The Eastern Ontario region has been blessed to be the breeding ground for many fine golf professionals. A countless number have impacted the game of golf in Canada and guided others to enjoy the sport more through improved play. Among them is Nick Starchuk.
Starchuk calls Oakville, Ontario home now but his heart is always in Ottawa, a place he moved to from Victoria, B.C. when he was 12 years old. Last summer returned to the national capital to be part of the 50th anniversary celebrations at Kanata Golf & Country Club, the place where he took up golf in earnest after his parents purchased a home on the perimeter of the course. During his time in Ottawa he also enjoyed membership play at Hylands Golf Club and the Royal Ottawa Golf Club.
We checked in with Starchuk, now 40, who has blossomed to become one of the most respected and progressive golf coaches in the country, enough to earn him the 2013 PGA of Ontario Teacher of The Year award. The recognition came less than a decade after he turned professional, a considerable accomplishment. Along the way he forged his own path, not by design, but to fulfill his desire to grow personally and professionally. It has served him well. Here is abridged version of our recent interview.
FGM: What attracted you to golf from the start?
NS: It was moving on to the 14th hole of the Kanata Golf Club, while there was still a sanded fairway, the year before it opened. I came from Victoria where I played tennis very competitively then moved to Kanata and there was a golf course in the back yard. I didn’t need friends to play, I could just go by myself, so I thought, “I’ll just go give this thing a shot”. I had played golf in Victoria; I used to jump on my bike with a few clubs and play the Cordova Bay par three course, but that was maybe three times a summer. I really got into golf because my dad played every Saturday and Sunday morning at Hylands and I was able to get out to Kanata for a good rate, and without needing a ride.
After attending Carleton University for a year, Nick made his way to Kentucky State University on a golf scholarship where he excelled on the golf team and won a national championship.
FGM: While you played the game at a high level, teaching became your path. What was the attraction? Was it rooted in your own quest for personal improvements?
After I finished school I put my clubs away. I didn’t touch them for more than a year. My golf clubs had earned me my scholarship and I couldn’t swing my clubs to support myself anymore, so I got a job. I was a credit card investigator for a few years. I packed it in there after four of five years and went to Canadian Tour school a couple times. I kind of realized that I might have a better chance of helping guys than me trying to make a cut and breaking even for the week, so I turned to teaching. I packed my stuff up and went to Toronto. I had an interview at Greystone, but I stopped at Glen Abbey and met some people there and that was it.
Nick would spend five seasons at the Glen Abbey Academy from 2004 to 2008. He calls it a “factory” of teaching where he was able to hone his skills through dealing with a wide myriad of students. “I had a chance to learn from people who were already doing what I wanted to do,” he states of his life changing time there.
FGM: You’re known as an inquisitive professional. What is behind your quest to keep learning?
NS: It comes from a couple things, I was around people (at Glen Abbey) who asked questions. Guys who said, “why is it that way, and who says so?” That was a way for the guys around there to weed through the junk in golf instruction, to poke holes through it and find out what we really knew. The other side of it, honestly, was me back in Ottawa, wandering around looking for answers. I need it to make sense. That kind of inquisitive nature sprouted everything that is in my coaching style right now – my quest to keep learning. The need to know the real problem and the real solution.
FGM: How do you characterize your coaching style?
NS: My coaching style is really to find out what the person wants; I need to know what they know, what they can absorb, and how they want to hear it. From there, let’s just try and make sure they score better. Everybody comes from a different place; they want something different, and it makes my job variable. People think that if you teach golf every day it is the same; it’s not even close.
FGM: How has technology impacted your coaching?
NS: It’s like a paperboy finding a way to use his bike. It’s taken it to whole other level. When I can use technology, I can really shape their (students) concept better. You generally swing the club the way you do because that is the way you think it is supposed to be done. It’s changed my ability to communicate much better. From a business perspective it’s been wonderful. When it comes to technology it has changed a lot about how I look at coaching.
FGM: Having worked alongside many other top professionals, which ones influenced your journey the most?
NS: I think that fall into four groups.
First was Sean Foley at Glen Abbey. He taught me how to learn, how to question correctly. I am still learning to this day how great he is with people. He also taught me a lot about the golf swing.
My next guy must be Gary Gilchrist. He’s a wonderful guy and his results speak for themselves. What Gary taught me was how to develop confidence in people. Gary could make people believe they could put a blindfold on, play on a highway, and not get hit. He’s an awesome human.
The next group of people has to be the Internet – all the guys spending their time on Facebook and the chat rooms. I learned twenty years of stuff in two years.
The last group that had an impact on my coaching is the golfers who come to see me for my advice. I am fortunate to be in a profession that I get to help people in their leisure time. My players and the internet and Sean and Gary have been awesome.
FGM: You have worked at several great facilities but now operate your own academy and have a select clientele, how has that been from your perspective?
NS: I’ve been at awesome public facilities; I’ve been at awesome resort style facilities, and I’ve had a chance to grow a private facility to arguable a leader in instruction. All those things have shaped me to understand the golf business a little more. The PGA does a great job with the golf pro in general but teaching by itself is a whole different business. All those things gave me an opportunity to see how things can work best for me in all this.
FGM: Where do you see the golf teaching profession going?
NS: I think we will see more golf teachers going their own way. They are getting smarter. The specialization of the golf teacher is rising and that will be good for golfers who will have better opportunities to learn from people dedicated only to that part of the game.
FGM: Did you ever imagine that as a teenage golfer that the sport would take you as far as it has?
NS: Everything along the way, the things I said I wouldn’t do, I ended up doing. I said I wouldn’t teach golf. I did it. In college I said I wasn’t going to be good enough to try the Canadian Tour, and I did it. At one point I said if I taught it would be at a driving range where people wore flip flops and ate ice cream, instead of a place where they had to check in and make sure their shirts were tucked in. There’s another one. I’m starting to think of all the things I never wanted to do and now I am running towards them.