Recreation & Destinations

Priceless Memories on the Greens

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Local golf pros have all of the fun, with a front-row seat to some of the game’s best moments. Here are a few of their favorite memories.

Marianne Kaiser works with a young golfer.

Marianne Kaiser works with a young golfer.

A serene golf course provides an ideal backdrop for making lifelong memories, whether you’re a weekend hacker or one of the game’s top players. It might be a remarkable hole-in-one, a getaway to a golf vacation, or a lazy day spent with family members and friends that sticks with you most. Now that another golf season is here, Northwest Quarterly Magazine has asked some area pros to share a few of their favorite memories.

Like Father, Like Daughter
Marianne Kaiser, Co-owner, Red Barn Golf Course, Rockton, Ill.

The late John Floberg could be demanding of his daughter, Marianne Kaiser, when it came to her golf game. “If I was having a problem, he told me to figure it out,” she says, smiling. But he was also one of her biggest supporters. When she had to qualify to become a PGA pro, there was John, ready to carry her bag during the 36-hole playability test.

“He loved golf,” says Kaiser, who is co-owner and PGA pro at the Red Barn, a nine-hole course in Rockton, Ill. “He owned a bowling alley, Strike at Reitsch’s, but he could have been a golf instructor, too. He always analyzed things. He loved to figure out what makes a golfer tick.”

So it comes as no surprise that one of Kaiser’s favorite memories is the last round of golf she played with her father. It was a beautiful fall day 10 years ago, and it was just father and daughter out there enjoying the day. Kaiser was playing exceptionally well: she even eagled a hole on the front nine. But later in the round, her dad one-upped her, by knocking in a hole-in-one on No. 17. It was the seventh ace in his career. “I always joked that I never got a hole-in-one because my dad got them all,” she says. “But my dad was a good golfer.”

Sadly, a few months later, Floberg suffered a massive heart attack while on a golf range in Arizona, and died. “That’s the way he wanted to go out,” says his daughter. “Out on the course, doing what he loved.”

Last fall, Kaiser was inducted into the Rockford Area Golf Hall of Fame. Her husband, Marty, was there, along with her mother, Jeanne, and the rest of her family. Everyone but her father. “I’m sure my dad was somewhere smiling,” she says. “My father thought accolades were fine, but then it was time to get back to work. He believed that was the way to make yourself better.”

Best Friends
Lloyd McWilliams, Golf coach, Rockford University

Golf has been good to Lloyd McWilliams. During his playing days, he shot a 63 in the last round of the 1969 Men’s City to win the tournament. He went on to win five Men’s City titles and six National Publinx Qualifiers. He was elected to the Rockford Area Golf Hall of Fame and has taught his son, grandchildren and great grandchildren the game of golf.

While these are all wonderful memories, it’s the relationship he has with another local golf standout, Mike Johnson, that McWilliams chooses to talk about. Johnson also has multiple tournament wins, served as a coach and is a member of the local Hall of Fame. The men have been close friends for years. McWilliams picks up the story from here.

“It was a chilly January morning and Mike and I were on our way to the PGA Golf Show in Orlando, Fla. Mike had been battling cancer for the past eight months. He had gone through a rough time and, after clearance from his doctor, decided to travel with me to the annual golf show, just as we had done for the past six years. He hadn’t heard if his battle was done yet or not, so we traveled down the highway, awaiting word from his doctor.

“We stopped to grab some breakfast and just as we pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, Mike’s phone rang. It was his doctor. I could tell from Mike’s conversation that it was good news. After he got off the phone, Mike told me that the doctor revealed the cancer was in remission. We hugged and then we cried together. I was fortunate to be the second person to hear the good news. Mike then called his family, and we had the best breakfast and best trip we could ever have. I was lucky enough to have my best golfing buddy around with me to play more golf.”

Picture Perfect
Duncan Geddes, Director of Golf, Rockford Park District

Early in his career, Duncan Geddes, director of golf for the Rockford Park District, was an assistant pro at the Trophy Club near Dallas, Texas, when one day he and another assistant pro headed over to play a round of golf at Shady Oaks Country Club in nearby Fort Worth.

One of Shady’s most prominent members was Ben Hogan, arguably the most decorated golfer in the history of golf. Hogan was considered one of the greatest ball strikers in the game and is said to have invented practice.

“We were told that Mr. Hogan was on the course practicing and not to approach him for an autograph,” says Geddes. “Sure enough, as we get up the hill on No. 14, a dogleg left, we saw golf balls sprayed all over the fairway. Hogan was standing there, giving a young girl a golf lesson.”

Geddes and his playing partner decided to pick up their golf balls and move to another hole. But Geddes was playing well that day, and when he learned that Hogan was watching him play, he decided to muscle up on his next shot.

“My grip pressure went from 0 to 60,” he says. “I chunked it into the sand and finished the hole with a double bogey. Needless to say I didn’t shine under the watchful eye of Mr. Hogan.” Geddes kept his distance the rest of the day, opting to watch Hogan practice from behind the cover of nearby trees.

The story doesn’t end there. Geddes has a painting dubbed “Golf Champions” created by world-renowned artist Leroy Neiman that includes golf legends Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Sam Snead and Lee Trevino. Through various connections, including his mother who secured the Snead and Player autographs, Geddes got all six famous golfers, including Hogan, to sign his painting, which now hangs in his office at Aldeen Golf Club.

“It was a 20-year process, but I finally got everyone to sign,” he says.

Unforgettable Round
Jason Boaz, Head Golf Professional, Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, Lake Geneva, Wis.

One of Jason Boaz’s favorite golfers is the famous Jack Nicklaus, who won 18 major tournaments during his illustrious career. At the age of 46, Nicklaus claimed his final major championship at the 1986 Masters Tournament, becoming that championship’s oldest winner.

“I can still remember the pose he made when he sunk the birdie at No. 17 with that grin, raising his putter in the left as he followed the putt,” says Boaz, who became a golf professional in 1995, and has worked in Iowa, Arizona, Florida and Alabama, before joining Grand Geneva, which so happened to be designed by Nicklaus himself.

Boaz had a very Nicklaus-like moment when, at the tender age of 25, he was the golf pro at Gates Park, an 18-hole public course in his hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. Gates Park is a very long course and considered one of the most challenging municipal courses in the area.

One night, Boaz took to the course by himself to get a round of golf in after work. It was unlike any round he had ever played before. “I was playing out of my mind,” he says. “I made putt after putt after putt. The hole looked like the size of a bucket. Everything just felt right to me.” By the time he finished, Boaz counted up his strokes: 31 on the front nine and 32 on the back nine for a career-low 63.

Since then, Boaz has come close a couple times to duplicating that remarkable feat. But nothing will compare to the feeling of that first time when, at least for one day, Boaz felt a little like his hero, the legendary Nicklaus.

Tiger’s Town
Judi Sheley, Tournament Director, Rockford Pro-Am

Judi Sheley has been tournament director of the Rockford Pro-Am, the longest-running, free-standing pro-am not associated with an event in the country, for the past 25 years. She has glorious tales of working with the likes of Bob Hope, George Burns, and countless PGA Tour golf pros and volunteers, year after year.

But her favorite golf memory isn’t attached to the Pro-Am. Her lasting memory is about the day Tiger Woods came to Rockford in 2001 to host a two-day golf clinic at Ingersoll Golf Course.
At the time, the Tiger Woods Foundation put on annual clinics in four cities around the country and Rockford was encouraged to apply. After the second attempt, Rockford finally got their Tiger.

When Woods conducted one of his youth clinics here in 2001, Rockford became the smallest city to host a Tiger Woods Clinic. Three years later, his foundation hosted another huge youth clinic in Rockford – albeit without Tiger – and 15 local kids were flown to California for a clinic with Woods and a Disneyland visit. Rockford became the first city to host a Tiger Woods Clinic twice.

Money raised from his visits, and donated by the Tiger Woods Foundation, was used to build the four-hole Learning Links at Ingersoll Golf Course. The enthusiasm for youth golf created by Woods also sparked the building of the youth facility at Patriots Gateway Center.

“Of all the things I’ve been involved with, over the years, bringing Tiger to Rockford is something I’m most proud of,” says Sheley, who volunteered on the committee that handled Woods’ visit. “His people were very impressed with what we could do as a small town. What impressed me most was how excited the kids were to have Tiger here. People were screaming, yelling and jumping up and down. It was a happy day and quite an accomplishment for our community.”

Star Power
Mike Lehman, General Manager/Head Golf Professional, Bowes Creek Country Club, Elgin, Ill.

Whenever Mike Lehman watches Steve Stricker play on the PGA Tour, he can’t help but think about his college days.

Lehman, general manager/head golf professional at Bowes Creek Country Club in Elgin, and Stricker, a two-time All American, were teammates at the University of Illinois, along with current Illini head coach Mike Small, a solid golfer in his own right.

“It was fun to watch those guys play,” Lehman says. “I could tell back then 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 of golf, I had to get a job on the business side.”

Lehman knew his teammate was going to be a champion during one particular tournament, when Stricker was playing one hole behind Lehman’s group. “We were on the green putting for birdie, when this golf ball came bouncing onto the green between our legs,” he says. “We looked behind us and there was Steve on the tee box 400 yards away, waving at us. He killed that thing.”

Stricker went on to have a terrific pro career. He’s won 12 PGA Tour events and earned nearly $40 million. “In my opinion, his swing hasn’t changed that much,” Lehman says. “He’s the same great ball striker and putter that he’s always been, just at a much higher level.”

While the college teammates have gone their separate ways, Lehman still bumps into Stricker from time to time at local PGA Tour events. “I’m proud to know him,” Lehman says. “He was a great person then and he still is.”

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