The beautifully renovated Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club, in Hoffman Estates, has been renamed for its eight new bridges.

Spring Golf: All Play is Work for the Golf Pros

It’s not all fun and games for the golf pros, but their office is pretty enviable. Meet the pros at some of our favorite area courses, and discover what they love about their jobs.

The beautifully renovated Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club, in Hoffman Estates, has been renamed for its eight new bridges.
The beautifully renovated Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club, in Hoffman Estates, has been renamed for its eight new bridges.

Being a golf professional at a public or private course has its perks – check out that scenery outside the office window. But one of the biggest misperceptions is the amount of golf they play.

Surprisingly, golf pros don’t hit the links as much as you think – there’s too much to do. They give golf lessons, order merchandise, hire seasonal staff and do what’s needed to ensure golfers have a great experience. Golfers in our region are fortunate to have some of the best pros in the business. As another golf season quickly approaches, Northwest Quarterly Magazine caught up with some of our area’s top pros to find out what makes them so passionate about the game.

Dan Hotchkin, Palatine Hills Golf Course, Palatine

Most golfers know Dan Hotchkin as the head professional at this Palatine course, 512 W. Northwest Hwy. But when he graduated from the University of Iowa, he spent a year working as a counselor at Chaddock, a residential treatment facility in Quincy, Ill., for at-risk youth and children with behavioral problems.

“It was challenging,” he says. “I was dealing with crisis situations and having to adjust to situations in a moment’s notice. It was important to be calm and think things through. In a way, it was a lot like golf. You have to adjust to course conditions, various shots and problems that arise along the way.”

Hotchkin, a leisure studies major, left Chaddock for a job with Northwest Special Recreation Association, Rolling Meadows, where he spent six years as an area coordinator. When one of his colleagues left for a job with Palatine Hills Golf Course, Hotchkin tagged along, getting hired as the assistant golf course manager. “It was an opportunity to pursue a golf career that I couldn’t pass up,” he says.

Hotchkin, who became a PGA professional in 1996, continues to help people, albeit in a different fashion. Now, he works with golfers of all ages to help them to polish their skills. “It’s exciting to be around other golfers,” he says. “I really enjoy developing relationships with them, giving them advice and hearing about their golf successes.”

One of his biggest passions is recruiting junior golfers. Like most other golf pros, Hotchkin recognizes a decline among young golfers, due in part to more one-sport athleticism and the difficult access to some local courses. “I’m from a town of 10,000, where I could ride my bike to the course,” he says. “Access was easier, more time was available and junior cost was affordable. We have challenges that didn’t exist before.”

This year, Palatine Hills is collaborating with high school coaches to coordinate golf camps. In addition, the course is implementing a price break for any resident or non-resident golfer under the age of 25. Hotchkin is hoping a cost savings of $15 to $20 per round might draw more young adults to the sport. “Maybe they’re in a financial pinch from college, or maybe they don’t have a job,” he says. “We want to do anything we can to help young people enjoy this game.”

Brian Bechtold, Bridges of Poplar Creek Country Club, Hoffman Estates

One of Brian Bechtold’s fondest golf memories was watching his father nail his first hole-in-one in the early 1990s. The miraculous shot took place on No. 6 at Schaumburg Golf Club.

“It was pretty special,” says Bechtold, who was in high school at the time. “I still give him a hard time about it, because he didn’t hit it very well. In fact, he topped it.”

Bechtold and his dad, Roger, have always shared a common bond on the golf course. He started playing at age five, learning from Roger, who spent 26 years as golf coach and athletic director at Harper College, and family friend and mentor Jim Karras. Bechtold played golf at Schaumburg High School, was a two year all-conference golfer at Harper College and worked summers at Poplar Creek Country Club. He became a professional in 2000.

“I’ve always enjoyed the golf atmosphere,” Bechtold says. “It started out on the driving range with my dad and following him around during tournaments that he played in.”

Six years ago, Bechtold became general manager and head golf professional at Bridges of Poplar Creek, 1400 Poplar Creek Dr., Hoffman Estates, where he’s responsible for daily golf and food/beverage operations. Prior to that, he worked at Crystal Lake Country Club in Crystal Lake, and Whisper Creek Golf Club in Huntley.

Joining Poplar Creek was a dream come true for Bechtold, who grew up playing the same course when it was known as Moon Lake Country Club, and later, as Poplar Creek Country Club. Now operated by the Hoffman Estates Park District, the course received a $6.5 million renovation two years ago.

Originally designed by Dick Nugent and Ken Killian, the course changes were made by Lohman Golf from Woodstock. Fifteen of the 18 holes underwent extensive work; the addition of eight wooden bridges is reflected in the new name.

“Transforming this course has been a major accomplishment,” Bechtold says. “I am proud to be part of the team that put this together. It’s become a course that golfers really enjoy.”

As for his own game, Bechtold finally earned his first ace two years ago. But he’s still looking up to his dad, who now has two.

“Golf is such a fantastic game,” he says. “Every time you play is different – elements, course and situation. Plus, I’m competitive, which comes in handy out there on the golf course.”

Mike Lehman, Bowes Creek Country Club, Elgin

Mike Lehman is the head professional at Bowes Creek Country Club, 1250 Bowes Creek Blvd., and for the past 15 years has been the director of golf operations for the city of Elgin. He participated in the Bowes Creek Country Club Development as an owners’ representative for the City, and is responsible for all elements of its business operations. In addition, Lehman helped to develop The Highlands of Elgin, 875 Sports Way, and Bowes Creek Country Club, which he also oversees, along with the nine-hole Wing Park course, 1000 Wing Street.

“It was a great experience, working with the course architects for two of our facilities,” he says. “My experience in golf has been a lifetime of learning. I’ve learned what it takes working with different professionals, including architects, engineers, designers and operations staff. It’s a lot of work, but having good professionals and working as a team make all the difference. The fact that we have two of the top 10 courses in the state proves we’re doing something right.”

An accomplished player and PGA professional, Lehman started playing at Wing Park when he was nine. He was a member of two runner-up state championship teams with St. Edward Central Catholic High School in Elgin; as a member of the University of Illinois golf team, he was teammates with PGA star Steve Stricker and current Illini golf coach Mike Small.

“It was fun to watch those guys play,” he says. “I could tell back then that their skill set was good enough to go far in the game of golf. I had similar dreams of playing professionally, but injuries took a toll on my body. I knew if I wanted to stay in the game, I had to get a job on the business side.”

For 25 years, Lehman has been instructing collegiate and high school players. “Working with young golfers is fun for me,” he says. “Many of the kids I’ve worked with have gone on to play college golf. I hope some of the things I’ve taught my students have helped them to reach greater heights in golf.”

Since he took over Elgin’s program, Lehman has had one focus. “I wanted to change the face of golf in Elgin,” he says. “I took the challenge, and we’ve created a great golf experience.”

Ron Skubisz, Pottawatomie Golf Course, St. Charles

Ron Skubisz soaks up anything he can about golf. “It’s something I love to do,” says the golf professional at the St. Charles Park District’s Pottawatomie Golf Course, 845 N. Second Ave., rated 15th among the best nine-hole courses in the country in 2010 by Golf World magazine. “I like reading about golf and researching its history. It’s a passion, and to work in the area of your passion is a great opportunity. I’ve been lucky.”

Born in Glenwood and raised in Chicago Heights and Olympia Field, Skubisz started playing golf when he was eight. He learned the game on a nine-hole pitch-and-putt course attached to a restaurant near his Glenwood home. “I snuck on so often that they struck a deal with me,” he says. “If I picked up trash in the morning, they let me play free all day.”

Prior to joining Pottawatomie, Skubisz, who became a PGA professional in 1984, served as general manager and director of the St. Andrews Golf & Country Club in West Chicago, Glenwoodie Golf Course in Glenwood, and Fresh Meadow Golf Club in Hillside.

“It’s the golf professional’s role to grow the game,” Skubisz says. “There’s no way, shape, or form that I can say that this is an easy sport to play, but as golf professionals, we can make this a little easier through proper equipment and training.”

Skubisz learned the business side of golf from the late Joe Jemsek, who operated many of Chicago’s finer golf courses, including St. Andrews, Pine Meadow, the four courses at Cog Hill, and Summer Grove Golf Club near Atlanta.

“The opportunity to work for Joe was amazing,” he says. “I learned from the master. He had a vision that no one else had. He saw things other people did, but in a different way.”

Skubisz graduated from college with a finance degree before going to work as an auditor for the Federal Reserve. One day, when he stopped in at the Glenwoodie pro shop to buy a golf shirt, the pro offered him a job managing the course. Eventually, Skubisz quit his day job for the greener grass of golf.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” he says. “I enjoy golf and the people you meet in this business. We share a love that creates a bond between us.”

Matt Boesch, Hawk’s View Golf Club, Lake Geneva

Matt Boesch has played golf all across the country, but nothing compares to the beauty and charm of golf in our region, says the professional at Hawk’s View Golf Club, 7377 Krueger Road, Lake Geneva.

“This is a great area for golf,” says the Washington state native. “I’ve been spoiled by great golf. I’ve played many courses, but I enjoy coming back here, with the terrain, the rolling hills and the pristine grass.”

Boesch started playing golf at the age of 14, thanks to the encouragement of friends. Three years later, he became hooked and got a job managing golf carts at a course in St. Joseph, Mich. He then attended Ferris State University in Michigan – not to play golf, but to become an engineer. “I hated it,” he says. “I enjoyed customer service and being outside. I thought a golf career was the right thing for me.” So, he enrolled in the school’s golf management program.

During college, Boesch completed two internships at Hawk’s View, where he learned the finer points of overseeing course operations, merchandising and tournaments. He also fell in love with the facility. Following graduation in 2006, he joined the Hawk’s View staff full-time; four years later, he was named head professional.

“I get to come to a job every day that revolves around my passion,” Boesch says. “Everything I do is focused on golf, and I’m dedicated to growing the game so more people can get involved.”

The biggest misperception about his job is just how demanding it can be. “Everyone is shocked that I’m busy during the winter,” Boesch says. “But it’s a hectic time. I’m coordinating outings for the next year, revamping the staff, doing research and meeting with merchandise vendors. I love working area golf trade shows, too. It’s fun talking with golfers who’ve never played our course before.”

Every year, Boesch and his staff take on a new project. This spring, Hawk’s View is opening a retail location in downtown Lake Geneva, in an effort to raise the course’s visibility. The store will include merchandise and a golf simulator, which is expected to attract local and regional interest year-round.

“I’m happy I get to do what I do,” Boesch says. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Duncan Geddes, Aldeen Golf Club, Rockford

Duncan Geddes can thank his mother, Bonnie, for his love of golf. Even though she was a competitive tennis player who won 12 straight Wisconsin state tournaments, she was also a solid golfer, and she introduced the sport to her son when he was 9. Geddes took lessons, spent summer days on Rockford Park District golf courses, and eventually became part of the Rockford East High School golf team.

It wasn’t until he took lessons from Butch Pegoraro at Forest Hills Country Club that Geddes realized he could make a living as a golf pro. “I remember asking Butch about his job, and he told me about the demands, such as long hours and working weekends, but it still sounded good to me,” he says. “I was a decent player, but I quickly realized I wouldn’t make a living playing golf. There are professional golfers and golf professionals. I knew my future was in teaching and getting into the business side of golf.”

After attending community college, Geddes moved on to Ferris State University, where he earned degrees in marketing and professional golf management. From there, he interned at the Trophy Club Country Club outside of Dallas, and Westmoreland Country Club in Wilmette. After Geddes earned his Class A membership from the PGA in 1990, he landed a full-time job as Pegoraro’s assistant at Forest Hills.

When Aldeen Golf Club, 1902 Reid Farm Road, opened in 1991, Geddes jumped at the chance to become the public course’s head golf professional and general manager. Joining Rockford’s premier public course at the age of 24, he says, was the highlight of his career.

“I get to work at an unbelievable golf course every day,” he says. “From a business standpoint, I wear a lot of different hats. I have to know the rules of golf, I run tournaments, I handle public relations, merchandising, even accounting. In golf, you have to be a jack of all trades.”

The greatest satisfaction for Geddes, however, is seeing the success many of his former staff members have achieved in the golf industry. He even keeps a running list of those success stories. “I enjoy seeing their successes both in and out of the golf industry,” he says. “That’s what I like most about the golf business.”

Jason Boaz, Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva

Waterloo, Iowa, native Jason Boaz got an early start in golf. He was just six years old when his father started taking him to the local course where the elementary school teacher worked maintenance during summers. “It was something for us to do,” says Boaz, who once shot a low-round 63 in his early 20s. “I’ve always loved golf, since the first day.”

After becoming a golf professional in 1995, Boaz worked in Iowa, Arizona, Florida and Alabama. “When I got into the business, I thought it was good for young guys to have different jobs, with private and public courses,” he says. “The variety gives them a broad range of experience, to better understand the golf business. But now it doesn’t matter what type of course it is. It’s how you take care of the guests that counts.”

There’s been a big push in the industry to make good customer service even better. A happy customer makes for a happy course. “If a golfer pays $160 for a round of golf, he better have a good time, or he’s not coming back,” Boaz says. “But it doesn’t matter what a golfer pays. You should treat all guests the same.”

In Wisconsin, Boaz spent time in Brookfield, Fond du Lac and Menomonee Falls, before joining Grand Geneva Resort, 7020 Grand Geneva Way, six years ago.

“Folks in the Midwest are spoiled with great golf courses and affordable prices,” he says. “The facilities are similar to those in the South, but I think golfers are more passionate during the season. You only have so many good-weather days to play golf. There’s a greater sense of urgency. In the South, you can play almost any day of the year.”

Boaz enjoys the interaction he has with golfers on a daily basis. Customer input, he says, makes him more effective in his job.

“I try to learn from every conversation about ways we can make things better,” he says. “And I love teaching the game and watching people get better.”