Chris Kulinski is one of the younger PGA head professionals in western New York. Despite not focusing intently on golf during his high school days, he developed a love for the game and its atmosphere, which led him to a career as a PGA professional. He has served at three of the area’s most respected country clubs, and learned from two of the area’s finest professionals (Ralph Haas and Tim Fries at Transit Valley) before moving on to the head professional positions at East Aurora, and then Orchard Park. He has given his time to BuffaloGolfer today, and we are grateful. We hope that you enjoy this interview.
1. Tell us your name and how you got interested/involved in golf as a youth.
My name is Chris Kulinski. I became a PGA Professional in 2009 and I’m currently the Head Golf Professional at Orchard Park CC. My father encouraged me to play all sorts of sports and he introduced me to golf at the age of 12. I fell in love with the game, playing at Bob O Links, Elma Meadows, Grover Cleveland and Whirlpool Golf Club. At the age of 16 I shot par and started thinking about playing golf for a living. My dad was reading the Wall Street Journal and he told me that I could go to college to become a PGA Professional. There are around 25 of Professional Golf Management Colleges and I chose to apply to Coastal Carolina University. I was accepted, but decided against it and stayed home and attended University at Buffalo. As I attended UB I worked at Transit Valley Country Club under PGA Head Professional Tim Fries. I am the Head Professional at Orchard Park CC, because of my Dad and Tim Fries.
2. Tell us a bit about your competitive golf experience in your younger days.
When I was younger I did not play too much competitive golf. I was focused on baseball and basketball. I did start to play golf in high school for West Seneca East. I played on the East golf team in 10th grade through 12th When I started working for Tim at Transit Valley, he encouraged me to play in WNYPGA events and Assistant Association tournaments.
3. What epiphany did you have that led you to the PGA of America and a club professional position?
The epiphany that led me to become a PGA Professional was my dad reading me the Wall Street Journal article about Professional Golf Management Colleges. At that moment I decided I wanted to get into the golf business. Working at Transit Valley CC under Tim confirmed that I wanted to be a Head Golf Professional. Tim started me in the bag room and promoted me to Assistant the following year. He taught me all about the business. I also learned people skills from Ralph Haas. Ralph was the Head Professional at Transit Valley CC for 53 or 54 years. He taught me how to talk to members and showed me how to keep a job as a Head Golf Professional.
4. Give us bit of history on the clubs you have represented as an assistant or head professional.
I worked at Transit Valley CC as an Assistant Golf Professional for 8 years. Those 8 years helped me fall in love with my profession. The members at Transit are great. We traveled to Las Vegas for Pro-am’s and also Ireland. My first trip to Ireland was unforgettable and the TVCC members helped create such fantastic memories. I also have my lowest round as a professional at Transit, 66 and a hole in one on #17.
I worked at FrogHair for a couple years under PGA Professional Tony Tatro and learned how important fitness is for golf. Tony is a TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Certified Instructor who really helped me with my game and also helped me understand how to teach other players the importance of fitness in golf.
In 2011, I interviewed at East Aurora CC to become their Head Golf Professional. At age 27 I became Head Professional at EACC. I had my dream job, a Head Professional job in my hometown. I cannot say enough about the membership at EACC. They love their golf. With only 210 members we did over 16,000 rounds of golf in 2015. Every member really just loved the game. The golf course is one of the best-maintained courses in all of WNY. The superintendent, Drew Thompson is amazing at what he does. He keeps that golf course in great shape with a smaller budget then most of the clubs in the area. I really enjoyed my time at EACC and can tell you this, playing East Aurora CC makes you better. You learn how to hit golf shots from all types of lies. It is a shot makers golf course. I also have a hole in one at EACC on #4 a 230 yard par three.
In November of 2015 the WNYPGA lost a wonderful golf professional. Randy Shaw passed away tragically. Randy was the Head Golf Professional at Orchard Park CC for nearly 20 years. When I heard the news I was shocked. I applied for the position in January and began trying to fill Randy’s shoes in March of 2016. Orchard Park CC has it all. We have a full golfing membership, fantastic pool and tennis programs and a fun golf course. Now I really have my dream job, as Orchard Park CC is the closest private golf course to my house. The membership is robust and always active. The staff throughout the club cares about the membership and provides an amazing work environment. I am extremely excited to be the Head Golf Professional at Orchard Park CC.
5. Run down the responsibilities of a club professional, including the tasks that might not be apparent to members and guests.
The Head Golf Professional is responsible for everything regarding golf at the facility. Decisions are made on a daily basis with the golf staff and the course Superintendent. Are we allowing carts today? Is the Superintendent top dressing or verti-cutting greens? Each day we discuss course conditions and maintenance so that members and guests can have the best possible experience when they play. There is also daily communication with the GM. We discuss upcoming projects, meet with committee’s and present ideas to the Board of Directors. There is also tournament preparation. We create sign up sheets, promote the event and order prizes months in advance. The key to running successful events is to be prepared and organized. Our goal at OPCC is to have the event prep done before a single participant arrives. After that its easy. The Head Golf Professional is also responsible for the golf shop at Orchard Park CC. I have a line of credit with M&T Bank and own all the merchandise and fixtures in the golf shop. Daily meetings, planning sessions for projects, presentations for the B.O.D. event planning, owing a small business, these are a few things a Head Golf Professional does. We also sacrifice summer vacations with family, weekend parties, our children’s tee ball games or dance recitals and Sunday mass. PGA Professionals sacrifice a lot for the members of their club, but I would not want any other job in the world.
6. As a teaching professional, what are the most important tenets of your teaching philosophy?
As a teaching professional I don’t believe that all players can be fixed or helped by oneparticular method, which is why I believe it is important to customize each lesson to the individual student. A player’s physical ability must be evaluated before I can teach them a proper way to swing the golf club. I believe in the importance of the impact position and swing path. I also make sure my lessons are positive and fun.
7. Give us an idea of your recent competitive history. Also, what do you work on to stay sharp.
I love playing competitive golf. When I first became a PGA apprentice I played in all the Assistants events in the section. I played in the PGA Assistants National Championship in Port St. Lucie in 2010. That has been my biggest playing accomplishment so far. I was one of the best 150 Assistant Professionals in the US. I just missed playing in the PGA Professional National Championship in 2012. I was second alternate. A wise man, Craig Harmon (Long time Head Professional at Oak Hill CC) once told me you should not play competitive golf your first year at your new job. So becoming a Head Golf Professional at East Aurora in 2011 cut into my playing and practicing time. Recently I have not played as much golf. I have three beautiful women I spend my free time with instead of playing or practicing, my wife of 12 years Amanda and my daughters, Lyla (5) and Kendyl (3).
8. In competition, on what do you focus to achieve your greatest success? We know that golf and competitive golf are dissimilar, so what does a professional rely on (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically) to compete his best?
When competing I focus on the current shot. I do not think about the previous shot great or terrible, just the current shot. I believe too many amateurs dwell on prior shots. Golf is so hard you cannot focus on the negative. I also play aggressive. I am not the longest hitter out there but I’m fairly straight. So I play with “swagger.” As long as I have a swing I know that I can hit any shot. Playing with confidence and positive thoughts are some of the things I focus on during my competitive rounds.
9. What question haven’t we asked, that you wish we would? Ask it and answer it, please.
A question that should be asked is: What do you enjoy the most since you became a PGA Golf Professional? There are many amazing things that come along with being a PGA Member. We are part of a fraternity. There are over 28,000 members in the PGA of America. I can call anyone of them and each one would help me out anyway they could. I also love seeing my students improve. The game of golf is so hard and when my students get that smile on there face after they accomplished what I was teaching them, there is no better feeling. There are lots of high fives during my lessons. I love my office. My office is 18 beautiful holes, outside from April to November. I love the people you meet. I have met some amazing people in my career and it is all because I became a PGA member. Finally when you become a PGA Member you have access to attend the Masters each year. I secretly pray for snow in Buffalo at the beginning of every April so I maybe sneak down to Augusta for a practice or tournament round.