Former President of the PGA of Poland and golf enthusiast, Marek Podstolski, has sadly passed away.
Marek held the Presidency for nine years from 2003 to 2012, in which during this time he was responsible for giving a new face and structure to the organisation. During his tenure, the PGA Polska training program was implemented for the first time, and the first Polish professionals completed a 3-year course, receiving the titles of professional instructors and trainers. In October 2010, the Confederation of Professional Golf (then PGAs of Europe) awarded PGA Polska the “Fully Approved” membership status.
Mike O’Brien – creator of the PGA Polska training program, remembers Marek in an interview with Golf Channel Polska’s Katarczyna Nieciak.
KN: Let’s talk about Marek. I think you knew him pretty well?
MO: Yes, we had a very good relationship. We worked together in the Polish PGA and that’s where I really met him. Admittedly before that I had met him once in Postołowo (one of first Polish golf clubs) when he came to play. That was a few years before he became the President of PGA Polska.
KN: He had a great contribution to the development of Polish golf, especially PGA Poland. Not everyone is aware of how much he has done in this area.
MO: Oh yes, I would also add to this his great contribution to promoting golf in Poland. In fact, from the moment he became President everything started to move forward at PGA Polska. If I remember well, Marek’s candidacy was proposed by our member Marcin Stelmasiak. Right after assuming the office, at the end of September I think, we were attending the [At the time, the PGAs of Europe] Congress, which took place in early December. We had to prepare well for this. Marek asked me if I would be interested in becoming a member of the board. I agreed, but under the condition that my responsibility was PGA training. I was well aware that I was not the right person to deal with the organisation of tournaments or marketing etc. I also knew that I could be useful in working on the training programs where basically nothing before had been done in this area. Back then, all board members had a clear role, an area they took care of. This is how I began working closely with Marek.
KN: Do you remember more details about this first meeting in Postołowo?
MO: I saw him at the club a few times and we talked a little bit. I knew he was a Pole who lived abroad and played every day on the Jack Nicklaus’ course in Cologne (Germany). I remember that when Marcin Stelmasiak told me he had a great potential candidate for President, I immediately remembered this first meeting. It is worth mentioning here his very endearing feature – Marek was always a person you remembered. That’s who he was. At every conference, every meeting, Marek was always so go-ahead, so brave, that he talked to literally everyone and anyone. He was always so nice, open and interesting that people just remembered him. In addition, he was also personable and cheerful. It was also very visible what an amazing relationship he had with his wife, who often accompanied him at the Annual Congresses. We always had a great time in their company.
KN: Can you tell us a cheerful story about Marek?
MO: I definitely have some good ones. I remember this one very well and it always brings a smile. Marek smoked a lot at that time. When we flew to the Congress, the first electronic cigarettes had just appeared. Just before the opening ceremony of the Congress we arrived at the hotel wearing suits.
Of course, the entire hotel was a non-smoking area. It was full of teams, delegates, and Marek was not the tallest of the participants. At some point we lost him in the crowd, and we all wanted to stand side by side for the official greeting, so we tried to spot him. Suddenly we saw this cloud of smoke rising from the middle of the room. Of course, it was Marek with his pioneering e-cigarette. In addition, as usual for him, he wasn’t standing aside, but right in the first row, in front of everyone else. We knew exactly where he was even though we didn’t see him. We only had to locate the cloud of smoke.
KN: What was Marek’s attitude towards PGA Polska? How much was he involved in his role?
MO: Marek was extremely proud of the fact that golf came to Poland, that we are still developing and that he was the President of the PGA of Poland. He loved professional golf and appreciated it a lot.
He understood perfectly what impact coaches and tournament professionals can have on development. He was very proud that he was associated with our organization. He was a great promoter of PGA Poland. Especially abroad, anywhere we came, everyone immediately knew that golf was all of a sudden being played in Poland and was quickly growing.
Thanks to him we were the first PGA to prepare our own brochures and materials for the Congresses. He was great at it. Of course, Ewa Podstolska helped him in everything. She also helped me translate the training programmes from English to Polish. During these trips Marek and Ewa had great contact with everyone, including the most important and famous people. I’m a bit shy, but Marek was the complete opposite, approaching everyone on the spot, introducing himself and dragging us with him. Because of Marek and Ewa and the contacts they gained at the Congresses, we received a grant from the Ryder Cup European Development Trust, which helped us to continue financing our trips to the Congresses and in bringing foreign trainers and lecturers to Poland. He also played a role in the Polish Golf Union receiving funding from The R&A. It was thanks to him that the world of golf knew that something was happening in Poland – the one who waved the Polish flag the most was Marek.
KN: How did Marek have such connections? Among others he knew Jack Nicklaus?
MO: Nicklaus built a golf course at Gut Lärchenhof and Marek was a member there. Knowing Marek, it was out of the question that Jack Nicklaus would come to the course and not meet Marek. Besides, when professional tournaments were organized there, first of all the Linde German Masters, Marek was there and met everyone, including Bernhard Langer, or the authorities of the European Tour and Challenge Tour. On the coaching side, he met the most important coaches and activists at the Congresses. Every time I came back to these Congresses after he stepped down, everybody kept asking about him and they always remembered him very warmly.
KN: How did it come about that PGA Polska obtained the Fully Approved status in 2010 from the CPG?
MO: The whole process took us seven years but during our second Congress the CPG recognised the progress we had made in our training and education programme. In Poland there were probably 27 people teaching golf at that time and everyone entered the program and started their training. Of course, we also had to go through the process of assessment of the program including the materials and topics. the CPG evaluated how we implemented this program, and how our lecturers worked. Once we got the Fully Approved status, the priority shifts towards maintaining it. Marek was very proud of this award. And rightly so, because all this was initiated from when he took the office of the President.
KN: Marek also had his part in developing the Polish professional tournament landscape didn’t he? These included the Challenge Tour – DHL Wroclaw Open 2008 and 2009, Omega Mission Hills qualifier at Sierra GC and the finals of the Pro Golf Tour at Toya GC…
MO: Of course. When Golf 24, the organization responsible for most of these events, was founded, Marek worked closely with them. They were organizing PGA Poland tournaments since 2004. Of course, he wasn’t the person responsible for the tournaments themselves, but he was taking care of many related areas.
Participants remember those first tournaments as great larch scale events that had been well organised. He even organised a PGA Poland tournament at his club, Gut Lärchenhof, which was also a great event.
KN: How do you remember him as a golfer, a man?
MO: We rarely played together, but it did happen several times. Left-handed, with one of the longest swings in the world, a bit like John Daly. He just wanted to play recreational golf. He didn’t have any big ambitions. He had a great passion for golf. As a human, he had another quality that I really appreciated – he always remembered people’s birthdays. And that was in times before Facebook. He called and wrote to PGA members to celebrate their birthdays.
KN: I think we can safely say that he was a colorful figure.
MO: Oh yes. Absolutely! There are a lot of anecdotes about him. Everyone remembers Marek. He fought for PGA Poland and Polish golf. He was a catalyst that initiated it all. We will miss him very much.