Keith Walton, described as a devoted and compassionate husband, dad and grampy, loyal son and brother, and committed friend to so many, died suddenly and much too soon, surrounded by the love and adoration of his family on Monday, November 13.
A celebration of life will be held at The Mark O’Meara Clubhouse on Sunday, November 19, 2017 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. For more information click here.
The story that follows, What does it take to keep a course like Mark O’Meara looking great? Ask Keith Walton was originally published on September 22, 2017.
Keith Walton had no idea when he took his first job at a Scarborough golf course that it would lead to a life in Muskoka helping to build and maintain some of the best courses in the world.
Walton is the superintendent of the turf and gardening department at Grandview Golf Club in Huntsville.
He has been getting up at five o’clock nearly every morning for as long as he can remember, to make sure that members at the club enjoy what he calls one of the finest golf courses in the world.
But getting back to when he was 15. It was his first job after growing up in what was a rural setting on a dairy farm in the Rouge Valley in Scarborough. He started working for the superintendent who was a family friend.
“About two years later,” he recalled, “I was his assistant at a private club in Stouffville, and then superintendent there when I was 19. I was at Gormley which is now Station Creek before I moved up here.”
Walton and his wife Jo had nicely started their family with three children Luke, Kyle and Jessica when the call came from Grandview.
“I was brought up here by Bruce Evans when he was building Grandview Inn,” recalled Walton. “He had just built the nine hole golf course and needed someone to grow it in. The condominiums were just starting at that point so I was lucky enough to see the whole place grow from scratch.
“We opened the golf course in 1988 and I worked for Evans for just over nine years and then Club Link approached me and wanted me to come and look after the Lake Joseph Club as their superintendent.”
By this time Kayla had also arrived in the Walton family.
“I started there in April and this year have just had my twentieth year with Club Link,” said Walton. “I was two years at Lake Joseph and then they offered me the construction superintendent’s job to oversee Rocky Crest. So I left there in the fall of ’98 and started the clearing process, built the golf course and grew it in. That’s when they got the approval to start the Mark O’Meara club in Huntsville which is home base for me and was always the plan, too. So I came here in the fall of ’99 and did the whole thing over again. We started clearing trees and overseeing the construction and growing in the golf course and opened the O’Meara in 2001.”
The Mark O’Meara golf course is one of the jewels in the Club Link organization, highly regarded and a destination for many golfers from around the world. Shortly after opening in 2002, it was the site of the PGA TELUS Skins Game and played host to pro golfers John Daly, Mike Weir, Vijay Singh, and winner Sergio Garcia.
It was designed by an architect hired by IMG who also represented golfer Mark O’Meara, who lent his name to the course.
“They did the initial layout on topographical maps,” explained Walton, “and then we surveyed the holes and did a small slash through the bush just to get a feel of the land, swamps or rock or whatever. The architect then came and we all walked the property and he made other adjustments. There was a lot of blasting necessary and it was expensive but necessary if you are going to have a golf course in Muskoka. After that more clearing and that’s when you can see the golf hole come in front of you. That’s when its fun and you stand there and say ‘Wow, that’s going to be a really nice hole’ or ‘that’s going to be a really difficult hole’.
“Doing Rocky Crest and coming here was the best part of my career.”
The biggest challenges in building Mark O’Meara were the rock and the beaver dams.
There is also a plan for a second course and the property is still available but likely not to be developed in the near future.
“It was supposed to be Curtis Strange and Nancy Lopez designed,” said Walton, “but the golf market dipped as more and more courses were built including Bigwin Inn.”
Walton has a crew of 30 to 35 workers who do everything from cutting the grass to tending to the spectacular gardens. He is on location at five in the morning along with his workers making sure the course is ready for the day’s play.
“Some of the guys are retired and just come in to cut fairways and are here for three to four hours, others stick around to do trimming the rest of the day. I shift weekends with my assistant so I get a couple of days off a week,” said Walton. “In the winter we come in the shop and work on equipment and do snow removal around the property, and it’s our only time to take holidays.
“There’s a lot of tree work and underbrushing that needs to be done, just to keep the air flow and light to the turf. It’s a never-ending process.”
Among the crew are the gardeners who tend to the flowers. Suzette Nelson and Dee Romanko say working for Keith Walton is most rewarding.
“Everyone should have a boss like him,” said Nelson. “He’s very accommodating, very approachable and explains things.”
“And definitely appreciative of everything we do every day,” added Romanko, “and it makes such a difference as hard as we work.”
“I’ve never asked anyone to do something I wouldn’t do,” explained Walton. “I just ask for people to give the best they can do and take pride in what they can do. Everything that everyone does here reflects on this property. It’s not me. Whether you are raking a bunker, or trimming grass, cutting fairways or greens, there’s a way to do it right and a way not to do it. It feels good to hear people say what a beautiful and well-kept golf course.”
Opening and closing the golf course are big jobs for Walton and his crew. This year the final day of golf is set for October 15.
“After our final round we have to get everything airified – the tees and the greens,” he explained. “We have to blow out our irrigation system here and the nine hole course and then its tree work and get our winter fungicide down before the snow comes so we keep a close eye on the weatherman.
“We love to go into winter relatively dry. I hate seeing a lot of late season rain and then a quick freeze. That’s never good for grass.”
Keith Walton is getting close to retirement and admits it is something he is thinking about more and more seriously.
Now 57 years old he has been in the business for more than forty years. He treasures his time with his family.
“I’m not sure retirement is the right word,” he said, “just a transition to another phase of my life that doesn’t include getting up so early and working weekends and maybe spending more time with my lovely wife and grandchildren. Smell the roses a little bit and getting over to the cottage a little more often.
“I also love what I do so not desperate to retire until I find what I want to do. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of great people.”
“I don’t love golf,” he said, talking about what lies ahead. “Maybe I will again some day. I used to play a lot of golf but handicap is at least 20 now. I like to get to the cottage and have that rare chance to hang out with family. I used to play hockey but the knees are not the same now. I’m active in my Lions Club in Port Sydney and I enjoy that.
“I wouldn’t change anything. I am very happy where I am now in my life. Got a great family. The best thing I ever did was move here.”
There are many people glad he did.
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