Augusta James takes on new golf challenge

TYENDINAGA -- In golf, every great player needs a great caddy at their side, suggesting clubs, offering tips and motivational advice and wisdom at just the right moment. 

In golf course ownership, the same can be said for the general manager. Having the right person in charge is crucial to the success of the course, building trust among its members and understanding the ins and outs of the game and the course itself. 

At Briar Fox Golf Club, that distinction has been handed to Augusta James, who is more than qualified to be the steady hand that guides. And what steady hands James boasts. 

On the course, she was a nothing short of a phenom throughout her storied career, having succeeded at every level, from the tender age of five right through to winning the 2015 Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial. James won provincial and national titles, a scholarship to a U.S. college and competed professionally, amassing a trophy room and list of accolades few others could boast.

After retiring to undergo wrist surgery in 2018, James returned to her home country and area, where she was again recruited, this time to oversee the Briar Fox Golf Club, which was sold by its previous owners to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte in 2021. James was hired as general manager at the advice of former course owner Cal Dunville. 

“Cal gave me a call and said that he was selling (the course) and that he knew that the new owners were going to need a general manager so he put my name up for it,” James said in an interview in the clubhouse on a beautiful sunny November morning. 

The 29-year-old has been charged with adding a new skill to her golf repertoire, management.

“It was nice getting to know Cal and Patsy,” James said of the course’s previous owners, who showed her the ropes during the transitional period between ownership. “It was nice for me to get to know them and get the ins and outs of this place before they moved on last year and the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte fully took over.”

An expert on the course, James is excited at the prospect of managing at Briar Fox, which, like the sport itself, has been enjoying a renaissance since Tiger Woods roared onto the scene in the 1990s.

“I'm gonna be 30 next year and I was young when he (had his) huge, huge run,” James said of Woods. “Basically anybody between the ages of say 25 and 35, we were so impressionable when he was making that run that we have stuck with golf. It’s ingrained in us, there's a lot of passion behind it. I think his run, and I mean his career as a whole, it was huge.”

The COVID-19 global pandemic also did its part in renewing interest in the sport, James noted.

“Golf has boomed in the last two, three years since COVID hit,” she said. “It's at an all-time high I would say in the last 25 years. Obviously, we'll see some of those things level out a little bit as you would with anything after the pandemic, but there are so many people that play golf now that just never did, and they're passionate about it.”

James knows a thing or two about passion, something she will bring an abundance of to her new position, while she navigates her own transition from player to operator.

“What they say is true: if you don't want to play golf, get into the golf industry,” she joked with a chuckle. “Things are just always busy in the summer so me playing has really taken a backseat, but I really enjoy the organizational aspect, seeing the business from all different sides of all the different departments. I took a short course, the turf management course at Guelph last winter so I've been able to expand my knowledge on the outside workings and the maintenance crew and stuff like that, which has been fun. It's a whole different part of golf.”

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t still get asked to grab a club and hit the links.

“People ask me to play all the time and I don't really play that much anymore,” James said with a laugh and infectious smile.

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t miss it, though. 

“The travel was hard and my life is in a completely different direction now than it was then, but yeah, of course I miss practicing and working on my game, I always really loved to practice,” James said. 

Turns out practice really did make perfect, James noted.

“Now, when I can't go out there and hit the shots I want to hit or the ones that I knew I could hit before, it's frustrating sometimes,” she admitted. “But I’ve found a totally different love for the game because now I go out there and I enjoy it with my family or enjoy it with my friends and it doesn't really matter if we go out and people are shooting 120 or if they're shooting 70, it's a good time.”

As for the course itself, James said the MBQ approved budget increases to improve the golfing experience itself, but she’s working hard to also retain the charm that its previous owners built.

“Even though it's no longer mom and pop run and it's owned by a business, I didn't want to change anything that drew people,” she said. “A few changes that we've been able to make is we've increased our budget on the golf course a little bit to elevate the experience on the golf course for the members and the public play.”

James, and her brother Austin, are among a long list of area golfers who tasted amateur or professional success and built a stronghold of talented players from the Belleville to Brockville corridor. Names like Jeff Crowe, Chris Barber, Matt McQuillan, Brad Revelle, Brooke Henderson and Augusta and Austin James are synonymous with the sport in this region. James said it was impossible not to be inspired by those who came before her.

“I think it speaks to people like Jeff Crowe -- Brad Revelle was a big name for me -- and some of those other people in this area,” James said. “When they're kind and they and they are happy to answer your questions or play golf with you and stuff like that, that spurs on more golfers and more high-level golfers.”

And while James’s focus will shift from sinking her next shot to raising the profile at Briar Fox, she will not soon forget her roots, the roots that brought her back home.

“We have a good community base,” James stated. “People are nice here. They're straight up, they're nice. They're willing to help other golfers, and so that's how you kind of get that trickle-down effect. And we are we're lucky we have a lot of golf courses in the area. It doesn't really matter where you live between Kingston and Belleville. There are a lot of options and they range from very high end to more affordable places, so that's great to see and I think that makes a big difference.”

Ever the competitor, James will once again take on all challengers, with an eye on making her course the top one around.

“My vision for this golf course is to honestly make it the best it can be. That's out on the golf course, and that's in the clubhouse here,” she said. “Provide amenities to people in the community and our members here and keep expanding where we can, where it makes sense to benefit the people who play here.”

In other words, challenge accepted.

Jan Murphy is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Belleville Intelligencer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.