By Lisa D. Mickey
When former LPGA T&CP President Dana Rader reflects on her career en route to this year’s Hall of Fame induction, she credits those who helped her along the way.
She also describes the two terms she served as the T&CP’s President as the “best six years of my life.”
“Sometimes it was tough,” admitted Rader, owner/operator of the Dana Rader Golf School in Charlotte, N.C. “We had to make cuts and some changes that not everybody liked, but it was necessary. It was fun work.”
And it was work that Rader believed would ultimately make the organization she loved stronger.
“It has made me realize that I had a lot of women in my life who said, ‘Yes you can,’” said Rader. “It’s kind of like the completion of your life’s work when you are recognized by your association for your contributions.”
Along the way, early mentors included the late Marge Burns, a fellow North Carolinian, who could be demanding on young professionals testing under the watchful eye of the T&CP Master Life Member.
“She was tough, but she did it with love,” said Rader of Burns. “She was the one who encouraged me to run for the treasurer’s office of the LPGA’s Southeast Section years later.”
Rader also credits the late Peggy Kirk Bell, a 2000 T&CP Hall of Fame inductee, who gave her a chance to experience teaching group lessons at the famed “Golfari” schools at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C.
The late Anne Casey Johnstone (Hall of Fame 2004) mentored Rader alongside Bell at Pine Needles, reinforcing how proficient teachers know how to reach each student as an individual, even in a group setting.
When Rader launched her own three-day golf school in 1987, three top Southeast Section teachers came to the Carolinas to assist the young instructor. T&CP Life member Becky Sauers and Annette Thompson (2006 Hall of Fame) traveled from Florida to give Rader a hand, and Master Professional Margo Walden drove in from Charleston, S.C.
“I didn’t know jack about running my own golf school and they taught me how to do it,” said Rader, now in her 37th year as a teacher. “The school ended up being successful and I remember asking Annette when I should stop holding them? She told me when it stopped being fun.”
As a young pro, Rader competed on what became the Symetra Tour, and went to the LPGA’s Qualifying Tournament in 1981. She had already been teaching golf for two years when she tried LPGA Q-school, and that experience only confirmed some things to the native of Morganton, N.C.
“I found out pretty quickly that I wasn’t that good,” she said. “But I was already hooked on teaching.”
Earning a living as a club pro was challenging, however. She earned about $6,000 a year as a young assistant professional at a Charlotte country club and she didn’t get to teach very often.
Frustrated, Rader interviewed for a sales job at a Charlotte telephone company, which would pay $40,000 a year. But that new job would require her to work in a cubicle in a windowless room on the fifth floor of an office building. When she was offered the job, Rader asked if she could respond the next day.
Driving from the Charlotte office building immediately after the interview, Rader said she experienced a “defining moment” in her car.
“I thought, ‘Nope. I’m a teacher and that’s what I’m going to do,’” said Rader, who turned down the job.
Rader went on to teach at courses in Charlotte and in nearby South Carolina. She was particularly inspired by the late Dr. DeDe Owens, LPGA Teacher of the Year in 1993 and 1997.
“I wanted to be like DeDe because she was an incredible teacher and she could stand out there all day on the lesson tee,” Rader said.
At Raintree Country Club in Charlotte, Rader taught 20 to 22 half-hour lessons a day, six days a week for six years. She was named as the LPGA’s Teacher of the Year in 1990.
But by the time Rader left in 1997 to become the director of golf at Ballantyne Hotel Golf Club and Lodge in Charlotte, she was ready for a new challenge. She opened the Dana Rader Golf School at Ballantyne, where she has worked for 20 years.
It was former T&CP President Kerry Graham (2008 Hall of Fame), as well as former LPGA T&CP Executive Director Leslie Andrews, who encouraged Rader to run for office as T&CP President. Rader ran and won, and served as the national president for two terms from 2010-2012, and from 2012-2015.
Under her leadership, Rader orchestrated an LPGA T&CP Teaching and Coaching Summit in Orlando in 2011, which sold out the first year.
“When I became president in 2010, it felt like morale was down, but at that summit, there was so much energy in the room,” she said. “The whole point of having a national conference was to reconnect the association.”
The T&CP’s membership had also reached a plateau of around 1,200 members, so Rader and her executive committee discussed how to reinstate members who had dropped out of the organization.
Several by-laws for re-entry into the T&CP were changed to become more welcoming for former members to return. Within a few years, the T&CP’s membership had grown to 1,700 members.
“We basically picked up the telephone and called people and said, ‘We want you back,’” said Rader.
Early in her tenure, Rader helped initiate a program called “100-Hole Marathons,” which enabled club professionals to rally their members for 100-hole local golf events. The events raised $80,000 through donations that ultimately funded LPGA T&CP education programs.
“It was fun for the club members and helped fund some of the revisions in our education program,” Rader said.
Rader and the T&CP’s executive committee scrutinized educational programs that were working and those that were not. While it was tedious work, she and the committee overhauled a number of items, including the association’s education and certification process. The T&CP’s curriculum was also updated, offering some sections online to appeal to younger members.
Regional teaching and coaching summits, as well as the national event, became available to members to provide continuing education opportunities. Those events also enabled T&CP members to network and to “reconnect, member to member,” said Rader.
Another gap Rader wanted to fill was the existing gulf she observed between the LPGA’s T&CP and tour divisions.
“There was a dividing line between touring professionals and teaching professionals — even at LPGA headquarters, so we needed to fix that,” said Rader, who was excited when LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan offered a room at LPGA headquarters to honor T&CP Hall of Fame members.
Rader established an LPGA Leadership Committee, consisting of the LPGA Commissioner, LPGA Chief Financial Officer, LPGA Chief Marketing Officer, an LPGA player representative and an LPGA board member. The group met twice a year to provide strategic direction.
She also brought the T&CP’s executive committee together once a month for a conference call – an important key ingredient in the T&CP’s revitalization.
“Those conference calls kept us connected and focused on our goals,” said Rader. “It helped remind us we’re all one big team.”
The T&CP team also got a little larger in 2014-2015, when an international section was added in South Korea.
And the T&CP National Championship gained greater stability when corporate sponsors, such as Nike, got onboard to support the LPGA’s top teaching and club professionals in their annual competition.
“I feel like I brought some unity back among our membership, along with some excitement,” Rader said. “I wanted to bring us back to our roots and to remind our membership what a great network we have.”
When asked what else she would like to attempt as a teacher, Rader admitted she would like to some day coach college golf.
“I think that would be a blast,” she said. “I’m keeping the door open.”
But on whatever level she is working with students, Rader said she tries to keep one thing in mind: “A good teacher looks, a great teacher sees.”
Now when she looks back, Rader sees the bigger picture of her full career.
“I was nominated for the Hall of Fame in the past and I wanted to get in so bad, but I didn’t get it,” she said. “I always hoped I’d get in, but it just wasn’t my time.”
This year, it is.