PGA of Ontario Profile: Gareth Raflewski


 Gareth Raflewski earns PGA of Ontario award as Teacher of the Year
2016 is shaping up to be a year of firsts for Gareth Raflewski.
The Director of Instruction at London’s RiverBend Golf Community and his wife Amy are expecting their first child in April, Gareth has completed a first draft of his first book, but still has some research to conduct this summer before he wraps up the project and he’s planning a two-week tour of Northern Ireland, another first, for 60 RiverBend members for the last two weeks of August.
2015 also proved to be memorable on several fronts for the 35-year-old short game and putting guru. 
Gareth increased the stable of LPGA Tour players who he works with to five, continued to offer innovative learning programs from the 400 RiverBend members and was named Teacher of the Year by the PGA of Ontario.
“I’m living in the best of both worlds right now and couldn’t imagine a better place to be,” says Raflewski, who was born in Omagh, Northern Ireland and first came to Canada for a summer job in 2000 while attending John Moores University in Liverpool, England, to work at Camp Manitou in Parry Sound as a golf instructor. “I love working with the entire membership at RiverBend from helping beginners and older players get the most out of the game that they can to being able to coach aspiring tour professional and elite players – it really is a perfect mix.”
After earning a degree in civil engineering and working for two years in building construction in Wales, Raflewski decided it was time to come to Canada in 2007 to take a shot at playing mini tour and Canadian Tour events. He’d grown up living two miles from Omagh Golf Club with his parents, but would move in with his grandparents, who lived a stone’s throw from the course, for the summer months, starting when he was 13. As a 24-handicap, he was recruited to take part in the Ulster coaching squad program for youths that showed potential including the likes of Graeme McDowell and several other players who are currently on the European Tour.
“When I came to Canada I quickly learned that I didn’t have the game to play on tour, but that experience set me up for my teaching career,” Raflewski says. “The biggest mistake I ever made was trying to do it all by myself, I never reached out to a coach or someone who had been through it before. I put so much time and effort into practicing, but clearly I did it the wrong way because I didn’t improve.”
Raflewski became fascinated with the concept of trying to find measurable ways to analyze performance beyond a score for 18 holes and used those markers to determine practice sessions. He looked at what successful Canadian golf teachers like Sean Foley who was at Glen Abbey at the time and Henry Brunton were teaching – the full swing – and Gareth went in a different direction in an attempt to differentiate himself. “I stopped reading about the full swing and bought every magazine, every book that talked about short game and putting and overdosed on that.”
Today, after having taught about 12,000-plus golf lessons, Raflewski makes his bread and butter as an all-round teacher at RiverBend and is noted as a short game and putting specialist among elite players. The LPGA Tour players he is currently working with include Jane Park, Christina Kim, Tiffany Joh, Moriya Jutanugarn and Ariya Jutanugarn. He’s in touch with them on an almost daily basis via the internet to analyze video and breakdown their game using a special formula that incudes up to 30 data points.
He also works regularly with Canadians Natalie Gleadall and Nicole Vandermade who play on the Symetra Tour; as well as PGA Tour player Tad Ridings, PGA Tour Canada players Michael Gligic and Mitch Sutton and many others. In 2015, he was instrumental in starting a player development program at RiverBend to sponsor aspiring golf professionals. The joint venture between the club and the membership raised nearly $41,000 to assist Gleadall with her journey.
RiverBend is unique in Ontario in that it’s a gated adult golf community where there’s no one living there is under the age of 50. “When I first arrived here in 2009, people told me the residents are too old, they won’t want to take lessons, you’re crazy if you think you’re going to engage them in learning to play golf programs, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth,” he says. Gareth estimates that half of the 400 members currently take part in some type of golf learning program.  He has about 15-20 people who buy into year-long teaching programs, offers interactive on-course clinic for 30 to 40 people at a time, provides individual playing lessons and leads group sessions that cover every part of the game. Raflewski routinely spends 10 hours a day on the range in the summer teaching lessons and is booked three weeks in advance! There’s even a summer junior program mainly for grandchildren of residents and new for 2016 will be a teenager camp.
“We take a holistic approach when it comes to teaching our members. We have a gym and a pool and three on-site fitness professionals and a physiotherapist who we work with,” Raflewski says. “We really want to keep them healthy and active and playing golf for as long as they can.”
As for the book, well the first draft that Gareth penned last December was too complicated and he’s back at the drawing board. He’s actually going to put some of the RiverBend members through testing this summer and include that data. “I want to write something that is going to be useful and beneficial for the average golfer and it will feature what I call my four pillars of putting.”
As for the two-week trip to Northern Ireland at the end of August, well that also promises to be an adventure.
“The social committee at the club asked me if I would be interested in leading a trip to Northern Ireland, so I said sure thinking we would get three or four four-ball groups and we could go for a little tour to visit a few courses and pubs,” he says.
The committee sent out a note to members and 130 people showed up at a meeting to learn more about the trip – 50 of them signed up that night, a few more committed within the next day or two – and Raflewski had to cut it off at 60. “They’re going to have the option to play up to nine rounds of golf, see the sights and drop by a few pubs that I would like to take them to,” he says noting the plan is for Amy and their newborn to join them for part of the trip and then visit his parents - now that should be a year to remember.
Story by Brent Long – PGA of Ontario contributor
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