After having our first playing professional, Wes Heffernan, featured in Episode 8, I’m excited to introduce our first Club Professional for Episode 9, Frederic Teno II. Fred has been an Associate Professional at one of Canada’s best private clubs, The Calgary Golf & Country Club, for the past 5 years after a stint as an assistant golf professional at Priddis Greens Golf and Country Club. Fred played competitively for many years as an amateur and has also been a senior project manager in the General Motors IT department, has caddied on the LPGA, is a trained chef, and golf architecture nerd. The biggest feather in his cap is probably having the patience to take me on as a student and best-ball partner in the Calgary Golf Association’s Riley’s Best Ball over the past few years. Fred is one of the most genuine golf pros I’ve met, and easily one of the most underrated in Canada. Please enjoy.
1. How were you introduced to the game and how has your relationship with golf evolved over time?
FTII: The game of golf took hold of me at a very young age, no doubt. I was very fortunate to have grown up in a large family; I am the youngest of eight children and each of us had the support of our parents when it came to sports. My introduction to the game came from my father, Fred Sr. and my sister Christa, who learned the game under the tutelage of an uncle who was like a grandfather to all of us. Eleven years my senior, Christa was amongst the best amateurs in Canada and played several years on the LPGA tour. After retiring she has become a very well respected instructor and collegiate coach in the United States.
Growing up, my sister Christa was my hero and when she was in town (she was an All-American at the University of North Texas), I absolutely had to be at her side. That meant lots of time watching her practice and often she would take me out on the course with her and let me knock the ball around.
The house we all grew up in was the last house on the street and there was a grass field, about 125 yards long, that was maintained by the property owner. That is where I really got hooked. I was hitting balls with cut down clubs into that field when I was 4 or 5 years old. I practiced there a lot with my dad and my other siblings and did so until that field was developed into housing when I was about 16 years old. I became a junior member at my club when I was about ten, and if I wasn’t at school or on a baseball diamond, I was at the golf course. I loved it. I was incredibly fortunate in that I always had access to family to play with, and the golf professionals, Orest Spooner and Dennis Kelly, kept a close eye on me too. They helped me learn to play the game and were very supportive.
In terms of my relationship with the game today, it has definitely evolved. I started playing competitively at a high level when I was about 12 and until the age of 25, my life revolved around that. I loved to play but competition was always the end game. I have definitely lost that passion but obviously, as a golf professional in a club setting, I am still immersed in the game every day but I just do not have the time to dedicate to that craft. I am OK with that. I still love to play and wish I had more time to do so.
2. What did you learn about yourself and competitive golf during your amateur career?
FTII: I played in my first golf tournament when I was 12 years old and that event had a massive impact on the rest of my life, in a bunch of ways. The event was the Essex-Kent Boys Championship, where I reached the final after three match play wins. That round of golf, the final, is perhaps the most important round I have ever played, in terms of my relationship to the game. I know that sounds hokie, but it’s true, for a few reasons. The final was played at Roseland Golf Club, a Donald Ross gem, and that round was the first time I had ever set foot on a really, really good golf course. I didn’t fully understand why it was so good, but the experience was different. My dad prepared me, told me what to expect, and I wasn’t disappointed. From that day forward, I became a golf course junkie, an architecture nerd, as you like to say.
Now, more importantly, that introduction to competitive golf resulted in what would become a lifelong friendship with my opponent, Ross Babcock. We met on the 1st tee that day and 32 years later, we remain great friends and chance has us both living in Calgary now, 3500 km from where we grew up. Ross was my first ‘golf friend’ and to this day, almost everyone that I am close to in life has come from my connection to the game, in some fashion. I remain very close with my golf professional, Dennis Kelly, and a bunch of the folks I grew up playing and working with at my club.
Now, back to your original question! My apologies for the diversion but that is important stuff, for me anyway. Competitive golf taught me a great deal about myself, without question. I come from a very athletic family and I excelled at a lot of sports, partly because I was gifted with good genes, but mostly because I worked way harder than the other kids. Perhaps it was fear of failure, not sure. I ran track and cross country all throughout school and while I was by no means the most gifted runner, I rarely lost a race because I put a lot of miles in. I used to love running in the rain and snow, and the torture of long runs. That is bizarre for a 12-year-old!
Competitive golf was very different for me though. What I learned was that no matter how hard you work, or how much talent you have, you will never achieve at the highest levels if you don’t know how to manage your emotions under highest levels of stress. The British use a term called ‘bottle’ to describe an athlete that has the ability to perform at their peak even under the most intense pressure, or emotional stress. I realized pretty early on that I didn’t have that quality in relation to golf. Golf exposed that weakness in me, as an athlete. I had some success as an amateur but the successes were almost in spite of the lack of ‘bottle’.
The best and most personal experience I can relate, so people can understand what I am describing, came at the Canadian Amateur when I was in my mid-twenties. I was playing the best golf of my life and went to our national amateur championship thinking I could have a measure of success. I played well in the two qualifying rounds and drew Graham Cooke in the 1st round of match play. Many people will not recognize that name but he is a true legend in Canadian golf. After the second round of qualifying, the then RCGA hosted a reception where the match play draw was announced. I remember the moment when our match was announced quite vividly and at the time I was so excited to play Graham. Here I was, drawn against one of the greatest amateurs in Canadian golf history, and I was amped. The next morning, before the match, I was so nervous and was in my pocket on both the first and second hole. I could hardly draw the club back. My caddie did a great job helping me change my frame of mind and I played four or five under for the next twelve holes. Standing on the fifteenth tee, I had a Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member 2-down. As we were standing on the tee, about a half-dozen players from Quebec (Graham’s home province) come out of the clubhouse to find out how our match stood. It was as if Graham had been transformed in that moment. He hit driver, 2-iron to six inches on #15 and now I am only one-up. He proceeded to birdie #16 to even the match. I bogied #17, now he is one-up and makes one of the best up-and-ins on 18 I have ever seen to win the match. I hit 4-iron to eight feet and my putt to force a playoff wasn’t even close. After the match, I was sitting on a curb outside the clubhouse with my best friend and caddie, Jeff Mingay, and I was in tears. Graham graciously approached me, seeing how upset I was and told me that he couldn’t believe he had won the match and said some nice things about my golf game. Graham won that match because he had ‘bottle’ and I did not. Graham Cooke was not the most impressive player I have ever played with, not by a long shot, but he had a quality about him that made him a champion.
3. Has working at an exclusive golf club changed your perception of them? Or in other words, do you think there are misconceptions about private clubs from the general public?
FTII: As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in a large family and while my dad always had a good paying job, with ten mouths to feed, we were by no means well to do. I wore hand-me-down clothes until I got my first job at the club when I was thirteen. I didn’t get my first new set of irons until I was twenty-five. From that you can probably gather that I didn’t grow up at a private club. The club my family played at, Lakewood, was very blue collar, not a great golf course, which was fine. It was close to home and I could walk there in fifteen minutes. When I began to play competitively, one of the benefits was that I was able to play some great golf courses throughout Ontario, many of them private. Speaking frankly, I never felt comfortable when I was at these facilities. I suppose there was some insecurity surrounding the wealth (that I didn’t have) that one associates with ‘private’ clubs but I did have a few very negative first-hand experiences that shaped my feelings. I will leave it at that. On the flip-side, I was very fortunate to have played a lot of golf at Essex, in Windsor, where I grew up, and I was always treated very well by everyone I encountered.
To be perfectly candid, when the opportunity came to apply for a position at the Calgary Golf & Country Club, I was massively intimidated. Before I even interviewed, I met with the Head Professional, Tom Greiner to discuss the opportunity and we sat in the Men’s Grill at lunch hour. Afterwards, Tom gave me a tour of the club and while I was very impressed, I had reservations. I wasn’t sure what the membership would be like and the feelings I had developed through my experiences in Ontario were influencing my perception of the club. I couldn’t have been more wrong – the Country Club has turned out to be the most welcoming club environment I have ever been in. I truly mean that. The members have been wonderful to me. Every day, I am surrounded by very successful people and in my five seasons at the club, there hasn’t been a time where I felt I didn’t belong or encountered a member that felt the need to make me feel less than them.
There is an anecdote that I have shared many times that speaks to the nature of the environment here. I had just started working at the club, and a member walked into the golf shop looking for a lesson. He introduced himself and we had a quick session on the range – after about fifteen minutes, he shook my hand, thanked me for the help, and asked if we could have another lesson the following Saturday. After about five lessons, I finally asked the gentlemen if he was still working and what field he worked in. His response was simply “I am just an old oil patch guy.” A couple weeks pass and we have another lesson and out of curiosity, I do a Google search on the gentleman’s name and find out that he is one of the most important figures in the development of the petroleum industry in Alberta. Legendary. Those are the kind of people that are everywhere at the Country Club. I am very lucky to work where I do.
As a golf professional at the CC, our mandate is to enrich the member experience and provide a level of service that is industry leading. I have never been to a club that does it better than we do. Considering my background and drawing on some of the negative experiences I have had in private club environments, I take special care to make a guest’s experience at our club every bit as special as the members’. Sometimes more so. I want that guest to walk away thinking they are somewhere special. That’s important to all of the staff here.
4. What are your views of dress codes, both at golf clubs and in general?
FTII: The readers should know that this is a very loaded question and that the author of this blog and I have had some good discussions on this topic. Anyone reading this should understand that the facility I work at would be one the most conservative clubs in Canada. We have a strict cellphone policy and our golf dress code is very strict. Anyone that knows me will tell you that if you run into me at my club, I am almost certainly going to be wearing a nicely pressed pair of grey wool flannel pants, a simple golf shirt, nothing flashy, and my shoes will be shined. How I dress is a reflection of who I am. With that I fit in nicely and I am supportive of our club’s approach to dress code. That is who we are and we cannot and do not want to be everything to everyone. We are very fortunate to be in that position, and for the most part, the membership supports this vision. If I could make one change to our current dress code at the club, I would outlaw wearing stripes with plaid shorts. That infraction, in my mind, merits a letter and getting hauled in front of the Board!
Now, I realize that we are not the norm and that outside the gates of the Country Club, things are very different and I am very supportive of that. If a club chooses to allow jeans in the dining room in an effort to drive revenue in the F&B area, good on them. If they allow cargo shorts and untucked shirts, I have no issue with that either. Ultimately, we all want to see full tee sheets and an atmosphere that people want to be in.
I could definitely take this question in a different direction, as there are some social and societal norms I challenge on a regular basis, but I will save that for another discussion. I am happy to address this in any comments that may follow.
5. You’re a golf course architecture nerd and friends with some well-known golf course architects. What makes a golf course great to you, and has that changed at all over time?
FTII: As I mentioned earlier, I was very fortunate to have been exposed to some great golf courses at a young age and a passion for architecture grew from that. This attachment was also fostered through a close friendship with Jeff Mingay from the age of thirteen until now. Jeff has become a very successful architect in his own right after serving an apprenticeship under Rod Whitman. Jeff was my best friend throughout high-school and the bond we shared was golf. Like me, he grew up with a love for the game but architecture is what turned his crank. We both benefitted from his father’s extensive library of architecture books and we read voraciously on the subject. Many a high school class was spent drawing golf holes and exchanging ideas. Jeff’s drawings drew inspiration from Pete Dye and mine looked like they were plucked from a Donald Ross routing. For both of us, it was also about the history associated with the Golden Age architects too.
What makes a golf course great? For me personally, the most important element would be how the architect is able to employ width and strategy in their design and create challenges for golfers of all skill levels. Using architectural features, such as bunkers, hazards, and the topography to influence the line a golfer chooses on any given shot is so important. A hole that forces the golfer to challenge hazards off the tee to gain an advantageous angle for an approach shot is a great hole. There is no better example of this tenet than the Old Course, at St. Andrew’s. I don’t think I truly understood the value of this design element before I played the Old. It is not by mistake that every single Golden Age and modern architect whose design style is strategic has spent a great deal of time studying the Old Course. A lot of people go play the Old and are underwhelmed, because they do not understand the subtleties on every hole. Number sixteen is my favourite hole that I have ever played. Seventeen is pretty good too.
I put a lot of stock into the routing of a golf course too. Has the architect made the best use of the property they have been given to work with? The Calgary Golf & Country Club is a great example of that. It is not an easy property to route a golf course on, with the elevation change between the upper plateau and the river valley. Park Jr. did a great job with that. Muirfield is the most brilliantly routed course I have played. Old Tom Morris deserves so much credit for his contributions to our understanding of golf course architecture.
Lastly, a golf course should be fun to play. For most of us, golf is a leisure activity and we should walk off the eighteenth green with a smile on our face.
6. There’s been a lot of buzz over tree removal on golf courses these days. What’s your take on the relationship between trees and golf course architecture?
FTII: The unvarnished truth is I hate them, with very few exceptions. I am not suggesting that there shouldn’t be any trees on a property, but when they are used as a design element, I believe strongly that they add nothing to the quality of a golf course or a golf hole. Swinley Forest and Sunningdale Old, both in the heathlands of London, England are heavily treed sites but the trees do not encroach on play and the architects, Colt and Park Jr. managed to build holes with a great deal of width.
When one considers Golden Age architects like Colt, Mackenzie, Ross, C.B. MacDonald, Tillinghast, all of them were heavily influenced by the time they spent studying The Old and for some of them, the relationship they had with Old Tom Morris. It is completely absurd that so many of the sites they worked on ended up heavily treed and claustrophobic when that was never their intention. The tree planting programs that took place at clubs across North America in the latter half of the 20th century were a scourge to golf course architecture. The arrogance and ignorance on the part of these clubs befuddles me. Perhaps people will think I am a bit extreme in my views but I cannot help but be sympathetic to the architects’ intentions when they built their golf courses. Finally, in the last 15 to 20 years, the great clubs have realized that the original designs of their courses had been compromised. Oakmont led the charge in establishing tree removal programs. When you look at the golf course that Ernie Els won on in 1994 and compare it to 2016, the differences are remarkable. The golf course now is representative of what Henry Fownes envisioned and built in 1903. Oakmont is the most well-known example and they got the ball rolling, starting a trend with clubs all over North America embarking on major tree removal programs. I love it.
Architecture aside, the relationship between trees and agronomy needs to be considered. If you want good grass, you can’t have trees.
7. When you have students with such a wide range of skill levels, how are you able to adapt to help each of them improve in their own way?
FTII: It starts with understanding the student’s commitment to improvement. I always ask the golfer what their goals are and how much time they are willing to dedicate to practice. As a general rule, I ask students to commit to three sessions before we have another lesson. If the student is on board with that, I try to identify the skill deficiency that is contributing most to their poor performance and start there. I am a firm believer in looking at impact and working backwards. I abhor a method approach to teaching. I rarely give a student more than one thing to work on in a lesson. From there, it is a progressive approach to work on any other elements that are impeding improvement.
Being a good communicator is probably the most important skill an instructor can have. You can have the best eye, but if you can’t convey your ideas in a manner that the student understands them, you are sunk. I try to use visual and verbal cues in concert with each other. Some people are all about numbers and being able to help them understand TrackMan data and how it relates to their swing is critical too.
8. The way an instructor approaches a lesson is obviously important, but much of the improvement process is up to the student. What are some ways students can get the most out of lessons?
FTII: They have to practice, and practice properly! People’s improvement expectations and their commitment are often skewed. I had a lesson with a member that went really well and when they asked to have a lesson the next day, I told them they needed to practice a couple times before we met again. I lost that student. To acquire a skill, you have to dedicate time to it and then tailor your sessions to mimic playing conditions. There is no magic recipe. It’s as simple as that.
9. Being a great golf professional at any club is about much more than just giving lessons. What do you think makes a great club professional?
FTII: Great question. Regardless of the club, public or private, I think the professional’s responsibility is to create a positive experience every day for its clientele, whether it is a green fee player or a member at a private facility. We do that in so many ways. I think the best clubs create a culture of service excellence and everything flows from there. You foster that in your staff and it becomes a team effort.
Obviously, good golf professionals need to be good instructors, good business people, and must to be able to run golf events that serve the members’ needs. However, most importantly, you have to be present, be a great leader and be the face of the operation. A great golf professional must manage their time to maximize the face time they have with the members. Walking the range, making your rounds in the grille at lunch time, and spending time on the first tee during busy times is what I live for. That’s where you develop relationships and that’s what it is all about for me.
Huge thanks to Fred for taking the time to share his thoughts on A Casual 9. If you’re ever a guest at the Calgary Golf and Country Club, be sure to stop and say hi to Fred, as he’d be more than thrilled to talk golf with you and make sure you’re set to have a great time at the club.
You can also connect with Fred on Twitter: @fteno
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Previous Episodes of A Casual 9:
Episode 1: Roger Kingkade – the Calgary legend dishes on his recent exit from radio, his golf game, and how his new golf app business is helping both golf courses and golfers.
Episode 2: Lisa “Longball” Vlooswyk – the 7-time Canadian Women’s Long Drive Champion talks about her amazing story, competition, getting more women to play golf and, of course, how to hit it longer.
Episode 3: Leah Bathgate – the Founder and President of the Alberta Golf Tour talks about the future of the Tour, the benefits of competition, men and women competing in the same flights, and more.
Episode 4: Patrick Koenig – the epic golf photographer, whose work has been featured by the likes of Golf Digest, talks golf photography, course rankings, social media pet peeves, Tiger vs. Poulter, and more. His takes will have you feeling the heat.
Episode 5: Jon Sherman – published author and mastermind behind Practical Golf, Jon dishes out on practical game improvement, how to have more fun, and keeping your game sharp when time at the course is lacking.
Episode 6: Shannon Heffernan – golf fitness guru and founder of DM Golf Performance, Shannon Heffernan, talks about off-season vs. mid-season training, keys to longevity, a common hurdle for instructors, and more.
Episode 7: Alberta Golf – Director of Business Development & Corporate Communications, Jack Lane, talks about the value of supporting golf governing bodies, junior golf, amateur competition, the state of the game in Canada, and more.
Episode 8: Wes Heffernan – the journeyman Tour pro talks about his amazing back-nine 31 to make the cut at the 2010 U.S. Open, the good and bad of Tour life, playing under pressure, how to prepare for competition, goals, and more.