BC Golf Prez Michelle Collens Gets Serious About Golf...Including Her Own Game

British Columbia Golf President Michelle Collens Is Excited About The Sport’s Growing Popularity - Image Credit Bryan Outram/BC Golf

By Brad Ziemer, British Columbia Golf

(November 13, 2020) - When Michelle Collens joined the board of directors of British Columbia Golf a few years ago, she really wasn’t much of a golfer.

Collens would tee it up a couple of times a year in charity ‘Scramble’ events and that was about it. She enjoyed those outings, but never took the game too seriously. Back in those days, the rules of golf for Collens could be summed up something like this: Hit the ball, go find it... and then hit it again.

“I was just playing best-ball tournaments,” Collens says. “I was a really good best-ball player, just hit it and let’s see what we have to do next.”

Fast forward to 2020 and golf has become a more serious endeavor for Collens, who is now in her second year as president of British Columbia Golf.

“I played the activity before, now I am playing the game,” Collens says. “Before, golf was an activity, something you’d just go do. Sure, I got my 10,000 steps and whatever happens, happens. But now I am learning the skill sets and I am committed to now playing the game.

That means going to practise, that means going to the driving range more often. It’s definitely on my mind way more and I have had many more opportunities to play because of the pandemic.”

Collens is no stranger to sport. She played varsity volleyball for the University of B.C. and has an extensive background in sport event marketing. She presently works for the City of Vancouver as its director of sport hosting.

She became involved with British Columbia Golf as a result of her work with the annual First Tee charity tournament. Collens wanted to learn more about philanthropic fund-raising and was encouraged by prominent UBC alumnus Marty Zlotnik to get involved with the First Tee.

“I am really good at events and he asked me to support and be a part of the committee for the First Tee tournament at Langara Golf Course,” Collens says. “And right away I was like, 'whoa, I am not a golfer. But I know how to run events and I know how to run efficiencies and I know how to connect with people,' so I took the challenge.

Current British Columbia Golf President Michelle Collens Is Shown Here With The Previous Two Holders Of The Position, Immediate Past President Patrick Kelly (R) And David Atkinson (L) - British Columbia Golf Photo

And while I didn’t focus on the field of play I did everything inside the clubhouse, the registration, the auction, the signage, anything that they needed. . .and from that I got to know Kris just because I started to get more actively involved with the First Tee board.”

Kris would be Kris Jonasson, the longtime chief executive officer of British Columbia Golf. Jonasson was impressed with Collens’ skill set and invited her to join British Columbia Golf’s board of directors. For Jonasson, the fact that Collens was not exactly a golf aficionado when she joined the board was something of a positive.

“When Michelle first came on the board she was very much a recreational golfer,” Jonasson says. “So she went out and enjoyed it, but the concept of keeping score, the concept of keeping a handicap or any of those types of things was completely foreign to her. What I found particularly refreshing was that carried over to board meetings.

“Michelle would ask questions that nobody else had ever asked before because she was new to the game. Why do we need handicaps, why is it important, why should I keep score. And she brought the perspective of a demographic that is much bigger than the competitive golfers that we traditionally represent. Since that time Michelle has got quite into golf.”

Yes, she has. It’s not quite an obsession, but Collens is a driven individual and has decided she is going to get better at golf. Don’t bet against her.

She has been taking lessons from Vancouver-area pro Derek Thornley and played regularly this summer at Northlands Golf Course with a group of women from her North Vancouver neighborhood. It was Collens who organized the weekly outings with her neighbors.

“I live in a complex and the dads were going out every Thursday night to play and the moms were like, 'what is going on?'” Collens says. “Northlands was really great to us. We had some tee times and 12 moms would go. What everyone has said is that they are really enjoying it. We get a chance to go outside, we don’t have our kids chasing us, we don’t have a phone going off. We can still enjoy a beverage and hit a ball without judgment.

British Columbia Golf CEO Kris Jonasson And President Michelle Collens Were Two Of The First Signatories On The R&A's Women In Golf Charter British Columbia Golf Photo

I said the only thing I want everyone to focus on is pace of play. Let’s just not disturb anyone else playing and let’s play our game and go. They have loved it and every week someone says, can I bring a friend. It has just been so welcoming and inviting and I think we have created that environment and I think golf has so much more potential.”

Collens thinks her background as an elite-level volleyball player has helped her transition to golf. But like everyone else, she has learned that the game is not easy and can be frustrating.

“As an elite athlete where I am frustrated most is that I don’t have the time to practise as much as I used to, but I know I will get better if I spend that time,” she says. “I played volleyball seven days a week for three hours every day and I don’t have the time to make that kind of commitment to golf. That is more my frustration. 

“Right now for me personally I like the challenge of trying a new sport and seeing that I can get better at something. I see progress. I know I am getting better because the ball goes in the air now, not on the ground. I see that with actual purposeful practice that I am actually improving. So as a result I am not too frustrated with the game yet because I don’t think I have played long enough to be frustrated with how much effort I have put in.”

Collens has set a big golf goal for herself. She wants to compete in a British Columbia Golf provincial championship by the year 2025.

“That is my five-year goal,” she says. “Derek is like, why are you waiting until 2025. I was told you can be learning this game for like the next decade of your life plus. I thought I was fast-tracking it by saying five years. But he was saying that my skill set was getting strong enough that I should be able to compete sooner.”

Collens laughs when asked about her favourite golfing moment or shot this past summer.

“At the very beginning of the season I went out with my husband and played and I was okay,” she says. “He felt like he could coach me through the whole round. Then I went off and started practising with Derek and having my own ladies nights and I didn’t play with him again until near the end of the season. We went out for nine and I started outdriving him consistently. That did not go over well. I made a post to self. Do not out-drive your husband on date night.”

Collens has enjoyed her work with British Columbia Golf. She was disappointed that the Canadian Women’s Open, scheduled for Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club over the Labour Day weekend, had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. She remains optimistic the event will be played at Shaughnessy, where it is scheduled to be held next summer.

“I think what made me most excited about the CP Women’s Open wasn’t just to see our home-country hero (Brooke Henderson) play, but just the diversity of people who play and for the accessibility they give to children to come to the event.

“I am confident it will get played in some form next year. I think we have to expect there will be a new normal when it comes to events and mass gatherings of people. . .I feel like it will happen. What it will look like, I am not 100 per cent clear on yet, but we are working through that process to make it as enjoyable and accessible as possible.”

Collens has been delighted to see golf boom during the COVID-19 pandemic. She hopes the industry can capitalize on golf’s growing popularity. But she also says it’s important that the industry keeps its doors open to new players and junior golfers.

“We are in a very fortunate position,” Collens says. “I am excited for that opportunity and I challenge the industry and our colleagues to figure out how we can sustain it. How do we take the opportunity to keep people’s attention or convert people over who want  to play the game.

“The 12 ladies in my complex came because I championed it, so we have to find champions who are inviting others to the game. . .unfortunately, some golf courses were so busy they stopped running programs, so there is not as many ladies or learn-to-golf nights because everyone had a full tee sheet.

It’s understandable, but we have to find those ways to welcome new players and hopefully BC Golf can help fill that void. I hope we can capitalize on that popularity and help people become members and regular golfers.”