By Martin Cleary
Joe McLean has never had a dinner experience quite like the one he had on Nov. 25 at the Rivermead Golf Club.
When the Ottawa Valley Golf Association staged its year-end dinner, the executive invited McLean as a special guest of honor. The members wanted to acknowledge his almost 40 years of service with the OVGA and recent retirement after 27 years of writing and working for Flagstick Golf Magazine.
That’s all the executive could tell him. But there would be plenty more excitement.
After McLean enjoyed his beef dinner, some table conversation with familiar golf peers and a number of speeches, OVGA president Dru Lafave left the room before dessert, brought back a package and stood behind the guest of honor.
McLean thought: “Oh, oh. What’s going on?”
Lafave told him there would be another speech. McLean wasn’t sure what was happening, but he soon learned he also would be giving a thank-you speech.
Going against all tradition in such a sporting situation, Lafave welcomed a surprised McLean into the OVGA Hall of Fame as a builder by presenting him with a framed certificate. The OVGA Hall of Fame started in 2021.
Halls of fame usually announce their class of inductees through a press release many months in advance of a ceremony and especially not before dessert at a Friday night dinner. In May, the OVGA announced its second class of seven players and builders, which included Lee Curry, Mary Drummie and Andy Nezan.
“I was totally taken by surprise,” McLean, 73, said in an interview this week. “It’s hard to catch me on anything. But no one at the table (of about 20 people) except the (OVGA) executive members knew about it.
“It was quite interesting. I was shocked. But as it sunk in, I was quite pleased. I knew I would have to say a few words. It was well appreciated.”
What makes it more interesting is McLean is a founding member and co-chair of the OVGA Hall of Fame nomination committee and serves as the association’s historian. When he sent out a request to his hall of fame board members asking for nominations for the third class of inductees in 2023, he didn’t have a single response. He was wondering what was happening.
“It’s something I thought might happen down the road,” McLean mentioned about his own induction. “We have some really wonderful people proposed for the next few years.”
McLean, who retired in 2001 after 31 years as a public health inspector with the Ottawa Carleton Health Department, connected with the OVGA in 1983. Then tournament director Gord Scott asked him if he would be interested in volunteering with the region’s sport governing body for golf.
The answer was a definite yes and McLean served the OVGA until 1999 in a full range of positions – a rules official, director, director at large, tournament director (two terms), vice-president, president (1993-94), and immediate past president.
McLean has been the OVGA’s historian and archivist since 2000 and became the Hall of Fame co-chair in 2021.
His interest in the history of golf in the Ottawa area also led McLean to become editor of the Golf Historical Society of Canada’s quarterly newsletter, The Jigger.
Besides his enthusiasm for golf’s past, he was equally interested in the present. He covered amateur and professional tournaments in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec for Flagstick as well as writing player and course profiles and travel stories. He assisted Flagstick’s Jeff Bauder from the start in 1996 until retiring his notebook and pen this year. It also wasn’t unusual to see McLean delivering bundles of the printed magazines to various clubs and locations in the region. The magazine has not been printed during the COVID pandemic.
McLean also wrote the book on the 50th anniversary of the Kanata Golf Club with Ted Smale, the 100th anniversaries of the Rivermead and Mississippi clubs and a history of the PGA of Canada – Ottawa Valley Zone. He’s currently working on books to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Greensmere Golf and Country Club and the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Golf and Country Club.
At the 2022 Ottawa Sports Awards dinner, which appropriately enough was at the Canadian Golf and Country Club, McLean received a Special Recognition award for his many contributions to golf.
“When you do these things, you’re just there to help,” McLean said. “You’re not looking for something down the road or anything.”
When asked about a highlight or two in his golf career, he had a simple answer.
“The body of work,” he said about his golf writings. “If there is such a thing as a legacy, it will be that body of work that was produced. It’s telling the stories of the people, the clubs, the personalities and the champions. It’s gratifying.”
For many years, McLean was a collector of golf memorabilia, but in recent years he has sold 600 of his 1,000 books. Part of the reason is to reduce the stress of having his family members deal with a truckload of unwanted books in the event of his passing. He also doesn’t want to see the books go for pennies at a garage sale, when he knows their real value.
Even though McLean has been playing golf since 1970 and at one time had his handicap in the single-digit range, he also has played a role in helping many other sports.
McLean was a member of the Ottawa Valley Board of Approved Basketball Officials from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, refereeing high school and university games. He also ran the R.A. Basketball League and was president of the West Carleton Fastball League.
When Merivale High School introduced its athletic letter in the mid-1960s, McLean was in the first group to receive the big M.
All his sporting ventures took a lot of time and maybe too much time away from his wife Paula and two daughters. It’s his only regret.
“She (Paula) was there behind me. I give her full credit for allowing me time to do this,” McLean added.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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