Known for being the origin point (or Mile Zero) of the Alaska Highway, Dawson Creek sits on the fertile prairie of eastern British Columbia, not far from the Alberta border. With its frontier tradition and population of about 13,000, from a distance the town may seem a bit sleepy. But 2005-2006 GCA Canadian Clubmaker of the Year Dennis Kesterke has more than his share of fires to put out there—both figuratively, in his home-based fitting workshop, and literally, as a captain in the local fire department.
His clubmaking career, he says, is a labor of love that balances his other, older profession. “I’m very proud to be a firefighter and do my job,” he says, “but there are days that are better than others. But I’ve never gone to the golf course and said, ‘Man, I just don’t want to be here.’”
…My philosophy has been that the ability to improve starts with equipment that fits.…
There are more similarities than differences between the two jobs, though. After 27 years as a firefighter, Kesterke is no stranger to alarms in the middle of the night. But before it happened, he never expected his clubmaking career to disturb his sleep, too. “I’ve been phoned at 10 o’clock at night,” he says, “by guys who say stuff like, ‘I’m playing in my club championship and I broke my wedge. Can you fix it?’ And I’ll do that for them, and whether they go on to win or not, it’s an accomplishment for me.”
It hasn’t always been easy for him to shift gears from one workplace to the other. “In my job as a firefighter,” he says, “I make split-second decisions that I have to live with and that affect the lives of other people. Sometimes in my business, I make the same type of decisions, but it’s not always a good thing to blurt out advice. The approach that I’d use at a fire scene is not the approach that I’d use with my customers. It took me a while to figure that one out.”
It took a while for Kesterke to become his region’s all-hours go-to clubmaker, too. It began in 1991, when his father Laurence, a clubmaker himself and the “LA” in the name of Dennis’s shop, recommended that they attend a Golfsmith clubmaking school together. In the 17 years since, mostly by way of word-of-mouth, his clientele has expanded to include golfers from as far away as Edmonton. That ever-growing, increasingly educated customer base, combined with a golf season that lasts only 120 days a year, keeps Kesterke on his professional toes.
“I have to do everything within those 120 days,” he says, “so for me, it’s always been very, very important to get the product, get it here as quickly as I can, and provide that availability to my clients.”
Adding to the pressure, those clients are coming to Kesterke with more and more knowledge these days. It’s a challenge for him to stay ahead, but the increased interest in customization is also a vindication of the advice he’s been giving for almost two decades.
“I had a customer say to me the other day, ‘I need a new shaft in my driver. What can you get me, and where’s the kick point?’” he says. “Ten years ago, a customer didn’t know a kick point from a kick in the butt. As they are more educated, we have to be more educated. If you don’t have your schooling and accreditation, then you can’t be expected to be an expert in the field.
“At one time,” he continues, “people had old-style clubs and they were happy with that. Now they’re not. Even if you look at the ads that pro-line companies are doing, they’re all leaning now toward custom fitting. I look at that and think, ‘Wow, we were doing the right thing back in 1991, and it took the pro lines this long to catch up.’”
Doing the right thing by his customers, it turns out, is its own reward. “Number one, I really enjoy the clients,” Kesterke says. “I really enjoy seeing people improve from having properly fitted equipment. My philosophy has been that the ability to improve starts with equipment that fits. So if I can get a particular lady into a club that fits her, she is going to be just ecstatic. It may not be that huge of a thing that I’ve done, but it changes the way she plays the game.”
From the customer’s perspective, of course, game improvement is a huge thing. Maybe not rescue-from-a-burning-building huge, but that’s okay. Dennis Kesterke has that base covered, too.