Meet the Pro with Go Golf U.S.
Welcome to the 5th edition of "Meet the Pro". If you missed our previous articles, let us quickly explain what/why we do it. A goal of Go Golf U.S. is to build a personal connection in the game of golf again. We want to help players get to know the courses, golf shop staff and Pro's. When we see familiar faces and can add a smile or hello, it makes a better experience for all. So, to gather content for these articles, I (Alan Liwush) put the Pro's on the hot seat for an interview to find more about them to share with all of the Go Golf U.S. community members.
Mike Roeder - GM and Director of Golf Operations at Ravenwood Golf Club
Having played at Ravenwood many times in my life, I have crossed paths with Mike during some of my transactions at the club. Though never formally knowing him, he was always welcoming and helpful when in the golf shop. Having such a beautiful course and facility to be a part of, I was excited to do the interview and get to know Mike better. This particular case was a little different than the other "Meet The Pro" interviews as Mike is more on the business side compared to the teaching side of golf. It was very interesting to hear as many don't know about the business aspect of golf and the operations behind it. Without further ado, please read on for the story and golf journey of Mike Roeder of Ravenwood Golf Club.
Mike Roeder works at Ravenwood Golf Club in Victor, NY. His current position is the General Manager and Director of Golf Operations. These roles allow Mike to oversee all facets of what goes on at the course. As many of the other Pro's have said, "They wear a lot of hats" and that's usually by design. No new comer to this course, Mike has been a part of it since 2003 when he was hired as the GM. Having only been open a year before he got there, his role would be integral to getting this course ready to succeed in the competitive Rochester golf market. Food and Beverage was a big part of his role to start and he carried that into his now 14th year as they will host sixty plus weddings in 2017 alone!
Originally from Minnesota, Mike went to St. Cloud State where he graduated with a finance degree. His Summers were spent working at a golf course which was his first entry into the wonderful world of golf. While others saw him excel in his position during his Summer job, they influenced him to chase a dream of working full time in golf. His next gig lead him to running a 9 hole course in Minnesota followed by chasing the sun down South to Myrtle Beach with a close friend for another job in '87 and the rest was history. From Myrtle he went to Michigan, Florida and then to Ohio where he called home for 6 years before making his way to New York with some influence from his wife. From '95-'97, he spent his time in Binghamton at The links at Hiawatha Landing (from the pictures I saw on the site, this place is a beauty and will definitely get out there to play). From '97-'03, he made his way to the Rochester area where he worked at Bristol Harbour (another great local track). With his experience in running upscale daily fee courses, his fit at Ravenwood was perfect!
Photo above is hole 15 at Ravenwood.
Roeder's Intro into Golf and more
One of my favorite questions to ask the Pro's is, "When did you get bit by the golf bug?" I ask this because it usually takes them back to a special memory in their lives that allows them to share a great story with me. Sure enough, Mike had another good one to share.
At the age of twelve, he was at a Summer school class at his hometown in Minnesota and he won a Putt Putt tournament. This victory happened to come with an over-sized trophy. The feeling of winning in sport was the first lead into his golf journey.
His passion for golf was led by what many young and single men find in the game. That is having little to no responsibilities, playing A LOT and working in the business. This allowed him to pick his career path relatively easily. But, it was really the passion for the game that led him into golf. His years of hard work on the business aspect of it landed him with an office with a beautiful view here at Ravenwood.
Our conversation led into play as I like to ask Pro's how often they actually get on the course to play the game. This is a common misconception by many people that think "all golf professionals do is play golf." Mike's response was, "I love what I do, but I don't get to play much, and that's OK because its a hard sport anyway (jokingly saying). Although Pro's don't really get a lot of opportunities to play, we can all make more time to. We just find that when we are out there, there are more things that we should be doing and you feel a little bit guilty about playing. I played about 12 times this year and 5 of them was when I was home for a reunion in Minnesota. 10-15 rounds per year is usually all I play."
For me, hearing that Pro's don't get to play the game as much anymore is saddening. This is because I know they got into it from the passion for the game. Though Mike doesn't get to play much anymore, he has what MANY don't have, A hole in one! After I asked Mike the question if he had one, he responded with, "Yes, I actually have four." With his stoic demeanor, he kindly told me about the most important and first one. He was 14 years old playing with his Buddy Randy at a course near his home. He said, "thankfully, the 5th hole tee backs up to the road that leads to the entrance of the golf course. Randy’s parents were leaving and they stopped to watch us hit. Of course, I told them to pay attention because I was going to hit it close! I hit it and the ball went in the hole. I can't imagine what they would have said if two 14 year old's said their buddy got a hole-in-one." Good thing for Mike that he had some reliable witnesses, even though he didn't need it because he got 3 more... Mike is currently in the lead for Pro's I have interviewed with hole-in-one's and will likely remain the champ!
Roeder's steps to becoming a PGA Professional
Mike's path to becoming a Pro was through the apprenticeship program. In this program, you have to gain 36 credits. The credits were awarded by working for a Class A PGA professional and PGA affiliated facililties. The program required 36 credits (one was earned per month) and you needed to attend PGA business schools as well. Roeder attended the first business school in Myrtle Beach. The business school process is about a week long and you learn new tips from the Pro's you work for and then test out at the end of the session. Then, you go to business school 2 about a year later after having all of the required credits. Business School 2 is more serious as you go through an open interview and presentation about what you learned. A board of directors judge if you should be given a class A affiliation or not. Your class affiliation determines the role as a Head or Assistant Pro.
Mike's class A certification led him on the path we talked about in the background section above. He climbed the rank from Assistant, to Head and then to GM and Director of Golf Ops. Through his training and experience, Mike found a niche in running new upscale daily fee facilities that need an infusion of advertising and marketing.
His background in finance (which came from his studies at St Cloud State University) and having a father who owned his own business lead him to the management and business side of golf rather than teaching. Roeder said, "I did teach and was an instructor as a PGA Professional. I could still teach if I wanted to, but I prefer the business aspect instead. Those business courses in school and apprenticeship program really helped prepare me for this." In conversation with Mike, I can tell his business savvy attitude has helped him become successful in these roles.
Q and A
Q: Most frequently asked questions by golfers?
A: "Its been a while since I've been in teaching, but everybody seems to ask me, "How can I be more consistent?" I always encourage people who play here often to #1 take lessons from a PGA Pro and I also encourage them to get fitted for equipment. Having the proper gear that fits their swing speed/style to maximize their ability to hit the golf ball is extremely beneficial. All of this is great, but it still all goes back to the basic fundamentals of good grip/alignment/posture/balance which are often highlighted from lessons. I also recommend putting some time into it. You have to practice what you learn. If I was to get back into teaching again, I would focus on the short game first as this can really save a lot of strokes."
Mike is not the only person who has said to work on the short game first. I see a lot of people who want to go to the range and pull out the driver. Big no no if you really want to get better. I also agree with taking lessons regularly. I schedule at least one lesson at the beginning of the season and it helps me out big time.
Q: Whats one thing you would tell/teach every beginner level player to work on to set themselves up for long term success in playing golf?
A: "The fundamentals. It's like any sport or anything you do, you have to have a good foundation to start. Even the best players that I taught in the past will go back and work on the fundamentals. It's amazing how alignment works. People think they are aimed properly and the club may be, but the rest of body isn't. All of that needs to be in the right direction and going the right way to give you the best chance to make a good swing. If you start out of alignment, it makes it even harder to hit the ball when you get to the point of impact. "
Q: What are the biggest mistakes/myths you see in golf?
A: "Body size/shape matters. I don't think you need to be the biggest or most in shape guy. To a certain degree, strength doesn't matter that much either. We have all seen even on tour a guy like Craig Stadler or John Daly who aren't fit or healthy by any means, but they sure can hit the golf ball a long way. It certainly helps to be in better condition to play at a higher level and I think you see people in every sport that are a lot more "fit" these days. The thing I like about golf is you don't have to be really strong or fit or tall to play. It accepts all shapes and sizes."
Q: What are the biggest mistakes you see novices make ON the course?
A: "Managing the golf course and the game. For instance, you see someone pull out driver on a hole they probably should be hitting hybrid. This comes with course knowledge and you don't need a driver on EVERY par 4. Distance is over rated in my eyes. If you can get the ball into play with a comfortable distance on the 2nd shot, you're good. Accuracy is really more important. The short game is another place I see errors. People tend to use the wrong club for the wrong shot. They will try and hit the prettiest looking flop shot, which is impossible for a lot of amateur golfers. It goes back to basic fundamentals and knowledge of your capabilities. Small errors can create major mistakes."
Mike is more than right on this. I too, will grab the big dog often and really don't need it at all. Choosing the correct club around the green has been a huge part of improving my game as well. Coming from the guy who always hit a flop shot around the green to playing a smart AND safe bump and run to the pin, I have seen my scores drop big time.
Q: Who are the most impressive lesser-known golf instructors? Can be local or world renowned.?
A: "We have an instructor here at Ravenwood, Paul Sanders, who has been an instructor for a long time. He was a Pro at Midvale Country Club and he's been teaching here a lot. He's had a positive impact on a lot of people over the years. He sort of flies underneath the radar, but is one of the first guys in the area that got involved with Trackman and really understood the value it. He's a guy who would definitely get my vote."
Q: What’s your view on technology and golf. Two meanings to this - with equipment, everyone is developing the “farther” is better approach. & Electric/Mobile tech - more phones, apps and such. When is enough, enough?
A: "You can have all the tech in the world and it's still not going to help a lot of people get better. However, I say the more mobile tech the better. It's fun and it keeps people more engaged. I am all for the golf apps and GPS’s. We are going to be leasing new carts next year with USB plugs. We want people playing some tunes and enjoying it. It's part of life and you have to accept that it's where the game is going. You have to be a part of it, otherwise you alienate a lot of people if you eliminate phones. You'll be cutting out a lot of customers.
In regards to equipment, the USGA knows what they are doing and they can control how far a golf ball goes. Every year the companies come out with new and improved golf balls. I don't know how they do it, but they always say it. I want to help amateurs anyway possible, so I say the more the better, if it helps."
In conversation with Mike, I love his attitude towards making golf a fun sport for all ages (within reason of course). Younger guys like to play music and as long as they are respectful, let the tunes fly.
Q: What do you think golf is lacking? Pro level, am, local or regional?
A: "One of the things that PGA of America has developed is team golf. You see how the Ryder Cup is so popular now and it builds a good team atmosphere. Younger people in general are more comfortable being a part of teams, so it helps with the barrier to entry. I think there needs to be more initiatives to make it more of a team sport so its not so individual.
I think golf's biggest challenge from the point of an operator, is with parents being too busy chasing the kids all around the world with year round sports like travel hockey and soccer. They don't have time to play anymore because they are too busy going to practice or games. We need to find a way to get the family back together doing things like golf. I have a lot of golfers who have been members or frequent players who would come and play with a group every Saturday who i'll reach out to and say, Hey Bob where you been? They'll say, my boy Johny is in travel baseball and we are in Ohio this weekend. After whatever it is they say, I tell them, if you stop playing golf, you'll never play again. There is one friend specifically I ran into in Wegmans the other day and he said you know what Mike, you were spot on! We stopped playing and now we don't play anymore! It's not as important to us because we let it not be. We have other things going on and we let it slip. I always tell people you have to do something for yourself as well. It's not always just about the family, sometimes you need to take care of yourself and get away for a little and unwind. Grab the boys and go play 18. I told my friend you guys would play at 7 am on Saturday and be home before any of the family was even out of bed. If it's something you really enjoy, you should never give it up. It's a lifetime sport and entertainment piece that you can really do forever and you can't say that about a lot of other sports. We all need to find ways to keep people investing time in themselves and work for that time they earned."
This specific question sparked a lot of talk on the subject. I myself, grew up playing golf with my parents so it was a family ordeal. Here we are 20 years later and we still go play on Mothers/Fathers Day. It really is a special part of our lives. When Mike touched on people making time for themselves, this really hit home as well. I thought a lot about my future and making sure I continue to keep the Wednesday night league or Saturday morning time slot with my buddies and keep that tradition. Thanks for the meaningful words Mike!
Q: What do you think you and your team do differently at Ravenwood than at other courses?
A: "We have fun with people here and that's why I think we are successful at what we do. Some of our promoting and branding is that we want people to have a good golf experience. It's not just about taking peoples money, we want them to come and have a good experience on the course and with our people from the starter on the first tee to the bev. cart operator. I kind of preach to our staff what we call “moments of truth”. These moments are where you have an interaction with a staff member or our property. If you hit your ball into a bunker, we want to make sure the bunker is raked out and in good shape. We talk about it with our staff and grounds crew. The grounds crew and maintenance has their own saying “the ball always lands here” and that's anywhere on the course because a ball could land there. And trust me, I have seen a ball land EVERYWHERE on this golf course. It's kind of neat that they have that thought process and buy in so they say, "hey a ball could land here so we need to make sure all areas are in great shape." We try to do the best we can with the limited budget we have. We want people to have good time and enjoy themselves and hopefully they will come back and do it more often."
This was an amazing answer to hear from Mike. I can attest that they put their all into this course and making sure it is in tip top shape. Hearing them build on the culture at the course with "moments of truth" and "the ball always lands here" is something more companies and business's need to implement.
The fun stuff
Name 3 things every player needs in their golf bag? - Can’t be a club.
- Mike's Answer - "Golf Rule Book." My insight - I think this is a great answer. Not enough people truly know the rules and there are A LOT of discrepancies that come up between people playing. Most times we end up involving the Pro in some sort of heated discussion. Let's take the time to really learn the rules...
- Mike's Answer - "A Rain Suit." Mike says, "I watch these kids from the High school teams come out to play and they're so unprepared. The forecast is going to be cold and rainy and they're wearing shorts and a t-shirt! I'll say, Hey do you have an umbrella, rain suit or a jacket? They of course reply, No. They are just not prepared." My Insight - I have to side with the High School kids on this one. When I was that age, I too was unprepared more times than not. Now a days, you need to have some rain gear. There is no reason to get caught with nothing in the bag.
- Mike's Answer "A Flask." My Insight - Have some fun, sip a little swing lube if you're having a rough day but make sure to grab some in the club house as well. The game is tough and I definitely have had my fair share of days that lead me to a beverage to wash away the pain rather than in celebration.
We have listed below some links to great products Go Golf U.S. recommends on Amazon corresponding to Mike's suggestions.
Q: What is one thing you offer in your golf shop you think EVERY golfer NEEDS? Kicker, has to be $99 and under.
A: "Every golfer needs a repair tool and a ball marker. We did have some fun this year with the team branded poker chips in the golf shop. We had all of the NFL, MLB, NHL teams and then some colleges. It became such a conversation piece that people would walk in and go OMG, I'm a Denver Bronco fan or some other team and it sparked such great conversation with people and the shop staff. Also, anything with the Ravenwood logo they just NEED to have (jokingly saying), so they can walk around with it and market for the course as well."
Mike's ideas for what every golfer needs are very real. If you are in Ravenwood, grab a divot tool and pick up your favorite teams poker chip ball marker as well. It's a small but worthy investment. Again, we have links to the products recommended below.
Q: What is your favorite hole on the course and why?
A: "That's a really good question. I would say one of my favorite holes is #18, because it's a risk/reward hole. Being a par 5, which I always like where you can go for it in 2 if you're a better player. I just think the setting with the club house in the background and the amphitheater around the green makes it a beautiful and fun hole to finish on."
This certainly is a beautiful hole as you can see from the picture below. I have been in the situation of the risk/reward in going for it in 2 and have come away with more bogies than birdies when going for it...
Photo of the view from fairway on the 18th hole shown below.
Q: What is your least favorite hole on the course and why?
A: "Least favorite hole on the course for me is #2. It's a short par 4 and I just don't know how to play it. The smart way to play it is hit an iron off the tee so you can hit a full wedge into the green. That's your only way to really get it close on that hole other than getting lucky. Another hole that is difficult, which is why it becomes the least favorite is #15. It's a par 4 on the back nine and from the tips it has an elevated green and a tough tee shot."
Having played at Ravenwood many times in the past, I have to say I haven't been "lucky" too many times on #2... It seems like the real play is to hit iron off the tee and take a full wedge in rather than playing a flop shot and trying to get it close. I love asking the Pro's this question about their course to get some insight on the challenging holes.
Hole #2 pictured below.
Where to find Mike Roeder and Ravenwood Golf Club Online
To help get Mike and Ravenwood GC's info out there, you can find them online on their website at https://www.ravenwoodgolf.com/, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ravenwoodgolf, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ravenwood (handle @ravenwood) and on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/ravenwoodgolf/ (handle @ravenwoodgolf ).
About Ravenwood from the GM himself: "The course was designed by Architect, Robin Nelson. Robin was renowned for his craft. He was one of the 25 hottest architects when the course was designed in 2002. He never really did any designs on the Eastern part of the U.S. He did a few out West, but he mainly worked in Asia and South America. I am actually not even sure how they came across Robin, but he and Roger Latrell, the first manager here, hit it off and they signed Robin on. His goal was to design the golf course without moving a lot of dirt. What you currently see is the natural topography of the land. His philosophy was to design and build a course that would reward people who hit good shots. His goal was to keep the greens less undulating and flatter so if you hit the ball on the green, you had a shot at birdie. He knew it was going to be a public course, so he made it fairly user friendly by making it wide. Their are 78 bunkers on the course and with 5 sets of tees. The course can definitely get challenging from the tips. It was designed that way so that bunkers are in the right places from the correct set of tees. We have bent grass, tees, greens and fairways, so its an upscale daily fee course. When it was opened in 2003, it was voted 5th best new public course in the Country. It's surely gotten some accolades over the years and we hosted some state amateurs, a number of USGA open qualifiers, a US open qualifier and a lot of AJGHA events. The course has grown and matured, but I think at the same time it is fair and people of every level can play if they play the right set of tees."
You can find all of the golf rates and fess online HERE, but the general rates are $65 weekday and $75 weekend for 18 with a cart in season. If interested in a membership, please contact Mike directly. Membership pricing, is around $2400 for single and $3600 for a family, however it does have to be a perfect fit. You should plan on making a tee time. The course does do a lot for members and will squeeze them in to get them on the course as Mike says, "but to be honest we do it for all people playing". They have had great feedback from the membership and they enjoy the course and people here. They have a good value play with a great tournament platform.
That wraps up this interview! Thanks for reading our 5th edition of "Meet The Pro" with Mike Roeder of Ravenwood. I really enjoyed getting to know Mike as I do with all the interviews. His knowledge of the business side of golf he shared with me was amazing and am happy he spent the time with me.
Be sure to stay tuned for next month's edition as well as other blog posts. Thanks for reading!
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