A chance meeting in a Richmond park just about sums up Shayain Gustavsp and the passion which courses through her veins on a daily basis.
While plugged into a podcast and doing her morning stretches in Talmey Neighbourhood Park, close to Cambie and No. 4 roads, 33-year-old Gustavsp was approached by a relative stranger, a senior lady whom she’s spotted a few times previous in the same vicinity.
“I would see this older lady with her two grandkids, doing squats and stuff. I thought, when I’m her age, I would love to be like that,” said Gustavsp.
“I would watch her every morning, not knowing she was watching me and trying to see what I was doing. One day she got the courage to come up to me and say, ‘this is a new one today,’ referring to my stretches.
“So we started walking and talking and she told me she was an immigrant from the Philippines, she was a nurse, she has three daughters here and then she told me it was her dream to learn to play golf.”
Up to that point in the conversation, Gustavsp hadn’t mentioned she was an LPGA certified golfing coach, divulging only to her new friend Aurora that she ran her own premium experience curation business for VIP clientele.
“I asked her, ‘why golf?’ as it was such a random sport to name,” explained Richmond-based coach Gustavsp, who does most of her teaching from her garage, via a driving net, and at Mylora Golf Course on Sidaway Road.
“She said it’s in nature and in the Philippines, it’s seen as a rich person’s sport. Then I told her I teach golf and I offered to teach her for free.
“She stopped and said she didn’t believe me; she asked if I was making it up. She asked if I was an angel.”
The very next week, Aurora came along by herself to Gustavsp’s women’s golfing clinic, which was by donation, with proceeds going to the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre.
“She was like a sponge and wanted to learn everything,” Gustavsp continued.
“She loved it so much she now brings one of her daughters every Wednesday. They’ve never held clubs before and want to come back every week. Her daughters take her to the driving range now.
“Aurora voluntarily pays now for the lessons, as do her family members. She’s amazing. On Instagram I do a wisdom Wednesday anecdote from Aurora.”
And therein lies a clue as to where Gustavsp’s priorities lie when it comes to her relatively new business venture as a golf coach of two years.
During a round at Mylora last week with Richmond News reporter Alan Campbell, she told how her primary target is the absolute beginner, "someone who has never been invited onto the golf course or feels too intimated to try."
That focus has seen her gravitate towards women, people of colour and minorities, for whom the sport of golf has all manner of visible and non-visible barriers to overcome.
“The sport has this energy about it. And if you’re a woman or a person of colour, you feel this extra pressure,” said Gustavsp, who is of Pakistani and Persian heritage and still experiences prejudice, despite being fully certified and a BC Golf board member.
“My whole mission is tell people ‘you belong and I’m going to help you understand how it works.”
As such, Gustavsp boasts a unique suite of teaching aids, including a host of YouTube videos which break the game down to the absolute base level, from what to wear on the course to etiquette while playing.
She’s also trying to reach corporate women, many of whom she feels are likely missing out on that four to five-hour bonding that takes place on the golf course between prospective business partners.
“I’ve been taking clients out to play golf for 10 years,” said Gustavsp, referring to her time spent working for the likes of Orlando Magic in the NBA and Arsenal FC in the English Premier League, where she entertained “billionaire clients” on the course.
“You meet people on the golf course, it’s a bonding and connection time. You get to understand a person without any barriers.
“I’ve taken CEOs out to play golf in Spain; they ran massive soccer clubs. I have eight hours with them; I drive there, drive back, four to five hours on the course. I needed their business, they needed mine.
“You don’t have to be that good at playing. Many of the people I played with weren’t that good either.
“My goal is to encourage more women and to give them the confidence to realize golf is a safe space for all.
“Women seem to think they need to be like a 10 handicap to get out there. So they won’t even try it. I only charge $40 for a half-hour lesson at Mylora.
“Mylora has been great with me. They have lots of women’s tournaments there. I’ve approached six other courses in Richmond, but they all said no.”
Gustavsp believes there’s “so much opportunity in this industry,” but there are still “way too many barriers and intimidation that I’m trying to break down.
“This is a passion project for me. I love doing this every day.”