It’s a tremendous Thursday morning for golf at GreyHawk Golf Club, about 20 minutes from downtown Ottawa. The first pot of coffee is bubbling in the corner of the dining room, while the sun rises over the trees beyond the first hole, burning the dew off the perfectly manicured greens.
And I’m stuck in a storage closet.
No, I’m not the victim of a kidnapping, but Wayne Harper, Raymond Gay, David Pratt and Don Verge – four 60ish guys who have been members of the ClubLink family for the last decade – are about to be.
WestJet and the RBC Canadian Open has set up the surprise of a lifetime for these four gentlemen, and on June 10th, I was along for the ride.
It all started about a week before the surprise was unveiled to the guys, and about a month before it would be shown to the rest of the world.
Harper, Gay and Verge were playing their usual game when Dany Lancome, the Director of Operations for GreyHawk, asked if they – along with their fourth – would be interested in playing an early round the following Thursday, enjoy lunch at the club, and then meet ClubLink executives to speak about their experience as members.
“What we wanted was to have regular guys. Guys who play together and don’t expect anything,” said Lancome. “They’re just happy to be here and play golf.”
The fourth gentleman declined, so Pratt received a call later that day.
“I was at home, so I got a call asking if I could come out early and do this [meeting]. I looked at my schedule and said I could do it,” Pratt explained.
“Dany met us and said they were looking for some volunteers to play this early round and have a meeting. That’s what we thought was happening…” continued Harper.
Little did they know that WestJet – the airline founded in 1996 and known for its heart-warming advertising campaigns and its “Owners Care” tagline – in partnership with the RBC Canadian Open had already set the wheels in motion for what was about to be an exciting day.
“It was something we could do to help us get back to our roots,” explained sponsorship lead at WestJet Greg Plata. “It was experiential and it was for our guests. It was the perfect platform to tie three different elements together, including the announcement of our partnership (with the Canadian Open and Golf Canada).”
Upon arrival, the gentleman all checked in, per usual, and that’s when the surprise began, and how I ended up in a closet.
I couldn’t cross paths with the four guys (or the hidden cameras that the crew had set up around the pro-shop). So there I was, stuck. But before long, each golfer had moved on to the first tee.
It was there that the surprise was finally unveiled. The foursome did not have a tee-time at either of the 18-hole layouts at GreyHawk, no; they were off to Glen Abbey.
As a limo pulled out from behind a collection of bushes near the first tee, for the first time, the guys knew this was not a joke.
“The people in the shop were excited/nervous. I could tell something was happening. But, I just thought, ‘oh, the ClubLink executives were coming,’” said Verge. “You just think the staff realizes their bosses’ bosses are coming into town, so they wanted to be ready.”
The foursome – along with a camera crew, WestJet flight attendants, and other hangers-on (like yours truly) quickly headed to Ottawa’s airport. But, there was one minor hiccup.
“I run a small consultancy business and I just won a new contract,” explained Pratt with chuckle. “My first meeting with my new client was at 5 p.m., so I had to explain I wouldn’t be making it.”
With smiles as large as the wingspan of the plane, the group arrived at Pearson Airport in Toronto and started the second part of their adventure together.
“Once we got on the plane, there was a sense of calm. I was able to make the rounds, and once I heard their stories, I knew we were doing this for the right reasons,” explained Plata. “It was the right people, and they would appreciate everything.”
After a quick tour through the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and Museum, the four men headed into the locker room at Glen Abbey to get outfitted by adidas with all new clothes.
At this point, another 10 members of the film crew had joined. It was a well-coordinated dance that, clearly, had been done before. And thankfully, it all happened on the only day of the week that was, in terms of weather, golf-worthy.
“There were so many moving pieces,” said Plata. “You can keep planning, but even the best laid plans sometimes go off the rails. With hard work and a little luck, it worked great.”
After lunch in the clubhouse, the men were taken to the driving range where bags embroidered with their names were waiting, complete with full sets of new clubs from TaylorMade and their caddies for the day.
Between the clothes and the clubs, it was finally time to golf.
They walked the first three holes with their caddies, and then the entire group piled into carts for the next 14 holes, before walking to the iconic 18th where a crowd of supporters had been gathered. The four guys were in lockstep with each other, as the sun tucked down behind the Canadian Open scoreboard.
There was, though, one last thing to come. Each gentleman received a voucher for a round-trip flight to anywhere WestJet goes.
“We were already over the moon with the clubs and the round and the caddies. But to come down at the end of our day and say, ‘oh by the way, here’s some tickets… go where you want’ was just over the top,” said Verge.
So with the day coming to a close, and boarding time for the WestJet ride home, how did they sum up the experience?
If you’re David Pratt, it’s pretty easy.
“It was the best day of my life.”