SENIOR MASTERS PROFILE
Golf has been in the bloodstream of Dave Erickson since the day he was born. Growing up with a golf course as his backyard, the only thing he knew from the time he was born was golf. It comes as no surprise then, that Erickson made his career in the golf industry, and on Monday, August 28, he will be honored as an Illinois PGA Senior Master, recognizing his storybook career.
It started around the age of two, according to Erickson. His father, Howard Erickson, was the General Manager at the Jemsek Family-owned Fresh Meadows Golf Course in Hillside, Illinois. Erickson and his family lived in an apartment above the clubhouse at Fresh Meadows.
“I lived above the clubhouse at Fresh Meadows in an apartment until I was eight years old,” said Erickson. “I lived at the golf course, and I would ride my tricycle around the clubhouse, my backyard was a golf course with a putting green and mini golf course. I started playing golf around the age of two years old. I was too young to know when I officially started because it was all I really knew.”
Playing golf quickly became embedded in Erickson’s life. His free reign at a golf facility proved to be a major part of his life as Erickson enjoyed a decorated playing career that started early on in his junior golf days.
In 1978, Erickson won the Illinois PGA State Junior Championship, an event that to this day stands out for Erickson as one of the reasons why he continued to chase competitive golf.
“The Illinois PGA State Junior Championship was special to me,” said Erickson. “It was one of the first events that really showed me I could play competitive golf, and also motivated me to continue getting better.”
A great golf swing was not the only way growing up on a golf course affected Erickson’s career, it also showed him the different roles within a golf operation. Erickson took his first job at age 11, working for his father at Fresh Meadows.
“In 1967 my family moved out of the apartment above Fresh Meadows,” said Erickson. “I was eight years old, and we moved down the street. My father continued working there and I punched my first timecard at age 11 when I started working for my father in payroll.”
Erickson quickly began working in other areas around the club and remained an employee of Fresh Meadows throughout his high school years.
Erickson attended Proviso West High School and during this time, he continued working on his game and ended his high school career with many accolades. He was an All-American in 1976 and 1977, an All-State Selection in 1977, and helped lead the Proviso West team to a conference Championship in 1977. His four years at Proviso West High School landed him at Florida Southern College where Erickson was a member of the golf team for three and half years.
Like so many others, the itch to play professional golf was strong for Erickson. However, it wasn’t just the competition that kept him chasing his dream, Erickson had the results to back it up.
In 1981, Erickson won the Illinois State Amateur Match Play. He then went on and qualified for the U.S. Amateur at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. Following the conclusion of the 1982 U.S. Amateur, Erickson decided to make it official, as he turned pro the day after his final round at the U.S. Amateur.
Working your way to the PGA Tour is not an easy task, nor is it cheap. So, Erickson returned to Fresh Meadows Golf Course in 1982 and worked as an assistant under Illinois PGA Member and Illinois Golf Hall of Famer Joe Jemsek. Erickson spent his summers working at the course, and practicing then used that money to try and make it on the PGA Tour.
In 1984, Erickson earned his Class A PGA of America Membership and continued his work as an Assistant at Fresh Meadows Golf Course. During this time, Erickson was still experiencing great success on the links. From 1985-1988 he finished inside the top eight at the Illinois Open each year. He also qualified for the PGA Tour’s Milwaukee Open twice in 1983 and 1984. He quickly saw success at the Illinois PGA Section level as well, winning the 1984 Illinois PGA Medal Play Championship. One of the rare achievements in Erickson’s career was qualifying for the 1988 U.S. Open at The Country Club, meaning that he played in both the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur at the same facility. The week after his appearance at the 1988 U.S. Open, Erickson returned home and won the Illinois PGA Assistant Championship.
It was at this time that Erickson was faced with a decision. He was undoubtedly a great player, but after nine unsuccessful tries at PGA Tour schools, Erickson made a life-altering decision.
“Golf is in my blood. Competing is important to me. I had early success in junior golf and as an amateur. So, it was a logical transition for me to continue to play golf professionally after college,” said Erickson. “I was obviously unsuccessful at the Tour schools, but I wanted to stay in golf, so I decided that becoming a PGA Professional was the best decision for me.”
At this time, the Jemsek family was undergoing some changes at Fresh Meadows Golf Course, and they lost their lease on the property. In turn, Erickson went to another Jemsek facility, St. Andrews Golf and Country Club in West Chicago, Illinois. Erickson made the transition with Ron Skubisz, PGA, who had since taken over as General Manager for Howard Erickson, and one other employee. Erickson would become the Head PGA Professional at St. Andrews Golf and Country Club in 1989. However, his role would change rather quickly.
The 1990 Western Open took place at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in Lemont, Illinois (another Jemsek family facility). The third Fresh Meadows employee who moved to St. Andrews with Erickson was asked to move to Cog Hill for the Western Open, and Erickson was offered the job of managing the St. Andrews practice facility in addition to his Head PGA Professional Job.
“Ron (Skubisz) and I were both out at Fresh Meadow when the lease was lost,” said Erickson. “So, we went out to St. Andrews, and by luck, they were building a new practice facility. I became the Head Professional in the Spring of 1989. About a year later, Cog Hill was awarded the Western Open in 1990. So, the gentleman who ran the range at St. Andrews ended up going to Cog Hill because of the Western Open, and Ron, who was the General Manager at St. Andrews offered me the job, and I became the Practice Facility Manager and Head Professional at St. Andrews.”
Erickson would hold this position for 32 years, running the largest practice facility in the Chicagoland area. The practice facility at St. Andrews has also been named as a GRAA top 50 public golf range in America for 13 years straight. Erickson would go on to teach thousands of golfers, mentoring them and their golf games with real-life experience, and was also tasked with managing the golf professional staff.
“The toughest decision of my life was deciding to lay down the clubs and take the position at St. Andrews,” said Erickson. But I did it and never looked back, and it turned out to be a wise decision. Ron was the one that believed in me and I’m forever grateful for that.”
Erickson’s career can only be summed up by one word: loyalty. From growing up at a Jemsek-owned facility to his present role as the Head PGA Professional at a Jemsek-owned facility, Erickson has worked for the Jemsek family for 53 years.
“I’ve been in golf my whole life. I grew up at a golf course and I’ve had just about every job possible at a golf course,” said Erickson. “I have 53 years of work at a golf course and have never worked anywhere else but a golf facility that is owned by the Jemsek family. I’m forever grateful for what the Jemsek family has done for me, supporting me both in my employment and playing career, and my family.”
While at St. Andrews, Erickson has been instrumental in the success of the St. Andrews Golf Practice Center. Among many accolades the practice center has received over the last 34 years, the St. Andrews Golf Practice Center has been named the number one Best Practice Facility at a Golf Course by the Chicagoland Golf Magazine in 2005, a Callaway Nationwide Top Five Green Grass Sales Account in 2009, the 2013 and 2015 West Suburban Living Magazine – Best of the West Driving Range, the eighth most inspiring practice range in America by Golf.com in 2015, and hosted the REMAX World Long Drive Competition Qualifying.
Not to be forgotten is the playing career of Erickson. Although he did not make it on the PGA Tour, he still played at a high level on the Illinois PGA Circuit during his prime and has continued that high level of play today in the Senior Division, winning a variety of different events and earning his way onto Radix Cup teams and Thompson Cup teams on a regular basis.
Erickson’s golf career seemed destined for greatness from the day he was born, and although Plan A didn’t work out the way he wanted it to, he still accomplished many great feats in his career. His unique and treasured career will now be enshrined in the history books of the Illinois PGA.
“I’m so honored to be recognized as a Senior Master,” said Erickson. “To be recognized for all the years of work you have put into something, and also be recognized for the playing career that I have had is truly fantastic.”