Mark’s Excellent Golf Adventure
I remember it like it was yesteday. I was playing golf with my dad at the Humboldt Country Club. I was 10 years old. I’d been making pretty good contact with the ball the last three times that we’d played which was getting to be quite regularly.
Dad got me playing when I was 5 years old. By playing I mean I’d go out with my Dad to the golf course with my three clubs. I had a driver, a 5 iron, and a putter. He carried them in his bag, I’d hit my driver off the tee, and then walk down the fairway hitting my 5 iron until I got to the green. At that time I’d trade it for my putter. If I was having problems on a particular hole, he’d tell me to pick up my ball and bring it up to where he was, or up by the green. It worked pretty well, and by playing this way we managed to keep up with the pace of play and played 9 holes in under two hours walking. Dad’s instruction was pretty simple. He told me to keep my left arm straight, watch the ball, and keep my right elbow close to my side. And he made it clear to me that if I was going to play on the course with adults I had to keep up. That’s why I had to pick up my ball. But things were changing. I never had to pick up my ball anymore. I could keep up, and it was getting to be fun.
(4th hole at HCC)
We were on the fourth hole at HCC. It is a 160 yard par three. I’d been hitting it pretty good, but I realized I didn’t have a club to hit on the par three. My driver would go too far and my 5 iron wouldn’t get there. So, I did what any 10 year old would do. When my dad wasn’t looking I grabbed the three iron from his bag. I walked up to the men’s tee blocks. I put my ball on a tee and looked up to see my dad grinning at me. The club was way too long for me, but I knew that I needed to choke up from all the baseball that I had played. I figured I had one shot at this or Dad would take the three iron back. So I took my time and tried to do the things he told me. “IT WORKED!” I killed it! The ball landed just short of the green and rolled about 20 feet from the pin. I had a birdie putt. That was a first! I was so excited that the first putt went barreling past the cup and I missed the comeback. But now I had a new secret weapon.
(5th hole at HCC)
We went over to the 5th hole. The fifth is the hardest hole on HCC. It is a narrow par 4 that doglegs through a dense grove of trees. I hit a good drive and two three irons later I was just short of the green. The pin was in the back right corner of the green. I was at the front left corner. Dad handed me my five iron. I lined up the shot and hit a little runner that, landed on the front edge of the green and started tracking toward the flag stick. The ball was a little bit left of the cup and starting to run out of steam when miraculously if took a little right turn and disappeared for a chip-in par! COOLEST THING EVER! Game over! I’m good at this! I GOTTA DO THAT AGAIN”
It’s been a life long love affair since then. Summer times were spent on golf courses. No more family vacations in the summer. I’ve got golf tournaments to play. There weren’t many junior golf tournaments in northern Iowa so I played with the men in amateur events. Made the varsity golf team as freshman. I was number one player as a sophomore and seventh in state as a senior. I walked on at Univeristy of Iowa, and made the team, but couldn’t break into the top 5 until I was a senior. That was the best year of my golfing life. Boy was that fun.
I knew I wanted to be in golf. It was 1984 and polyester pants and tasselled golf shoes were all the rage. My golf coach told me that JD Turner was looking for an assistant at the Des Moines Golf and CC. I’d heard that JD was a tough boss but out of respect for my coach I sent my resume and was invited over for an interview. I knew absolultely nothing about the golf business and what happened at big private clubs. I’d grown up in northern Iowa on a little nine hole club. I was in Oz. He spent 20 minutes telling me what I was going to do. He told me I had 24 hours to decide.
I told him that I didn’t need it. Let’s go!
I spent 8 years with JD, a top 50 golf teacher, and one of the best golf professionals in the country. He taught me about the golf business, the most important thing being how to teach the game. The passion for playing was still there, but it was now second to my love for teaching.
It is 1992. I have a really good job. But I’m ready for my own place. I got a notification from the PGA that Westview Golf Course is looking for a golf pro. I send my resume and get an interview at the beginning of December. I thought it went well, but I was the first of twelve that they were going to interview over a three week period. Just before Christmas, they called me and told me that I didn’t get the job. That was fine. It was nothing like DMGCC. I wasn’t that interested anymore. Fast forward to mid January, 1993. Phone rings at the club. It was Mike Reid, Executive Director of the Quincy Park District. He told me that the guy they hired had quit after one week, and that they were bringing in two candidates to interview again, and there was a good chance I’d get the job. I told him, that I wasn’t interested anymore. I went upstairs and told JD. He looked at me and said, “Are you crazy?” I told him it was a lousy job. He said, “So make it into a good one. You know way more than anyone associated with that course. With your teaching skills, you’ll be able to really do some good down there.”
I walked downstairs and called Mike Reid. I told him that I had reconsidered. I drove to Quincy two days later and interviewed for the job. They asked me about my wife. I told them that I had over married. (Wow is that true.) I think that did it. They offered me the job, and I accepted.
I showed up at Westview on Valentines day in 1993. Culture shock! I’d come from a very private course to a very public course. Goal number one was to teach them how to use the phone to take a tee time. Only took about three years.
I started teaching in April. All lessons were given at the Knights of Columbus in Quincy. Not ideal, but it was all mine. Students were responding. I was getting referrals. I wanted more. In February of 1994 I went to Dallas and spent two days with Hank Haney. I’d seen him at a PGA Business school and had enjoyed his talk. Now Haney had his own place. I wanted to see it. It gave me a vision. I wanted my own place too!
Years are going by. Students are getting better. State champions emerge, Dan Citro, Emily Powers, Luke Guthrie, The teams are doing well. I’d started the Quincy University Men’s and Women’s Programs. Loaded my students, we’d gone to NCAA Regionals within the first three years of starting the program. The guy with the bad back could now play golf with his friends again. We invented a totally new swing for the stroke victim. Special golf clubs for the vet. Lives were changed. Scholarships were offered and accepted. There were fewer and fewer golfers but record sales in the Pro Shop. I was exhausted. Something had to give. I’d had the vision for years, my wife said go for it.
In 2006, The Christensen Golf Academy was born. I borrowed money from the retirment account. I took a second mortgage on the house. I used everything I’d learned in 20 years of being a golf professional to make my vision happen. I forged partnerships with people and places to create win/win situations and we all flouished. I cared about my students and continued to try to get better at my craft. I had a blast! I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was me! The Gateway PGA noticed. They named me Teacher of the Year in 2012. I cried. I cried a lot. I called my teachers. I called my Dad!