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Profile: Eric Kaufmanis – A Rare Talent

The Royal Canadian Golf Association, now Golf Canada, created a Juvenile Championship in 1970 for junior golfers aged 16 years of age and younger. The Jack Bailey trophy, named for a long-time supporter of junior golf in Canada, was put in play in 1970.

After two consecutive runner-up finishes in 1975 and 1976, Eric Kaufmanis, playing out of the Royal Ottawa Golf Club in Gatineau, Quebec, was awarded the Jack Bailey trophy for his Canadian Juvenile Championship win in 1977 at the Cooke Municipal Golf Club in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

It was a momentous triumph.

Flagstick Golf Magazine reached out to Eric, now living in the Vancouver area, to find out more about his Canadian Championship win, his golf career and his life in general. 

Eric’s recollections of his life tell an interesting story.

Eric Kaufmanis was born in 1960 in Toronto, Ontario. His mother Gundega (Gundy) was a dentist and his father Rusins (Russ) was the political cartoonist for the Ottawa Citizen for many years. Both immigrated to Canada from Latvia after World War II. Eric has one sister, Anna Edels, who is an artist and lives in Big Rideau, Ontario.

Eric married Lisa Colby in 1990. They are still happily married and they have two daughters – Sophie born in 1992 and Juliana born in 1994. 

Flagstick – What influence did your parents have on your golf career?

EK – “I would argue that nothing can be finer about parents than ones who love you and allow you to (generally) pursue whatever it is that you want to pursue. And that was definitely true in my case. Golf-wise – neither of my parents ever played a hole of golf in their life. But fortuitously for me, they moved our family to a house beside the 12th tee of the Glenlea Golf Club in 1965. Initially, I used to hop the fence to look for balls and then sell them back to the golfers at the 12th tee. Twenty-five cents was a primo ball. My father bought me a putter when I was 6 to putt around our yard. That was the start.”    

Flagstick – Growing up, what sports did you play?

EK – “Golf was very much only a summer sport back then – May to end of August. In the winters, I played a lot of hockey until I was 13 and then focused more on basketball. I played basketball for the high school team. I also ran track and field in the spring season for the high school – long jump, triple jump and hurdles.”

Flagstick – When and where did you start to play golf?

EK – “Aside from the putter my father bought me at age 6, I do not recall any urge to play ‘real’ golf. But as luck would have it, in early 1969, at the age of 8, while walking downtown Ottawa on Rideau Street with my mother and sister, I noticed some paper blowing in the wind on the sidewalk. I went over to look closer and realized it was money – five $20 bills – $100 in total. This was a lot of money, and my parents felt we needed to report it in case someone could claim it. We gave it to the police who held on to it for 3 months. But as no one came forward, they returned it to us.  My parents asked what I wanted to do with the money. I announced that I wanted to buy a set of golf clubs. I remember the seven-club set cost about $60, the bag was $6 and the pull cart (not sure why I needed a pull cart!) was $35.”  

Flagstick – Do you remember your first game and your first set of golf clubs?

EK – “As above, it was a Kro-Flite junior half set.  I suspect it was bought at Chuck Browns (a long-time Ottawa retail golf store). My first round was in 1969 at age 8 at the Glenlea Golf Club. I still have the scorecard somewhere – shot 135.”

Flagstick – Which golf clubs did you have a membership at?

EK – “I played as a green fee player for the first few years at the Glenlea. However, by the time I was 11, my parents realized how much I was playing, and even at the green fee rate of $2.50 per round on weekdays ($3.50 on weekends) it made financial sense for me to join as a member. Unfortunately, since neither of my parents was a member, the only membership option was to join as a full adult paying member. This allowed me to play in all of the club events – junior and adult. I recall entering every event that there was. The first was a two-ball event (alternate shot) where (I suspect) I was not-very-randomly paired with a fellow named H.H. (Bert) Williams. I did not know Mr. Williams’ age at the time, but am guessing he was easily in his 70s. I think the club organizers thought they would have some fun by putting the 11-year-old with the 75-year-old and see how they managed! 

In 1975, the Glenlea was acquired by the National Capital Commission and became the “Champlain”, a public-play only course. It was at this same time that my mother was able to join the Royal Ottawa as a social member, which allowed me to join as a junior. The Royal Ottawa was also just a short walk away from our home, being 200 yards from the third fairway. I was a member at the Royal Ottawa up until 2020.  

From 1976 to 1979 I was also a junior member at the Rideau View Golf Club. This was thanks to John Holzman. He was a great supporter of mine, as well as being a member at Rideau View. John was a very active Quebec Golf Association official, and later an RCGA governor. I played there from time to time with Bill Holzman, David Hoffman, and others.” 

Flagstick – Where did you attend high school and did you go to college or university?

EK – “My schooling included High School – Philemon Wright in Hull (now Gatineau) – 1972-77; University – Undergraduate at Indiana University 1977-81 (on an athletic scholarship where he majored in Psychology) and Law school at the University of Ottawa – 1981-84.” 

Flagstick – Is there anything that stands out in your golf career as to wins, team participation, holes in one, etc.?

EK – “Winning the Junior Willingdon Cup for Quebec in 1978 was a highlight, as I believe we won by a then record margin. The team was composed of Jean-Louis Lamarre, Jim Duff, Pierre Lallier and me.

At Indiana University, our team won several tournaments including the Kepler Intercollegiate at Ohio State University in 1980. That was significant because we bested the host Ohio State team who were reigning national champions. I was runner-up individually in that tournament behind Joey Sindelar. Our team finished 20th at the 1980 NCAA Championships, which is the highest finish that an Indiana team has accomplished since. I was also individually named to the All-Big Ten team twice (1979 and 1980).

A memorable Hole in One – when playing the Australian Tour in 1987, there was a two day Pro-Am event held in Melbourne where many of the Australian Tour players were playing. On the fourth hole of the first round, I made a hole in one on a 290-yard par 4. I also then pitched in for eagle on another par 4 a couple of holes later. The press made a fun deal out of it and my rather large photo was on the front page of Saturday’s “Melbourne Age” newspaper with the headline “An Albatross, an Eagle and two Birdies prove this Pro is no Turkey!” All in good fun and definitely a slow news day in Australia!    

I also need to mention my day with Arnie. In 1978, Arnold Palmer came to play at the (Ottawa) Hunt Club in a fundraiser for the Royal Ottawa Hospital. That was a thrill and an honour. And on top of playing 18 holes with him, along with Peter Zebchuk and Peter Haime, Arnie and his co-pilot flew me in Arnie’s jet to Buffalo, New York after the round. I was scheduled to play in the Junior Masters in Buffalo that began the next day, and since Arnie was flying back home to Latrobe, Pennsylvania, he needed to clear customs somewhere so he decided to do so in Buffalo and dropped me off there. What a day that was. 

Finally, the round of 62 I shot in 1979 at the Royal Ottawa was a memorable one. I had nine pars and nine birdies.  It was one of those sublime days.”

Flagstick – Can you describe what your 1977 Canadian Juvenile Amateur Championship win means to you?

EK – “It is definitely nice to be able to say I won a National championship. I recall it being a cool weather week in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. My opening round was indifferent, but I finished with three solid rounds to win. The ceremony afterwards involved Prince Alberta native, John Diefenbaker (the former Prime Minister), who presented me with the trophy.” 

Flagstick – Could you tell our readers about your time at the Glenlea, Chaudiere and the Royal Ottawa as well as the OVGA and the golfers you competed against? 

EK – “Glenlea – was my first golfing home. In the early years, I would be there every day in the summer, from dawn until dusk. My father used to have to whistle for me to come home in the evening. He had an impressive whistle! Some of the people from that era were the head pro, Harry Mulligan, and the assistants, Ray Parizeau and Guy … (my apologies, but his last name escapes me). Lyn Stewart was a man who frequented the club as I believe he was the owner. I remember he had a graceful manner about him and was kind to me. Names of some of the good players were Romeo Guenette and Fern Bastien. Don Rioux was a hugely talented golfer and personality that dropped in and played from time to time; I remember at age 11 shagging drivers for him one evening when he decided to practice from the first tee at the Glenlea. A very talented junior was Greg Ward. I also recall that the then Club Captain – Tony Mangione – made two holes-in-one on the front nine one day – an incredible feat. And, if I am not mistaken, he walked in to celebrate after making his second hole-in-one on the ninth hole, never finishing his round!    

Chaudiere – I was never formally affiliated with the ‘Chaud’ but certainly played there a lot and enjoyed many tournament rounds, practice rounds, and road trips with the likes of Mike Brown, Greg Olson, Terry Kolar, Malcolm Trickey, Bill Brown, Wayne Livingstone, Brian Vance and others. The quality of player at the ‘Chaud’ in those days was staggering – the finest group of players at any club in Canada I would argue.  

Royal Ottawa – I joined at the age of 14 in 1975. I was spoiled to have a good range on which to practice and the course layout/conditioning was exceptional. The long-time head professional was Tom Mann, a wonderful man, and the assistant pros over the years included Paul Sherratt, Neil Cascagnette, Tim Cole, and Alan Howie. There were many great people and personalities at the club outside of the more accomplished players noted below – David Rhodes, Bob Morrow, John Bogue, John Berryman, Jim Mahoney, Dr. Harry Biewald, George Smart, Dr. Sandy Henry, Ross Heuchan, and many others.   

OVGA – The local OVGA tournaments were always friendly events as everyone knew each other so well. In the 1970s, the courses we played were generally the finest ones in the area and the three-day City and District championship was a premiere event.   

Golfers I competed against:  

Locally: 

As noted above, the Chaudiere had many great golfers, Greg Olson (1980 Canadian Amateur winner) being the cream of the crop. At the Royal Ottawa wonderful players in the late 1970 and early 1980’s included: Phil Cleary, Bob Tennant, Ron Graham, Brian Harrocks, Al Anderson, Blair Robertson, John Bethune, Windy Lachapelle, Bruce Heuchan, Des Clair, David Smart, Dr. Fred Clinckett, Bob Houston, Dave Ferries, Chris Wilson, Jim Smellie, Wendy Currie and Newton Walpert; At Rivermead – Glen Seely, Andy Nezan, Don Rioux (who was reinstated as an amateur by this time), Peter Mayo, Gord Reid, and Greg Nezan; At Carleton Golf and Yacht Club – George Fox, Gerry Manale, Tom Charlton ; At Outaouais – Lyle Alexander; At The Hunt Club – John and Kevin Haime, Pete Zebchuck, Don Cordukes, Hugh Riopelle, Ernie Allen and Tom Larocque; At Hylands – Brad Lay, Kevin Lemenchick and Al Jensen Jr.; At Rideau View – Bill Holzman; At Arnprior – Jeff Buder and At Cornwall – Mike Andrews and Rick Greer. 

Quebec:

Outside of the OVGA, some of the stronger players in Quebec were Graham Cooke, Pierre Archambault, Jean-Louis Lamarre, Remi Bouchard, Yves Tremblay, Yvan Beauchemain, Serge Thiverge, Mickey Batten, Gord Hanna, Michel Giroux, Jim Duff, Marc Girouard, Pierre Trepanier, Jacques Godin, Jean Larochelle, Marc Turcotte, Steve Davies, Richard Rousseau, Frank Hurtubise and Jacques Lemieux.  

Other: 

NCAA – Tom Lehman, Hal Sutton, Fred Couples, Corey Pavin, Mark O’ Meara, John Cook, Payne Stewart, Dick Zokol, Bob Tway, Mark Calcavecchia, Joey Sindelar and Bobby Clampett 

Australian Tour/Canadian Tour – Greg Norman, Ian Baker-Finch, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal, Craig Parry, David Feherty, Wayne Grady, Larry Nelson, Curtis Strange, Kirk Triplett, John Huston, Jim Rutledge, Jim Nelford, Dave Barr and Dan Halldorson.”    

Flagstick – When did you enter the work force and what is your job resume?

EK – “I entered the work force in 1989 as a lawyer at a law firm in Richmond, BC. I had moved to Vancouver in 1989 to be with my then girlfriend, and now wife, Lisa. I practised law for 12 years at the same firm, became a partner in 1998, and then in 2002 joined one of my clients as their VP of Legal Affairs. I spent 7 years there before moving on to act as legal counsel to a few different companies, which is what I still do today.” 

Flagstick – What have you done in your life since the mid 1980’s? 

EK – “After being called to the bar in Ontario in 1986, I turned professional and played the mini-tours that summer – in Florida and then some State Opens in the U.S. Northeast. That September, I successfully obtained my Canadian Tour card at the fall qualifying school, and together with John Haime (who also got his card at the same event), we flew to Australia the next week to play the Australian Tour. I feel like John and my golf memories are forever tied at the hip because of experiences like driving all night in an old Toyota car across the Australian Outback. I played the Canadian Tour the next two summers and went back to the Australian Tour for one more winter in 1987-88. By the end of the Canadian Tour season in fall 1988, I was ready to move on and slowly made my way to Vancouver in spring 1989. I played a couple of events on the Canadian Tour in 1989.” 

Flagstick – After the mid 1980’s, did you give up golf or have a full time job?

EK – “After moving to Vancouver in 1989 and practising law, I have only played casually since then. I still love the game.”    

Flagstick – What are you most proud of in your life?

EK – “Proud is a funny word. I would rather say I am grateful for the chance to live in a country like Canada, with the parents, wife, children, and friends I have. They have all shown me great love and kindness.  And I am also grateful that golf walked into my life thanks to some serendipitous events. It truly is the ‘game of a lifetime’.”  

Flagstick – Are there any people who have been important in your personal and professional development in your life you would like to recognize?

EK – “Personally – my mother and father for letting me be what I wanted to be; and my wife Lisa for loving and supporting me though 30 plus years of marriage, and helping raise two spirited daughters who have absolutely lit up our lives.

Golf – instruction-wise, although I never really had a dedicated golf coach, all of the pros and assistant pros at the Glenlea, Royal Ottawa, and Indiana University were of great help and there for advice at any time. I probably should have sought it out more frequently as they were all keen to support me however they could. Outside of golf instruction, the members at the Glenlea, Royal Ottawa, and Rideau View were filled with wonderful people who were kind enough to put up with a young upstart like me. 

General – one of my neighbours growing up was Dr. Roger Jackson who was an Olympic Gold medal winning rower for Canada. He and his family became good family friends and Roger was always quick with some insightful sports/life advice and was a positive role model.”   

Flagstick – Do you have any personal or professional regrets or disappointments in your life?

EK – “As the saying goes, I have “no regrets”, but it would still be fun to do it all over again and see how it played out.”