By Katie Denbo
Photos by Don Kohlbauer
It’s a fork at which many Canadian boys arrive in their lives: Continue on with professional hockey aspirations, or embark on a different, and likely more fruitful, career path.
Pat Kemball chose the latter, and watched his professional golf career quickly grow. A chance trip to Murrieta in 1998 led to meeting his future wife, at his future home-away-from-home—The SCGA Golf Course—and the rest, one could say, is history.
“Almost as soon as you’re born, you put skates on,” says Kemball, 45, the general manager and director of golf at The SCGA Golf Course since 2001. “In Canada, that’s just what you do.”
Kemball first laced up his skates at age 3 in St. George, Manitoba, a quiet town of 500 people on the outskirts of Pine Falls. About two hours northeast of Winnipeg, there isn’t much to do in the winter other than skate; joining a hockey team and fantasizing about being the next Wayne Gretzky is the norm.
It wasn’t until Kemball was 11 years old, though, that he began to learn golf, the game that would be his life and profession. Neither of his parents played golf or hockey, but thanks to his hockey background, the game came fairly easy to him.
“Hockey and golf are the perfect cross-over sports,” he notes. “The seasons in Canada are perfect opposites, the striking forms and techniques are similar, there are reasons why so many hockey players are on the course during the off-season.”
He juggled both sports through middle and high school, making his way up to the Winkler Flyers, a Canadian Junior A hockey team that is one step below the Western League. The equivalent to a developmental professional team, the Western League is from where the National Hockey League drafts. After a year with the team, Kemball reached his fork.
“I didn’t see myself going much further in hockey,” he says. “At a certain point, you know you’re not going to be the next Gretzky. Luckily, I had another sport to fall back on.” He was 19 or 20 years old, Kemball said, when he was sitting in the golf shop of Pine Falls Golf Club with Gerry Hollins, the head professional. Kemball’s hockey career was over.
“Gerry saw my golf game develop since I was a youngster,” he says. “One winter day we were chatting in the golf shop and he asked if I’d ever thought of a career with the PGA—not as a player, but working at a golf course. I thought that was a great idea.”
Over the next few years, Kemball ventured through the Canadian Tour with moderate success, playing “OK,” he says, while holding down an assistant golf professional job at a local course. At 25, though, he retired from the Tour, being offered a promising head professional job at Carman Golf Club, about 45 minutes north of the U.S. border.
“I worked with several hockey players on their swings in Canada, and they cross over very well,” Kemball says. “There are many similarities to puck- and ball-striking. Both require a level body during the swing, and both are played from the inside of the feet. If you skate on the outside of the feet, or swing a golf club with the body weight on the outside, it generally isn’t going to work well.”
In 1998, Kemball traveled to Murrieta to practice golf at The SCGA Golf Club. His first trip to California was only the year before, and he enjoyed the state, deciding to take a winter off in the Southland. While in the Grill Room at the course, he met a woman named Brenda, who he’d move to California for and marry a year later. Brenda Kemball, incidentally, is the sales and marketing director for The SCGA Golf Club.
“It all came together from there,” Kemball says. “I began to manage a driving range in Menifee, and in 2001 was hired as the head professional at The SCGA Golf Course.”
Kemball hasn’t skated since 1998, and the closest ice rink is in Escondido. His hockey gear, however, is ready to go whenever he is. “I’ve toyed with the idea of playing again,” he says. “It’s been a while but skating is like riding a bike—you never really lose the feeling of it.”