By Bryan Meler
Heather Jennings was ready to hit the golf course for the 2017 season. After not qualifying for the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship the year before, she practiced every moment she could while helping the Ryerson Golf Club fundraise heading into her final season.
But in September, when she made a trip to Ryerson Athletics’ offices to discuss the season ahead, Jennings was informed the club was in a deficit of $3,583.59 and would be put on hold. Two days later at a meeting, the rest of the club was notified of the same news, along with the fact that their financial supervisor and coach Vince Marra, who founded the club in 2010, had resigned.
Athletics told the club they would pay off half their deficit, as long as the club found a way to contribute roughly $1,800 themselves. But without the financial resources, it meant the club wouldn’t be able to compete at the 2017 OUA championship. Instead, players would have to golf without the support of the club, personally paying their fees up-front. Because of that, only two players have hit the links this season. The rest of Ryerson’s golf club hasn’t played a single hole.
“I had no idea we were even in a deficit,” said Jennings, who joined the club in 2015. “I have no idea how we’re going to come up with that money … it’s kind of a big mess.”
Athletic clubs, unlike teams at Ryerson, are required to be self-funded and to operate in order to achieve a year-end balance of $0. Heading into the 2017 season, the golf club was in a hole.
After purchasing 24 golf bags for $4,474.80 in 2016, Marra resold 11 to club members for $200 each— up almost $15 from retail price— to chip away at the deficit. The club still had over $2,000 worth of equipment left, adding to the deficit they’d already accumulated from the OUA championship the year before. Marra hoped to resell the remaining bags to future club members over the next few seasons, but with the club on hold, it’s unclear whether that will happen.
Marra says he told members they were “in the hole a little bit.” But the severity of the situation was never explained. Instead, he viewed the golf bags, which had to be ordered in groups of six, as an “asset.”
“People get hung up on the numbers,” said Marra. “We literally got no support from the university.”
For Ryerson Athletics, the deficit had become too much. Upon meeting at the end of their 2016 season, Athletics told Marra he had to clear the deficit by March 2017. They extended his deadline through the summer, giving the club time to fundraise and collect private donations.
But by September, as tryouts were set to take place, the club still held a deficit of around $3,583.
Even though clubs aren’t supposed to receive annual funding, Ryerson clubs coordinator Tiona Taylor says Athletics has helped the golf club “pay off their deficit multiple years in a row.”
“Athletics financially contributes in order to help them out, in hope that [a deficit] doesn’t reoccur,” said Taylor. “But this last year, the recurrence was enough.”
Marra had proposed plans in place, including a grant from Golf Canada, but Athletics didn’t want to commit to any more unfulfilled promises and donations, especially after the club didn’t apply for financial assistance through Ryerson’s Student Initiatives Fund.
Marra says the Ryerson Golf Club needs to have funds before their season starts in September, since they don’t have enough time to fund- raise between the start of the academic year and their season debut. Getting players to fundraise a year earlier is too hard, he says, because there’s no guarantee they’ll make the 11-person roster. During the 2016- 17 academic year, the golf club held a raffle, a March Madness pool and contributed at a staff event, but it wasn’t enough.
For the 2017 season, Marra planned to charge a membership fee of $350, with $100 going toward covering their deficit.
Registration for an invitational tournament is around $100 per person, and the provincial tournament fee stands at $310. Marra’s budget proposal for the 2017 OUA championship was projected to cost $3,535, including all expenses.
However, with only up to five men and four women allowed to participate per team, not every golfer is able to take part in the OUAs. Since not every member is chosen, the money remaining from their initial membership fee is used to try and cover the expenses of those who do play.
In 2016, members of the club only paid $250 for apparel, two invitational tournaments and a chance to play at the OUA championship. Their fee would leave them with uncovered expenses.
Marra didn’t want the athletes to be on a “pay as you go” basis; finding it unfair to present additional charges after they had already paid a membership fee. Josh Beal, the club’s newest supervisor and a recent Ryerson graduate, is of a different mindset.
“You shouldn’t be committing a certain amount of money if you’re not playing in the event,” said Beal. “It’s not the most efficient way, but you don’t want them to feel like they’re being ripped off … I want to be very transparent and make sure they’re getting their value.”
When the Ryerson Golf Club was brought in for their meeting in September, there was confusion as to whether the players had to pay off the remaining $1,800 out of their own pockets.
Jennings says players weren’t expected to be able to come together as a team with deadlines for invitationals right around the corner. But she says they were notified that the club could risk being on hold once again next season if it didn’t clear its deficit by March 2018.
The only option golfers had to salvage their 2017 season was if they were willing to participate as individuals, while also finding a new club supervisor prepared to handle their financial situation. Jennings found Beal, a Professional Golfers’ Association of Canada member, to take on the role.
Jennings, along with two male players, made a last-second push to compete in the Guelph Invitational. She would ultimately be sidelined due to illness, while Andrew Hudencial was the only Ryerson player to qualify to the OUA championship.
“Last year going to the OUAs, it was a lot of fun with a full team,” said Hudencial. “It’s a different experience.”
Hudencial says he decided to enroll at Ryerson because of Marra, who in ways put together the club’s first recruiting class in 2016. That group included Ryan Sura, who said, “[Marra] dedicated all his time to his team, he was happiest when we were all together.”
In the past, Marra has been able to provide free yoga lessons for the club, as well as securing a partnership with Brampton Golf Club in 2015, allowing them free practice time during non-peak hours. This year, Hudencial and Sura both thought they would have one of the best rosters in their program’s history, especially after Owen Bates made the switch from a Division II school in the U.S. to Ryerson.
The club’s members have thought about hitting the course in the spring by making a trip down south, but those would simply be exhibition tournaments. But for now, the club is focusing on balancing their budget. Starting in November, Athletics would like to find “creative ways” other than fundraising, which hasn’t proven to be effective, in order to help the club get back on track as soon as possible.
“It’s odd, we know we’re a team, but we don’t see each other as often,” said Hudencial. “It’s a bit of a step back.”