Take a short ride west out of Richmond, Ontario on Franktown Road and you will come across the Conley Road Driving Range and Mini Putt at 3420 Conley Road.
The Conley Road Driving Range and Mini-Putt is run by golf professional Ross Leeder who purchased the facility in 1995 from Glenda & Wayne Conley. Ross has built the operation into a full service practice area for golfers and also a family fun area hosting birthday parties and corporate outings. Ross also offers private and group golf lessons.
Customers can take their time hitting balls out of fairway or greenside bunkers or off the grass, then collect their own balls and repeat the process or head over to the range and practice off the practice mats or grass tees. As Ross says, “There’s no pressure, time wise. Golfers can stay as long as they want.” He also encourages golfers to bring their own lunch and make use of the available picnic tables.
“Let kids be kids,” is a philosophy that Ross is also fond of and he backs it up by letting kids under the age of 10 (2015 UPDATE: kids 12 and under) use the range and short game improvement area for free. This is just one way that Ross promotes the game of golf.
So who is this gentleman with the apparent care-free attitude towards sales and more about the promotion of the game of golf?
A 40 year member of the Professional Golfers Association of Canada, Ross Leeder was attracted to the game of golf from the early age of 9. In 1949 he was caddying at Lakeview and Islington Golf Clubs in Toronto. Through the 50’s he worked cutting fairways and greens at Lake St. George in Orillia, Ontario, a course that his father Ed Leeder designed, developed and operated until his retirement in 1967.
In 1959, Ross took the first of what would become many professional assignments at the private Eastbourne Golf Club in Georgina, Ontario on the south shore of Lake Simcoe giving lessons and operating the pro shop. Ross laughs when he remembers – “I had to turn away Chicago Black Hawk coach Billy Ray from playing on the course as I had instructions to turn away anyone unless they were accompanied by a club member.”
Over the next three years, Ross held the assistant professional position at Beaconsfield golf club in Quebec. He then decided to further his education and enrolled at the University of Miami for one year, but found it too expensive. Back to Montreal, he enrolled at Concordia University and upon graduation took a job as a stock broker. “When I entered the stock brokerage business, the Dow was at 1000 and two years later it was at 600,” says Ross. “It was time to get back to golf.”
Ross would spend his summers, over the next ten years, as a roving teaching professional in the Georgian Bay area and his winters teaching at Georgian College and Christian Island in Georgian Bay. At Georgian College, he taught adults interested in upgrading their education, specializing in English and the humanities. After four years Ross took a teaching position on Christian Island where he taught in a one-room schoolhouse assisting native adults in upgrading their various levels of education. This assignment was unique in that a diverse group of students were being taught at different levels and at different speeds. “These years were very rewarding for me as I saw my adult student’s progress to higher levels of education,” says Mr Leeder on the experience.
From 1979 through 1991, Ross was the head CPGA professional at the historic Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Course is the oldest surviving golf course on its original property in North America. Ross, a self-confessed workaholic, began experiencing health issues and consulted with a physician who was a friend and also a member at the club. The diagnosis was stress and the potential for a burn-out. The advice was for Ross to slow down and make a change in his life-style.
Heeding this valuable advice, Ross took some time off and eventually took a full-time teaching position at the Richmond Hill Golf Club and on his days off gave lessons at the Pheasant Run Golf Club in Newmarket. He subsequently became aware of a driving range for sale near Richmond, Ontario through his brother-in-law, Mike Schofield, and the rest is history.
Through the years, common denominators in the life of Ross Leeder have been family, a thirst for education, golf and a love of teaching.
Ross has two daughters, Kathy and Lynda and four grandchildren: Christian, Matthew, William and Evelyn who by all accounts have their grandfather wrapped around their fingers.
Ross has always been a keen observer about everything around him and has always been interested in furthering his education and not just within the golf industry. He obtained his stock broker licence early in life, has studied and become a real estate agent and has constantly taken courses to enhance his teaching abilities. He also has an interest in golf course architecture and has had the privilege of meeting and talking with golf course architects Geoffrey Cornish and Dick Wilson.
Early in his golf career, Ross played in junior events, Assistant’s tournaments and the Canadian Opens at St. Georges and Laval-sur-le-Lac. He is, by his own admission “an average player” with a greater passion for teaching since the age of 19. Golf drills, exercises and hitting balls rate high in his teaching process, thus his short game improvement area for his students and other golfers with the same passion. Ross also teaches group lessons through the winter with the Ottawa School Board.
When questioned on the highlights of a long career in the golf industry, Ross talks about the people he has come in contact with including Canadian icon Moe Norman, Toronto Maple Leaf players Dick Duff, Bobby Baun and Bob Pulford and the Australian trick shot artist Joe Kirkwood. Ross was impressed with Mr. Kirkwood’s score of 35 during a golf exhibition at the age of 76.
But the people he is more impressed with are the students he has taught both within and outside the golf industry. “They have come to my classes with an expectation of furthering their education and bettering themselves,” says Mr Leeder. “I hope in some small way that I have contributed to their success.”
As to Ross Leeder’s future, “I love teaching and hope to do it as long as I can. I couldn’t have it better with the people I come in contact with along with the wildlife sightings at the range. It’s good for the spirit.”
It may be good for Ross’ spirit but you would have to think of the hundreds or perhaps thousands of students he has taught and their appreciation for the lessons passed along to them by Ross Leeder and his own “thirst for education and teaching.”
This profile originally appeared on Flagstick Golf Magazine’s website on July 13, 2012.