A Life Shaped By Golf: Jonathan Schaepper

Jonathan Schaepper (Photo: Joe McLean)

We recently had the opportunity to talk to Jonathan Schaepper, PGA of Canada – Ottawa Zone Professional and Owner of the Mountain Creek Golf Club in Arnprior, Ontario.

Jonathan purchased the Mountain Creek Golf Club in 2005 and in a May 2005 news story titled “Mountain Creek Golf Club Changes Hands”, he had spoken briefly about his purchase:

After investigating over half a dozen possible purchases, Jonathan says, “I was sold on Mountain Creek partly because of the scenery in the Ottawa Valley and also the number of nice people that he has met in the Arnprior area.” When asked about living in a small town like Arnprior, he replied, “Arnprior is a big city compared to Ermenswil, Switzerland with a population of approximately 550 residents, where I spent the last nine years.”

FGM – How are things going at the Mountain Creek Golf Club?

The golf club is changing a lot, growing in different ways and it’s probably as busy as it’s ever been, but I’ve branched out a lot more. It started off in the first few years with cooking a little bit here and cutting a little grass there, but now it’s turned into me enjoying more of the outdoor stuff, the maintenance side and learning every day from luckily having the same superintendent during my fifteen years there. I’m trying to pick up what I can. Two of our boys (Gregory & Liam) cut grass with me and help fertilise and that sort of stuff. Our youngest son (Jordan) is a swimmer and he won a bronze medal in the 800-meter free style in the Provincials this winter. Gregory is the golfer and Liam enjoys the machines. My dad (Hans) is also around a lot and lends a helping hand.

FGM – How about your wife, is she involved in the Club?

No, Shari is a nanny and works for a family in Carp. Our kids are getting older now and that was always our plan where she would raise our children. She’s looking after a little girl, so she finally gets to play princess and that sort of stuff.

FGM – Has the community taken you in?

Yes. It’s hard to be the new kid and the two courses in town have been there longer than we have. I don’t have much spare time, but I am playing old-timers hockey with a bunch of the local guys.

FGM – How did you get involved in golf?

I grew up in Morin Heights (QC) and my parents had a house with big property. My dad was a golfer and played and enjoyed it and he made me a little driving range. There was a little pond behind the house, and we hit balls over the pond. He had thousands of golf balls and we’d hit them and every once in a while, we’d walk around the bush and look for them. I was probably three or four years old when I started hitting balls in the back yard. Today, they don’t own any more property up there, but they did until ten years ago. Even then we would walk around those bushes and find those old Canada Cups and Kro-Flites and they’re still lying all over the place.

All those golf balls he had, I remember  one time in the winter when we were in Florida, we would go out for a walk at night and he would have me stand under a palm tree and he would shimmy up the tree, shake the tree and golf balls would come raining down on me.

Once we got to Cornwall (his parents had purchased Archie’s Golf Centre), I was ten by then. So, it was an everyday thing and I played as much as I could. Dad liked to open as early as possible each Spring. Being an aqua range, some balls were sitting on the ice, so we had to be careful picking them up. I went through the ice a few times.

FGM – As you got older, did you turn pro out of Cornwall?

I went to The Golf Academy of America in Orlando where we received some credit for PGA status. From there, a guy from Hungary came to the school looking for three professionals. Two of us looked at each other, one from New York and the other from Montreal, and we volunteered to go and with a handshake, we were hired.

We went to Hungary and he wasn’t expecting three of us to actually show up. My wife Shari was with us also and we had everything we owned with us. I was 20, so at that time you could travel with massive suitcases – two each, a golf bag and carry-on luggage. The big suitcases, she couldn’t move so I was shuffling them along and the stepping back and bringing the others forward. We got to Hungary and he’s there with one little car figuring to pick up one professional. We had to then take a train to our destination where he would pick us up. We arrived around midnight. It was dark and there was nobody there. A taxi came and took us to the course with a huge iron gate and dogs came running up and jumping on the gate. After flashing the lights on the taxi and honking the car horns, somebody came out and let us in.

It was a very nice looking place, beautiful hotel and the whole bit. We were each supposed to get a house, a place to stay and a vehicle. Anyway, a long story short, I lasted five days, the guy from Montreal lasted a month and the guy from New York lasted three months. So, I had sent resumes already to Switzerland from Orlando. They had called back and indicated they were interested, not necessarily offering a job and I had to tell them that I had taken a job in Hungary. They indicated at the time that we would be talking shortly.

After a few days in Hungary when we decided to leave, one of the places in Switzerland still had an opening and they told us to come up and we’d go from there. We took the train back up to Budapest with these massive suitcases and a golf bag and then on to Vienna. We had to transfer rail lines to get to Zurich and it was now ten o’clock at night and the next train wasn’t leaving until 7am. We tried to book into a hotel but everything was full due to a convention in town.

We weren’t that mobile with the suitcases and we only had U. S. dollars in our pocket, so we were getting hosed everywhere because everyone wanted shillings for the cab or food. We got to the station and put our suitcases under the sensor for the doors which were closed because it was after midnight. We camped out right there and when the doors finally opened in the morning, we moved inside to get a bite to eat. Unfortunately nothing was open until seven, the same time as the train was leaving.

We got on that train and made our way to Zurich. We had called some friends of my parents who told us to call when we made it to Zurich and they would take us in. Of course, we arrived at five in the afternoon at the height of rush hour. We had to negotiate several levels in the train station and when we eventually got to an escalator, Shari went all the way down and I sent the suitcases one after another down the escalator. One train arrived and the doors opened, people jammed on to the train, the doors closed and off went the train. When the next train arrived, we had some help, got on the train and went to where we had to go, got picked up and then we stayed for ten years in Switzerland after that Hungarian detour.

FGM – You played a lot of competitive golf over there (Europe)?

Early on during the first five or six years, I worked enough to sponsor myself to play. I might work five weeks in a row, take a week or so off and go play and then return to work. I played events on the Challenge Tour which was one step lower than the European Tour. There was one European Tour Event in Switzerland. I qualified for twice. There were two Challenge Tour Events, so I played those a few times and otherwise the Swiss PGA had quite a big tournament schedule. Most of them were three-round events, so it was quite a nice getaway every time. With a bit of work on the side, you could survive on those tournaments. There was money to be made and I made a few dollars playing the events.

FGM – You were there for ten years. Why did you return to Canada?

Gregory and Liam were born in Switzerland and Gregory would have been starting school as a four-year-old in 2005. It was now or never. If he had started school, we would have stayed in Switzerland. We came back, bought the Mountain Creek Golf Course and Gregory started school in Arnprior and the rest is history.

FGM – Going back, when did you meet Shari?

Shari worked for my parents at Archie’s Golf Centre in Cornwall. She worked in the Dairy Bar, so I ate a lot of ice-cream that summer.

FGM – Your have had success in the PGA of Canada – Ottawa Zone with your 2008 Spring Open, your 2009 Player of the Year, your 2014 Summer Open, your success as the 2014 “B” Match Play Champion and your 2014 Player of the Year wins. Is it more work now or do you get out less often to play competitive golf?

I get out much less to play competitive golf. I miss it. That’s the part I miss the most since coming back. Playing at home is not the same because I’ll see something that has to be taken care of and I’ll abandon my round. Or I can’t wait to finish because there’s something else that has to be done. Because of that, I don’t get out much, but luckily now with the kids starting to play, especially Gregory, I have another reason to play. Gregory has the same dream as a golfer as everyone else, but as Brad (Faxon) said today (at a PGA of Ottawa seminar), there’s one thing to dream but there’s also the preparation and he hasn’t got to that stage yet. He’s upset with Shari and me for not pushing him harder, but if we had when he was younger, he might not be a golfer today; he may have quit. Now he loves it, so I think we did the right thing. He would love to play and go to school somewhere. Whatever he does, he loves the game so much that he doesn’t want to do what I do because he knows I don’t get to play. He sees that the greens guys don’t play either, so he’s not interested in doing that work.

FGM – So Gregory is an up and comer and he’s keen?

He’s keen and he’s an athlete and I wish I had his short game. He’s a competitor and he has a good game with his 2 handicap.  We’ll see where things take him.

FGM – Are you enjoying your time out of the shop and now more out on the course?

100%.

FGM – What are your plans for the future?

In the near future, we have a short game area where I hope to teach more at Mountain Creek.

FGM – Any regrets?

I wish I would have played more and worked less, especially in Switzerland. But I’m in a good place right now.