locations in Ontario, Quebec and Florida.

Prior to each golf season, an influx of seasonal workers joins ClubLink’s 500 full-time staff to serve in the club’s kitchens, restaurants, turf and golf management crews.

“There’s always different roles and responsibilities with each of them,” says Julie Iantorno, ClubLink’s manager of employee and member experience.

Job fairs are typically held in March and hiring is completed in April, says Sarah Morrison, a human resources generalist at ClubLink headquarters.

Sixty per cent of seasonal workers are typically returnees. The majority are young workers, age 14 and up, she says. A smaller hiring backfill will take place in late August when many seasonal staffers return to school.

Of ClubLink’s five business drivers, safety is No. 1, says Iantorno. “At all levels of our communication, safety is one of the pillars… When we talk about sales, we talk about safety.”

“It’s really exciting for us, because it is always has been one of our strongest areas,” she says. “It is definitely taken seriously at the board level all the way down.”

Trust the process

ClubLink’s seasonal training process is conducted in three steps: online training, orientation day and first day of work.

The first step in training is compliance-based courses such as Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and is conducted through a learning management system (LMS). Every worker is expected to complete that material before their first day of work.

A new employee will complete about four hours of online training, while returning workers will have a smaller module, says Morrison.

“The online training is specified based on the employee’s profile. In our LMS system, we have departments. And based on what the manager will sign the employee up for, they’ll automatically be assigned the required modules,” she says. “They’ll be a mix of ClubLink-specific and generic modules.”

Training can be conducted on smartphones, ClubLink-provided computers or on paper, said Morrison.

“We are a multigenerational workforce and everybody is different,” she says. “We do accommodate that to make sure that everyone can complete their training.”

Employee orientation days take place before the start of the golf season, with general rules, workplace culture and safety each being discussed. Following a group session, departments will split off and go through tours with their staffers, says Morrison. In-depth one-on-one training takes place on each employee’s first day of work.

Human resources generalist Sarah Morrison and employee and member experience manager Julie Iantorno oversee ClubLink’s seasonal health and safety training program.  (Marcel Vander Wier/OHS Canada)

Golf-course hazards

Working on a golf course comes with unique operational hazards, including golf balls, course slopes and operation of golf carts.

“Slopes is a big thing — on-course routing,” says Iantorno. “The whole idea of navigating a golf course… even the operation of golf carts, period.”

Unique course hazards including special weather forecasts, and specific course hazards are noted on health and safety boards in the clubhouse.

“Our turf workers will often be on the course at the same time that a golfer is and so we have to identify different blind spots or areas,” says Morrison.

Topical information on heat waves, wasps, poison oak and common injuries are discussed in daily team huddles and via distributed material.

“In our world, those different environmental things play a role,” says Iantorno. “So, we definitely communicate that with posters that they can put up on their joint health and safety committee (JHSC) boards.”

Annual blitzes by the Ontario labour ministry often zero in on golf courses, with a recent inspection focused on slopes, she says.

“There’s rules for every piece of equipment on where it can cut based on that slope, and how you should cut it.”

Equipment training sign-off is required, says Morrison.

“We created safe-operating procedures for a lot of our turf equipment and paired that with the in-person training so that there is that supplementary piece that an employee can quickly reference — just a two-page overview of the things that they’ve gone through the entire manual.”

Documented circle checks are required for turf staff operating machinery, says Iantorno.

“Every time they take out a mower or a piece of equipment, they would have a form daily that they would be required to check and sign. There’s accountability in both places there.”

“We make sure that people are checking everything as they need to before they go out — whether it’s safety switches or seat belts,” she says.

‘Hands-on approach’

Taking cues from Iantorno and Morrison, each ClubLink course works to implement an action plan on safety via a joint health and safety committee.

“We try to streamline everything that goes to our clubs and we communicate with them, because we’re not at every single property,” says Morrison. “We do get out to all of them and take a look at everything. But we need their input just as much as they would ask for ours to make something better.”

“We take a hands-on approach,” says Iantorno. “We pretty much do the risk assessment and indicate to them what the hazards would be. And then we actually engage them in the process of ensuring that there’s controls in place.”

That includes determining the number of employees that require first-aid and CPR training, she says.

Safety is tied to the compensatory package of club managers and directors, and is determined by leading indicators.

“We do try to be as present as we can with all of our executives and management team,” says Morrison. “Anytime there are changes or we’re thinking about adjusting something, we’ll present it to them… and I know that that’s a way to keep them engaged and aware of what’s going on.”

Iantorno and Morrison tour the ClubLink properties, conducting self-audits to support management.

“Our big thing is we don’t want to discourage injury — we actually want incident reports,” says Iantorno. “We want people to write the smallest thing up. And even if no one gets hurt, we’re really big on letting us know so that we can still prevent what could have happened.”

According to WSIB Ontario, ClubLink’s injury rates have been consistently lower than the industry average for at least the last eight years.