Making a Career in Golfer's Paradise
By Jackelyn Crawford
Most Canadians wait up to six months of the year for favourable golfing weather. For Etobicoke native Mike Simms, director of golf instruction at Ocean Club Golf Academy in Nassau, Bahamas, sun-kissed greens and balmy fairway breezes are just another part of the work day.
Simms, a Class A member of the CPGA with a professional golf management degree, teaches private and group lessons at the multiple-award-winning, 7,100-yard Ocean Club Golf Course on the peninsula of Nassau's Paradise Island. The tropical oasis is also home to the world-renowned Atlantis Resort, where the most expensive suite goes for $25,000 a night.
The day to day for Simms involves instructing the A-list guests of both Atlantis Resort and the posh One & Only Ocean Club down the road. Over the course of a five-day work week, he makes his own schedule without the constrains of 9 to 5, booking playing lessons on the prestigious Tom Weiskopf-designed Ocean Club course with elite hotel clientele - some of whom are royalty or celebrities.
"This is a job that I could do forever," Simms said.
And a job that no doubt took time to achieve. After graduating from The University of Western Ontario in 2001, Simms started at the bottom of the golf industry, working his way up fueled by a love of sport, socializing and the whole country club feel. While completing a degree at the Golf Course Management Institute of Canada, he worked towards his CPGA card at The Country Club in Woodbridge.
"Becoming a golf pro isn't easy... It's not all roses. You have to do hard work. You have to work in a pro shop. You don't make a lot of money... But once you become Class A, a whole door of opportunities opens."
One door in particular for Simms was the one at the famously wealthy and exclusive Lyford Cay Club in Nassau, where Simms began working as an assistant teaching pro after he and his wife, who's born and raised in Nassau, made the move from Toronto to the Bahamas in 2007. Before he worked his way up to become the teaching pro there, Simms got his feet wet at Lyford, teaching the likes of princes, princesses, counts and the legendary Sean Connery.
Simms remembers feeling the pressure teaching Connery on what was one of his first lessons. Connery was hitting badly, and as he became angrier with each flubbed shot, Simms became more nervous. In response to Simms' first few tips, Connery turned to him and flatly said "What the f%$# are you talking about?" Luckily, the actor was just playing around.
The experience with Connery isn't Simms' only notable celebrity encounter. In 2009 he was the lead instructor at the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational Golf Tournament, where he played as a marker with pro athletes Ken Griffey Jr. and Alonso Mourning, and got to eat with and be amongst Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan. He was so much a part of the star entourage that at one point he was mistaken for one himself, and ended up signing several autographs for kids who believed him to be professional tennis player Novak Djokovic.
While it may come as a surprise to his fellow Torontonians back home, Simms loves his job not simply for daily turquoise ocean views and celebrity hob knobbing. His reasons are more personal.
"I enjoy getting to know new people each day. It's kind of like you're a doctor, and a new person comes in every hour. I meet different people with different personalities from all over the world, from South Africa to Australia to Italy," he said.
Simms feels that the secret to being a good golf instructor is not about golf, but about making sure a person learning golf has the best experience possible - and if his student is happy, so is he.
"That's the challenge I enjoy - helping someone get better."
And what does a person who has everyday access to some of the world's greenest golf pastures do on his days off? Certainly not golf. After all, for Simms, that is "work."
"I sit at home and play my PS3, watch cartoons and take care of my 16-month-old daughter Olivia. I've literally been in the sun for five days already."