Game Changers

Nick Papadakes, PGA, Lending Fellow PGA of America Members a Helping Hand

By Don Jozwiak
Published on

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2023 issue of PGA Magazine.
Though Nick Papadakes may be the 2023 PGA Professional Development Award winner, the honor is sown from seeds planted nearly two decades ago at the outset of his career.
“A lot of what I’ve done in my career goes back to (PGA Life Member) Joe Burch at Sawgrass Country Club in Florida when I was first in the business,” says Papadakes, now the PGA Head Professional at Onwentsia Club in Lake Forest, Illinois. “Joe was really big on mentoring and education, and it stuck with me. I’ve been really lucky in my career to have good timing, and having worked for the right people at the right time. I’ve had a lot of help, to say the least.”
Plenty of other PGA Professionals can say the same for their interactions with Papadakes, whose progressive thinking in terms of professional development has helped PGA Professionals in the Illinois PGA Section and from across the country for years.
Papadakes ran for office in the Illinois PGA Section in 2010 with an eye on upgrading and localizing education for PGA Members in his area. For six years he was Chair of the Section’s Education Committee, helping run 80-plus events dedicated to topics and challenges specific to Illinois.
“The PGA has always had great programs and education for our Members, but it’s at the Section level where we can really make an impact with programs that affect the professionals in your area,” Papadakes explains. “For example, there wasn’t anything at the national level about caddie management, so we established that for all the Chicago- area clubs that have large caddie programs. With the support we receive from the national office, we are able to make things more personal at the Section level.”
Papadakes leaned into this local perspective when COVID upended the golf world just as Illinois PGA Section members were preparing for the 2020 season. As Section Vice President, Papadakes started hosting weekly Zoom calls to communicate the latest happenings with PGA Members from around the state. The calls quickly grew to include hundreds of PGA Professionals each week, and were expanded with specific virtual calls for coaches, PGA Assistants and PGA Members at both public and private facilities.
Helping fellow Illinois PGA Members succeed has shaped Papadakes' career.
Helping fellow Illinois PGA Members succeed has shaped Papadakes' career.
“The uncertainty was scaring the heck out of a lot of folks, and this was a way to bring our Section members together and update them on what we were hearing from national, and what we were doing in communicating with the state government about getting golf open safely,” Papadakes says. “It brought the Section together in a great way, giving us a chance to share the great ideas some people were coming up with, and to show that the PGA really is an Association that pulls together and is there whenever you need it.
“I’ve had a lot of PGA Members pull me aside and talk about how much that meant to them, and we kept going with the calls until the light at the end of the tunnel blinded us when golf then roared back.”
Papadakes continues to give back to his fellow PGA Members and see the fruits of mentorship. His last act as Illinois PGA President last year was swearing in Claire Castetter, his PGA Assistant Professional at Onwentsia, to the Section Board.
The experience took Papadakes full circle to the beginning of his own career and the people who helped him along the way – from discussing teachable moments in Joe Burch’s office to seeing his own staff members take on leadership roles.
“I was so fortunate that I didn’t have to learn everything on my own, and I want to make sure other PGA Members have the same experience,” Papadakes says.

“There’s no better feeling than getting a text message from an old assistant or Section member saying thanks for the guidance, and I also know that it makes my mentors proud that they’re still a part of making an impact on others.”

Nick Papadakes, PGA