Capital Area Golf (CAG): When did you first become exposed to golf?
Matt Clarke (MC): My Dad was a golf pro and he and my Mom grew up on a nine hole course in Canandaigua. I was exposed to the game since day one and had my first set of clubs at five or six years old. I started by just banging them around in the backyard (laughs).
CAG: Did you start playing shortly after that and do you remember your first round? If so, how’d you do?
MC: I don’t think I can recall my first round but I was probably eight or nine years old. My Mom would drop off a couple of friends and I at one of the public courses in Rochester. I think the first time out I probably shot in the hundreds. I do remember my first tournament though, the State Junior Qualifier. I shot 104. I’ll never forget that.
CAG: Is there any particular reason that event sticks out to you?
MC: Well it was my first tournament and I think I went in with an overconfident mentality. Everything that could go wrong went wrong on that day. I felt frustrated and embarrassed; I was very hard on myself as a kid. But I always liked practicing and improving at anything and golf-it was just in my blood so I had to keep at it. I was the type of kid that liked sports in general but I also liked the solitude of golf-its all you out there.
CAG: Do you think that if you were going to start again today, or help someone else start again, that you would change anything about that your introduction to and learning to play the game?
MC: That’s a good question. I have a five year old daughter and I’ve been wondering the same myself. What probably made the difference for me as opposed to my siblings was that we was introduced to the game by my uncle-the man was a real hard driver and constantly pushed you. My brother and sister had the opportunity to learn and practice golf that I did but since he was so hard to deal with he drove the away. Bringing this back to my daughter, I want her to enjoy the game and love the golf course. I’m just going to focus on her having a good time and make sure it’s a good experience.
CAG: Now I’m sure there is a myriad of reason you want your daughter to pick up golf, and one of them could be the advantage it lends you professionally. Has golf done anything for you in this arena?
MC: Oh, golf plays a very, very big part in my professional life. I probably use it every day in my business life, even if it’s just the things I learn about myself and others through the lessons golf teaches. I also get involved in a lot of community golfing events. I’m either chairing or on part of a committee for at least five local tournaments. Along with that, four or five hours with someone really allows you to get to know them. I think really learning about yourself and your strengths and weaknesses helps you out. You apply yourself to your strengths and work hard on the weaknesses. Patience and listening are also very important on all parts of the golf course as well as all parts of life.
CAG: Obviously it also plays a role in your personal life as recreation and a pastime; can you elaborate on that at all?
MC: Absolutely. One of my favorite places to be in the world is a golf course at dusk. It’s peaceful, serene and a great place to unplug. Along with this, I think many people have an innate need for competition and in golf you can still play competitively no matter what your age, unlike other sports. Most of my friends have turned to golf and stayed competitive in their own lives.
CAG: What do you think a child would have to gain from learning the game?
MC: There’s a whole aspect you don’t see in other sport. Socialization is a big part of it and players are expected not to cheat, to call penalties on themselves. In football, baseball, basketball and other major sports there are referees that police and monitor the game, but not in golf. Golf tends to breed an individualism you don’t see in other sports. Most team sports don’t have that component. For example, in golf if 100 players enter a tournament there is only one winner while in football if two teams total 100 players, there are 50 of these players win. So golf can teach a sense of individualism, fair play and etiquette in a social environment. Growing up I worked at a country club and I used this as a tool to watch successful business people interact with each other. It made them more approachable and human.
CAG: Coinciding with the last question, what benefits would a parent see for their child if they took up the game?
MC: Again, they would see that child develop a sense of individualism. They would see them go out and take a task head on. I see parents trying to impart a lot of wisdom on their children-maybe this is overdone. Golf is an activity where kids can be individuals, work hard and learn something.
CAG: What’s the best time you’ve ever had golfing?
MC: I think it would be being on the course with my friends and family. A golf course is just a great place to connect. I really love three things in my life: golf, friends and family. My number one depends what day it is. A golf course is a place to connect with people and enjoy times away from the hubbub of daily life. A particular significant memory and great time I had was in college; winning the NCAA Division III team tournament, making us number one that year. I won the individual title.
CAG: That sounds incredible and definitely like a high point. Have you had any contrasting lows? In other words, can you remember the worst time you’ve had golfing?
MC: I can remember a few specific instances. I was playing with my mother and a friend one time when I was around eight years old. That day I got upset and left the course along with my clubs midgame. There have been various highs and lows. Once I received specific news while I was on the course, being told that a friend who had been killed in a boating accident had a tournament named after him, which brought me to tears. I still look forward to the day before golfing-I’m revved up! Golf gives me something to look forward to that I’m really excited about.
CAG: Does anything bug you about golfing, on or off the course? Any pet peeves?
MC: The first thought I had was slow play. This can be a little annoying partly because people take themselves too seriously sometimes. My advice to these people is to take it at face value and enjoy it, don’t even think about what you’re shooting. The thought that always comes to my mind when I’m having a bad outing is “where would I rather be than a golf course?” Don’t worry about it.
CAG: That wraps up the majority of the questions, now I just wanted to get some background on you. Can you tell me your age, where you work and about those tournaments you oversee?
MC: Sure. I’m 50 years old and the owner as well as principle co-founder of Bouchey & Clarke Benefits, Inc. At Bouchey & Clarke we do health insurance, brokerage work, employee benefit brokerage consulting and administration, among other things.
Last year some of the tournaments I was on included the Rensselear Chamber Golf Classic, the Hillside Golf Fore Kids Classic, the Seton Health Foundation Invitational and the CEO Spring Swing.
CAG: Thank you for your time Mr. Clarke. Is there anything else you might like to add?
MC: I think that golf experience can be a tremendous thing for kids and families. One of the few downsides is that it takes so long and doesn’t fit in with the fast paced society we live in today. I think that this is more of a failing on society’s part than golf. I feel we need to learn to spend the time on things we value and enjoy, like family and self-improvement. It’s worth it, and for me it’s worth it for golf.