Owner and operator of Dana Rader Golf School in Charlotte, N.C., she grew up in Morganton, N.C., played on the men's golf team at Pfeiffer University (N.C.) and launched a short career as a playing professional only to discover her true love of teaching.
Rader opened her own golf school in 1987, and three years later, was honored as the LPGA's National Teacher of the Year. She earned LPGA Master Professional status in 2003.
Dana Rader, currently in her 28th year as an LPGA member, takes over in 2010 as the LPGA's Teaching and Club Professionals (T&CP) national president. An alumna of the Tampa Bay Mini-Tour, which became the FUTURES Golf Tour and later, the Duramed FUTURES Tour, Rader recently spoke to duramedfuturestour.com senior writer Lisa D. Mickey about her new role.
LPGA: You have come a long way from your days on a men's golf team at a small North Carolina college. Did you envision where you are now back then?
RADER: I guess I thought I was going to be an LPGA Tour player. That's all I thought about in college and in my first years of playing on the Tampa Bay Mini-Tour. I got out there with people like Jane Geddes, Rosie Jones and Colleen Walker and found out that I wasn't the only one who could play. I went to LPGA Q-School and didn't make it. It was awful, but it was one of those things I needed to do to get it out of my system. I'm one of those people that when the door shuts, I don't try to open it.
LPGA: A lot of players miss getting their LPGA card on their first attempt. Why didn't you go back and try again?
RADER: Because I knew it wasn't for me. It was very clear. I spent two days by myself thinking about it right after that Q-School. I didn't return calls. I knew I was at a crossroads and that I was done playing professionally. You sort of have a time of grieving. I knew it was a real turning point in my life. I wondered, "How do I sever this?" And, "What am I going to become?" And then I drove back home to North Carolina from Florida with the new belief that I was going back to teaching golf and that I would give it my very best.
LPGA: Did you want to stay in the golf industry?
RADER: It was not an option to be out of the golf business. I interviewed once outside of the industry for a job in which I could have made three times the money that I'd make in teaching, but I wanted to stay in golf. The game disciplined me, taught me a lot and gave me a lot. The game still gets me up in the middle of the night, thinking of ways to make my school better. And the bottom line is that I love to teach.
LPGA: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
RADER: The relationship you build with the student. It's fun to see the student "get it," and to see them reach their goals. I really enjoy helping them begin doing something they once could not do and to pull their abilities out of them. I've been teaching for 30 years and I'm starting my third generation of students. For example, in one family, I've taught granddad, dad and now the grandson. I teach men and women and a ton of juniors.
LPGA: Are there any parallels of playing tournament golf and running a golf school?
RADER: As a player, you focus on nutrition, playing strategies, practice routines, the mental side of the game and other things to make yourself better. On the business side, you look at more than just yourself. You try to lead teams and create a need for your business. People don't know they need golf instruction. Teachers have to draw people to them.
LPGA: When did you establish the Dana Rader Golf School and what happens there?
RADER: I was at Peggy Kirk Bell's "Golfari" at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C. I worked with her there from 1985-1987, and I liked her model. I thought that I could do that on a small scale and create in-state golf packages. So I put it on the calendar and got the word out and the school filled up. The school was affordable and people came. My school is located at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge at the Golf Club at Ballantyne. The golf course is in an office park. We have three putting greens, a short-game facility, indoor and outdoor hitting bays, a 300-yard range and of course, all the technology tools. I also franchised it and opened a satellite facility at Statesville Country Club in Statesville, N.C.
LPGA: So why did you want to become president the LPGA's Teaching and Club Professionals?
RADER: It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, but the time has never been more right than it is right now. The skills that I have developed through running a business could help us at the LPGA's T&CP. What I've learned by running my own business is that it's the team that makes my school a success. No one person makes it a success. So I thought, with a great team, could I help change the paradigm and begin to shape a clear message for our membership? Could I help grow the game and make the T&CP better for the teachers and players in our association?
LPGA: What is your vision for the Teaching & Club Professionals?
RADER: To clearly convey the message that we should be the best professionals in how we teach and how we help the game grow. From North Carolina to Massachusetts and beyond, we want our instruction appointment books to be full. We want people booking rounds of golf. And we also want to be effective in how we teach teachers. How do we make people want to find LPGA Teaching Professionals? And how do we create more opportunities for our members?
LPGA: Do you have any special goals for the T&CP?
RADER: To create revenue streams and to continue creating strategic alliances. In other words, how can we help each other in creating jobs? I'd also like to explore new ways to create more value for our members through education programs. Now is the time to pour energy into our product. The old way is not going to work any more. What we're doing and how we're doing it has to change if we want to keep our businesses strong. We have to come up with new ways of thinking and have more of an entrepreneurial mindset. And I'd also like to communicate to the members what our progress is through social media.
LPGA: The LPGA's T&CP membership is pretty diverse and there are 1,300 members. How do you reach everybody effectively?
RADER: You have to speak to the majority, protect your history and your present, while still moving forward in the right direction. The mission is to build our organization and to do it by putting energy and collective wisdom into how we teach and grow the game. For years, we've been gatherers with the notion of, "If you build it, they will come." Now, we are hunters. We have to go out and find creative ways to grow our business. For all 1,300 members of the T&CP, our purpose is to get a golf club in people's hands and to keep it there for as long as we can. We can have a positive effect in the game for rounds of golf, merchandise, range balls sold and golf lessons. All are important to the growth of the game.
LPGA: Why is it that high-level women players always seem to reach a certain stage of their games and suddenly switch to a male golf instructor?
RADER: Paue Can you name a woman teacher who works with a high-level LPGA player? Who are the Tour players working with female teaching pros? I was once told I would never have a nationally ranked golf school unless I was working with a top player on the PGA Tour. I just think women must support women. I know I've helped some players - and I'm talking about good male players - really improve their games enough to reach the college level. Does it hurt when they leave? Yes, but I know I did my job. If I didn't do my job, then they need to leave.
LPGA: Loyalty is a funny thing.
RADER: Yes it is. I think we also must support companies that sponsor the LPGA Tour and the T&CP. Men show their support and brand loyalty well, but women have to learn to support one another. I wish I could see us bridge the communication gaps between players on the LPGA Tour and LPGA teachers. And even after those relationships are built and LPGA Tour careers are over, I also would like to see the T&CP help players transition from Tour life to business. In the T&CP, I see part of our task is creating new avenues. What this economy teaches us more than anything is that the old way is gone.
LPGA: You've given many lessons over the years. What's the best lesson or nugget of information you have ever received?
RADER: There are really two people. Joe Cheves at Mimosa Hills Country Club in Morganton, N.C., taught me the game. He really brought me up on the playing side. But it was Peggy Kirk Bell at Pine Needles who helped me the most on the teaching side. They both instilled in me a love for the game. It's always about the game. I remember it was in 1986 that Peggy got right in my face and told me, "You don't need to be inside a club folding shirts. You are a teacher." People in the golf industry don't have enough mentors, but I can say that I started my own business because of Peggy's encouragement. She wrote me hand-written notes and encouraged me. That meant, and still means, a lot. Because of Peggy, I learned a very important lesson, and that is, what your teachers have can be very contagious. I certainly hope I have it all my life.