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Super Spotlight: The Inspiring Journey of Christine Kumagai, Blue Springs Superintendent

Updated: May 15

By Tim O’Connor

 

In university as a kinesiology student, Christine Kumagai did what she always did—she got up early and gave a 150 per cent. But after three years she did something uncharacteristic. She quit.


Always a hands-on person, she took a shot at becoming an electrician, but that didn’t connect either.

She was working at RattleSnake Point as a gardener at the time, but she didn’t consider working at a golf course as a career possibility. The hours seemed crazy and there were few women in the industry.

And yet, there was something about working outside. She actually enjoyed paving driveways during a hot summer and plowing snow in the wee hours. It eventually dawned on her that when she worked with tools, seeds, and soil with the sun on her back, she felt alive and energized, especially with a crew of similarly hardy souls.


Even though it was never Christine’s dream to become a golf course superintendent, when she got the job at Blue Springs Golf Club this past winter, it was no surprise to those who knew her well.


“It always made sense to me that she was going to work outside and do something physical,” said Carlie Dixon, her former teammate on a competitive skating team.


“Christine always gives 150 per cent. She would be up at 4 a.m. in the morning and her father would give her a ride to RattleSnake Point,” Dixon said. “After working for 12 hours, she’d ride her bike home.”


If you’re wondering, the ride from RattleSnake Point to her home in Brampton was about 35 kilometres.


After 14 years in various roles at RattleSnake Point, Christine’s work ethic, agronomic and people skills, and go-for-it approach to everything earned her a promotion last winter to her first-ever role as a superintendent.


“I was pretty pumped and excited to get the job at Blue Springs,” she said over coffee. “The first couple of weeks my head was spinning. I wanted to get a million things done, but now I’m prioritizing and feeling more comfortable.


“I’ve always loved Blue Springs, the layout, the style, the trees,” she said. “It’s just the kind of property that I wanted to start my career at.”


RattleSnake Point Superintendent Bill McAllister, her former boss and mentor, marveled that “she was one of those people who liked to get up at 4 in the morning. You have to convince most people to get up that early and come to work. Not Christine.”

When she first applied to be a “garden gnome” at RattleSnake Point while in high school, McAllister said she immediately fit in “the community of outside workers. She was extremely hard working and committed.”


Although she’s always appeared driven, Christine said that in high school and university, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. Even though her 16-member skating team won a national title and a bronze medal representing her Brampton skating club at the world Synchronized Skating Championships, Christine quit at 20 to play hockey in a women’s rec league.

Not surprising for an athlete, she enrolled in kinesiology at York University in Toronto, but the program and being among 500 students didn’t give her the buzz she got working with turf and trees under a big sky at RattleSnake Point.


“I started to think about getting into the (golf) industry, but I didn’t say it out loud,” she said. Eventually, she decided to “take working at a golf course seriously” and became a key labourer at RattleSnake Point.


McAllister said she quickly progressed through several roles. She became first assistant in 2017 and began taking the turfgrass program at the University of Guelph and online courses at Penn State.


“It took a while to make the decision to focus on this as a career,” Christine said. “There are few females in this position. People don’t take you seriously as someone who wants to get in the industry. But when I said I wanted to make this a career, I felt like I had support from Bill McAllister.


“I was really nervous when I played in my first men’s night at RattleSnake, but everyone was so nice and supportive. It made me feel a lot more comfortable.”


While her enthusiasm and friendliness attract people to her, she excels at the most important part of the job; ensuring the turf is healthy and in the best shape possible—with help from Mother Nature—and the course plays fair and looks amazing.


“One of the reasons that the Members respected her so much was that she’s so good at everything she does,” McAllister said. “She always surprised me. She’d come to me with spreadsheets with codes for pesticides, and suggestions for doing things new and differently. I’m a turf nerd and she’s better.”


That includes working with her favourite tool—a chainsaw.


McAllister chimes in: “I called her from a store to ask about buying some (protective) chaps. I told her they had two colours: black and pink.


“She said, ‘Pink, all day long.’”


No one works harder and “smiles more doing it,” says Craig Cupido, Director of Operations at RattleSnake Point and Regional Director of ClubLink’s west-end clubs in Toronto.


“She’d be here before me and leave after me,” he said. “She’s always trying to achieve perfection and give the Members the best experience possible.”


While Kumagai is known for going all out, she finds herself often coming to a stop “in the early morning when there’s light fog, the sun rising, it’s dead clam and all you hear are the birds chirping and frogs ribbiting. I love the dew and eeriness of being out there.

“I always take 10 seconds to take a breath, look at the sun rising over a pond and appreciate how awesome it is out here. My alarm goes off at 3:30 in the summer, but we are lucky to be out there first thing in the morning. It’s why we do it.


“And I get to experience it every day.”


Writer Tim O’Connor lives in Guelph, Ontario. He is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. His most recent book is the upcoming Getting Unstuck: Seven Transformational Practices for Golf Nerds.

 

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