GOLF, Ill. – January 19, 2024 – The Illinois PGA Section has announced its slate of Special Award winners for 2023. Hans Larson (Westmoreland Country Club) has been selected as the 2023 Illinois PGA Professional of the Year and headlines the 14 Illinois PGA Members who won awards in this cycle. With the exception of the Bill Heald Career Achievement Award, these awards are based on the past five years of a member’s contributions, with the 2023 awards placing special emphasis on the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
Following are the 2023 Illinois PGA Special Award Winners:
- Hans Larson, PGA (Westmoreland Country Club) – Professional of the Year
- Michael Camastro, PGA (Silver Lake Country Club) – Teacher of the Year
- Matthew Rion, PGA (Briarwood Country Club) – Assistant Professional of the Year
- Chad Johansen, PGA (Blackberry Oaks Golf Club) – Youth Player Development Award
- David Maslen, PGA (Chicago School of Golf) – Player Development Award
- Kyle Bauer, PGA (Glen View Club) – Bill Strausbaugh Award
- T.J. Sullivan, PGA (GOLFTEC – Oak Brook) – PGA Professional Development Award
- Charles Kletcke, PGA (Edgewood Valley Golf Club) – Bill Heald Career Achievement Award
- Victoria McGowan, PGA (Rich Harvest Farms) – Merchandiser of the Year – Private
- Randy Heinrich, PGA (Cog Hill Golf & Country Club) – Merchandiser of the Year – Public
- Frank Chieppa, PGA (PGA of America) – Distinguished Service Award
- Gary Binder, PGA (KemperSports Management) – Deacon Palmer Award
- Dennis Johnsen (Pine Meadow Golf Club) – Patriot Award
- Vince Juarez, PGA (KemperSports Management) – PGA Executive of the Year
“We are fortunate to have such an outstanding group of PGA Professionals that make up the Illinois PGA Section. Selecting a handful of members for these prestigious awards is never easy, but these professionals have shown extraordinary dedication to growing and improving the game of golf for everyone within the boundaries of the Section,” said Carrie Williams, Executive Director of the Illinois Section. “This class of Special Award winners exemplifies all that PGA Professionals have to offer as experts in the business and game of golf.”
Professional of the Year
Leading the 2023 class of Special Award winners is Hans Larson, the 2023 Illinois PGA Professional of the Year. Presented annually since 1955, this award honors the working club professional whose total contributions to the game best exemplify the complete PGA Professional. Special emphasis is placed on performance and achievement over the past five years specifically in the following five categories; overall performance as a PGA Professional at his/her facility, service to the Illinois PGA and the Association, leadership ability, image, and ability to inspire fellow PGA Professionals, and the promotion of golf.
Larson has been a PGA Member for over 25 years. During this time, he has served as the PGA Head Golf Professional at Westmoreland Country Club in Wilmette, Illinois since 2004. In 2022, he was named Director of Golf at Westmoreland. Prior to his time at Westmoreland, he was the PGA Head Golf Professional at Fox Run Golf Club in Eureka, Missouri from 2001-2004, and prior to Fox Run, he was the PGA Assistant Golf Professional at Butler National Golf Club in Oak Brook, Illinois from 1996-2001. He also served as a seasonal PGA Assistant Golf Professional at Bonita Bay Club in Bonita Springs, Florida during the winter from 1996-2000. Larson gained membership to the PGA of America in November 1998 and became a Quarter Century Member in 2023.
Larson has been heavily involved with the Illinois PGA Section and Illinois PGA Foundation since the beginning of his career. Larson started off as an Illinois PGA intern, and his career came full circle in the beginning of 2023 when he took over as the Illinois PGA Foundation President. Larson has been on the Illinois PGA Foundation board since 2012, serving in multiple areas, including being an Officer of the board for the past 10 years. He also served on the Illinois PGA Section Board of Directors from 2012 to 2018. His involvement included being the Chairperson of the Player Development Committee, and the Director of the Illinois PGA Player Development Task Force. He has also served on the Illinois PGA Public Relations and Communication Committee, the Education Committee, and currently serves on the Illinois PGA Teaching and Coaching Committee, and Pro-Ams Committee.
This marks the fourth Illinois PGA Section Award for Larson, who has also won the Merchandiser of the Year – Private Award (2006), the PGA Professional Development Award (2011), and the Player Development Award (2015).
Teacher of the Year
Michael Camastro of Silver Lake Country Club has been named the 2023 Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year. The Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year Award is designed to recognize a PGA Professional who is an outstanding teacher of golf among the ranks of the Illinois PGA membership. This award is based on a professional’s overall performance in teaching, innovative and special teaching programs initiated or implemented, and articles published, as well as outstanding golfers the professional has instructed.
Camastro serves as the PGA Professional Instructor at Silver Lake Country Club, where he owns and operates the Players Elite Golf Academy. This academy is specifically designed to nurture junior golfers, preparing them to compete in various local and national tournaments, including AJGA, IJGA, MAJGT, Hurricane, and IJGA. Camastro’s focus spans from 10-year-olds to collegiate-level players. His resume of students includes a laundry list of junior golfers who have been successful at the IJGA and MAGT levels and includes numerous Illinois High School State top finishers.
This marks the first career Special Award for Camastro who has been a PGA Professional since 2003.
Assistant Professional of the Year
Matthew Rion of Briarwood Country Club is the 2023 Illinois PGA Assistant Golf Professional of the Year. The Illinois PGA Assistant Professional of the Year Award bestows special recognition to a PGA Member Assistant Professional. Special emphasis is placed on leadership qualities, moral character, the individual’s record of service to the Illinois PGA and the game of golf, and consideration as a well-regarded and model PGA Professional.
Rion was elected to PGA Membership in November of 2023 and joined the Illinois PGA Section as the Assistant Golf Professional at Briarwood Country Club in March of 2022. In the last year alone, Briarwood Country Club has increased its ladies’ participation tenfold. What had originally started as five or six ladies that enjoyed the Pre-Season Clinic has now become a collective group of 45 ladies that enjoy Rion’s teaching and knowledge to help them play more golf. Also, in 2023, Briarwood Country Club established its first PGA Junior League Team with a roster of 12 kids. This was a first for Briarwood Country Club and proved to be a success.
In his short time in the Illinois PGA Section, Rion has made a quick impact. He is a member of the Section’s Assistant Committee where he focuses on retaining Associates as they progress through the PGM program. In addition, Rion is one the biggest supporters of the Illinois PGA Tournament Program. In 2023, Rion played in 15 Illinois PGA events. Rion has also represented the Illinois PGA Section at both the National PGA Professional Championship and the National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship.
This award marks the first career special award honor for Rion.
Youth Player Development Award
Chad Johansen of Blackberry Oaks Golf Club is the recipient of the 2023 Illinois PGA Player Development Award. The Illinois PGA Player Development Award is designed to recognize a PGA Professional for extraordinary and exemplary contributions and achievements in the area of player development. This award considers the PGA Professional’s growth of the game leadership commitment at the Section and National levels and the impact made at his or her facility.
Johansen has been a PGA Member since 2006, spending his entire career at Blackberry Oaks. He founded his golf academy in 2005, only starting with eight kids in the program. Since then, Johansen has worked tirelessly promoting the game of golf. He now has a year-round operation that includes an indoor golf facility for the winter. His programs include junior leagues, coaching programs, junior golf camps, and junior/parent golf tournaments. Johansen was just shy of 700 total juniors in the academy for the year of 2023.
In addition, Johansen has been a huge supporter of the Illinois Junior Golf Association for the past 22 years. Blackberry Okas has been a staple on the IJGA’s schedule thanks to the support of Johansen. Blackberry Oaks has hosted many regional tournaments as well as one-day events, and Johansen pushes all the juniors in his academy to participate in IJGA events.
This marks the first career special award honor for Johansen.
Player Development Award
David Maslen of the Chicago School of Golf is the recipient of the 2023 Illinois PGA Player Development Award. The Illinois PGA Player Development Award is designed to recognize a PGA Professional for extraordinary and exemplary contributions and achievements in the area of player development. This award considers the PGA Professional’s growth of the game leadership commitment at the Section and National levels and the impact made at his or her facility.
Maslen is the founder of the Chicago School of Golf. He founded the company in 2014 with one goal: to grow the game through instruction using a systematic developmental approach and feedback. He started the company by purchasing a Trackman unit and teaching out of indoor dome facilities in the area. In the beginning, Maslen had around 100 students. Fast forward 10 years, and the Chicago School of Golf now has 10 full-time staff members, seven of whom are coaches, 35 seasonal coaches, four indoor facilities, eight golf course partners, and over 3,000 active students. In 2023, the Chicago School of Golf had 1,450 junior golfers attend the Summer Camps across all five camp facilities. In total, Maslen oversees the execution of 24 teaching and coaching programs throughout the year.
This marks the first career special award honor for Maslen.
Bill Strausbaugh Award
Kyle Bauer of the Glen View Club is the 2023 Illinois PGA Bill Strausbaugh Award winner. The Illinois PGA Bill Strausbaugh Award is designed to recognize PGA Professionals who by their day-to-day efforts have distinguished themselves by mentoring their fellow PGA Professionals in improving their employment situations and through service to the community.
Bauer has been a PGA Member for 24 years, spending the last 18 years as the Head PGA Professional at the Glen View Club. Bauer started his golf professional career working for Tim O’Neal, PGA at North Shore Country Club. O’Neal was able to help mentor Bauer through the early stages of his career, and now he is trying to do the same for his assistants. While providing a high level of service and programming is key in Bauer’s role, he feels that the development of his assistant golf professionals is equally important. Bauer believes that if he does his job correctly his assistants will be able to walk into an interview for a Head Golf Professional position and know that there isn’t a question that will be asked that they do not have an answer for. Training them in all aspects of running a golf operation provides them with a foundation that gives them the confidence to excel in this business. Bauer has been able to develop a culture of promoting assistants to their own Head Professional positions, especially in the last decade. This fall, Steven Neville became Bauer’s latest assistant to get a Head Professional job, making him the eighth assistant in the past eight years to move on to a Head Professional position.
Bauer’s primary involvement in the Illinois PGA Section has been on the PGA Professional employment side of the industry. He is a member of the Illinois PGA Employment Committee and is also a member of the PGA Magazine ambassador program. For the last 20 years, Bauer has been a member of the Golf Business Network and has spoken at its Golf Professional retreats.
This marks the first career special award recognition for Bauer.
PGA Professional Development Award
T.J. Sullivan of GOLFTEC – Oak Brook is the 2023 Illinois PGA Professional Development Award (formerly the Horton Smith Award) recipient. The Professional Development Award recognizes the PGA Professional who is a model educator for his or her fellow PGA Professionals. This award is designed to give special recognition to an individual PGA Professional for outstanding and continuing contributions to professional education.
In 2019, Sullivan became the youngest Master PGA Professional in Teaching and Coaching in the Illinois Section and one of the youngest in the country. Sullivan has spent most of his time as an Illinois PGA member focusing on education and mentorship. In 2017, he volunteered to join the Illinois PGA Education Committee where we assisted with the development of the Teaching and Coaching Summit. In 2020, he was called upon to put a virtual seminar together based on some key metrics that correlate directly to skills based on GOLFTEC’s data study. In 2021, he was elected to the Illinois PGA Board of Directors to serve as the Chair of the Teaching and Coaching Committee. Since then, he has led the committee to plan and organize a winter education series. He was instrumental in the planning of the 2023 Illinois PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit and played an equally large role in the planning of the 2024 Junior Golf Summit, which will take place this February. He also sits on the Player Development committee and was able to help provide a continuing education opportunity by helping plan the Harborside International event with Maurice Allen in 2021, and is a member of the Illinois PGA Finance Committee.
This award marks the second career special award honor in Sullivan’s career, and the second consecutive year he has won the Illinois PGA Professional Development Award.
Bill Heald Career Achievement Award
The 2023 Bill Heald Career Achievement Award recipient is Charles Kletcke of Edgewood Valley Country Club. The Bill Heald Career Achievement Award is presented to an Illinois PGA member for a career of service to employers, mentoring, community service, playing ability, teaching, junior golf, education, and going above and beyond the duties of a PGA Professional who has not been previously honored as the Illinois PGA Golf Professional of the Year.
Kletcke has been a PGA Member since 1997 and has spent nearly 30 years at Edgewood Valley Country Club. During this time, Chuck has implemented many improvements to the golf program at Edgewood Valley. Among them was a junior program that not only provided instruction but showed the youth the proper etiquette on and around the course. When a youngster performed to an acceptable level, they were awarded a Gold Bag Tag, enabling them greater playing privileges. Kletcke’s staff throughout his time has been professional, respectful, and attentive to the membership. Chuck’s mentoring has enabled many former assistant professionals to attain good jobs within the industry. And it is important to point out that Kletcke’s lead assistant, Mike Pariso, was selected to become Edgewood Valley’s next Head Professional.
This marks the first career special award honor for Kletcke.
Private Merchandiser of the Year
Vicky McGowan of Rich Harvest Farms is the 2023 Illinois PGA Private Merchandiser of the Year. The Illinois PGA Private Merchandiser of the Year Award is designed to recognize a PGA Professional who has excelled as a businessperson/merchandiser in the promotion of golf at a private facility.
McGown earned her membership in October of 2023 but has worked at Rich Harvest Farms since 2019 where she is currently the Director of Golf. At Rich Harvest Farms, they take great pride in carrying premium products that appeal to not only their members but also guests and clients. McGowan and her team strive to constantly change their displays to keep them appealing and unique. She is consistently exploring new ideas for high-end offerings that showcase the Rich Harvest Farms property. Offering a variety of on-course and lifestyle needs has assisted in the growth of the operation and club image. McGowan also takes great pride in the support of the Kids Golf Foundation and providing offerings that benefit the Foundation with a donation of about $5,000 annually.
This marks the first career special award honor for McGowan, who becomes just the second woman to win the Private Merchandiser of the Year in the Illinois Section.
Public Merchandiser of the Year
Randy Heinrich of Cog Hill Golf and Country Club is the 2023 Illinois PGA Public Merchandiser of the Year. The Illinois PGA Public Merchandiser of the Year Award is designed to recognize a PGA Professional who has excelled as a businessperson/merchandiser in the promotion of golf at a public facility.
Heinrich earned his PGA membership in 2013 and is currently an Assistant Professional at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club. Heinrich has achieved merchandise success by sourcing a variety of different products. To make the buying process easier and more enjoyable, he always has staple products such as tees, ball markers, towels, and socks, seasonal products like rain suits, jackets, quarter zips, winter hats, core products such as golf polos and shorts, and bi-annual tournament merchandise stocked at all times. Heinrich also emphasizes his shop display. His strategy consists of the newest arrivals always being presented immediately when a patron enters the shop, (this is called the “lead in” position), and golf ball towers are flanking the entrance for impulse-buying as well as mannequins dressed in the newest “eye-catching” men’s and ladies fashions. The 2023 Illinois PGA Public Merchandiser of the Year Award is the second Special Award honor in Heinrich’s career, who won this award in 2021 as well.
Distinguished Service Award
Frank Chieppa has been selected as the 2023 Illinois PGA Distinguished Service Award winner. The Illinois PGA Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who displays leadership and humanitarian qualities, including integrity, sportsmanship, and enthusiasm for the game of golf.
Chieppa has had a long and decorated career with Illinois PGA Section and PGA of America. He was elected to PGA Membership in 1984. He began his career as the Assistant Golf Professional at Buffalo Grove Golf Club serving under Carmen Molinaro, PGA and has spent the last 12 years as a Player Engagement Consultant of the PGA of America.
His involvement with the Illinois Section dates back to 1990 when he served on the Membership and Assistant Committees. He was then elected to the Illinois PGA Board of Directors in 1997 and served as needed on multiple committees including the Employment Committee, the Assistants Committee, the Hall of Fame Selection Committee, the Chairperson of the Education Committee, and the Communications and Public Relations Committee (a position he still holds today). In 2006, Chieppa was elected to an Officer role with Illinois PGA, becoming its Secretary. He served as the Section’s Secretary for two years before becoming the Vice President and was in line to become the President of the Section, but in 2010 Chieppa took a position in Franklin, Indiana removing him from the Illinois PGA Section.
Outside of administrative involvement, Chieppa has been an Illinois PGA rules official since 1998, only taking off two years while he worked in the Indiana Section. He has been a frequent volunteer at the Chicago Golf Show assisting with full swing, and short game lessons. He has also played a vital role in the execution of the Drive, Chip and Putt Regional Championship when it lands in the Illinois Section, and with the Section’s PGA Jr. League program.
This marks the fifth career Illinois PGA Special Award honor for Chieppa, who was the Bill Strausbaugh Award Winner (1999), a two-time Illinois PGA Professional Development Award Winner (2000, 2001), and earned the Illinois PGA Professional of the Year honor in 2004.
Deacon Palmer Award
Gary Binder of KemperSports Management is the 2023 Illinois PGA Deacon Palmer Award recipient. The Illinois PGA Deacon Palmer Award bestows special recognition on a PGA Professional who personally displays outstanding integrity, character, and leadership in an effort to overcome a major obstacle in their life. This individual is an unsung hero/heroine at their facility and in their community.
In April 2020, Binder was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that is only detected approximately 1,000 times a year in the United States. During the ensuing three and a half years, as he has battled the disease, Binder has tried to not only let it not negatively affect him but to identify the positives that have emerged from the experiences.
For almost 20 years, Binder has had the privilege of working as the Executive Vice President at KemperSports. KemperSports is the third largest Management Company in the industry, managing, leasing, or owning 130 properties with more than 140 18-hole equivalents. The company employs over 8,000 dedicated staffers who bring those properties to life every day. KemperSports is a top-three national employer of PGA Professionals. Binder developed and administered many national-impact programs during his career. He is most proud of the creation of “True Service”, KemperSports’ proprietary customer service training program designed to not only elevate the customer experience at all KemperSports facilities but to improve the personal well-being of all KemperSports staffers. The program is cutting-edge and impactful.
This marks the fourth career Illinois PGA Special Award honor of Binder’s career who won the Illinois PGA Executive of the Year in 2021, the Private Merchandiser of the Year in 1990, and Public Merchandiser of the Year in 1981.
Dennis Johnsen of Pine Meadow Golf Club is the recipient of the 2023 Illinois PGA Patriot Award. The Illinois PGA Patriot Award bestows special recognition on a PGA Professional who personifies patriotism through the game of golf and demonstrates unwavering commitment and dedication to the men and women who have valiantly served and protected the United States of America.
Johnsen has been a PGA Member since 1976 and has a long and decorated history of involvement in the Illinois PGA Section. Johnsen served as an Officer on the Illinois PGA Board of Directors from 1999-2006. He was the Section President from 2003 to 2004. He has also been involved as a PGA Jr. League Coach and has played host to the PGA HOPE Program, which provides free instruction to active-duty military and veterans to aid in their rehabilitation.
Beyond the Illinois PGA, Johnsen is heavily involved with junior golf and growing the golf initiatives at the National level. In 2012 he was a member of the American Family Focus Team, he was a member of the PGA of America Growth of the Game Committee from 2008 to 2012, he sat on the PGA of America Jr. League Advisory Board from 2016-2018, and served as a member of the PGA of America Junior Player Development committee from 2012 to 2019.
This award adds to the impressive career Johnsen has had with the Illinois PGA. He has been the recipient of the Illinois PGA Merchandiser of the Year – Resort (1991), Illinois PGA Professional of the Year Award (1999, 2001), Illinois PGA Distinguished Service Award (2004, 2021), Illinois PGA Player Development Award (2007, 2009), Illinois PGA Merchandiser of the Year Award – Public (2008), and the Illinois PGA Youth Player Development Award (2015). He is also the only Illinois PGA Member to win two National PGA of America Awards. He was the National Merchandiser of the Year – Public recipient in 2010 and received the National Youth Player Development Award in 2016.
PGA Executive of the Year
Vince Juarez of KemperSports Management is the 2023 Illinois PGA Executive of the Year. The Illinois PGA Golf Executive of the Year Award bestows special recognition on a PGA Golf Professional who has performed outstanding services for multiple facilities/course management/ownership operation, Allied Association, or golf industry executive management position. As one of the highest honors the Illinois PGA can bestow, candidates must possess outstanding qualities of leadership, vision, courage, strong moral character, and a substantial record of service to the Association and the game of golf. Individuals honored with the PGA Golf Executive of the Year award are held as a model PGA Professional.
Juarez is a Master PGA Professional who has dedicated himself to furthering his education and helping others grow as golf professionals. Since 2018, he has achieved every level of certification available through the PGA of America, achieving Certified Professional status in General Management, Golf Operations, and Teaching and Coaching and Player Development. In 2020, Juarez earned his Master PGA Professional certification in General Management. As a Master PGA Professional, Juarez mentors many PGA Professionals who are striving to further their education. With KemperSports, Juarez leads educational sessions working with new General Managers to outline different reporting options and metrics to help them better understand their business. Juarez has helped mentor many Illinois PGA Professionals as they try to achieve Master Professional status and is also the chair of the Illinois PGA Professional Development Committee.
This marks the third Illinois PGA Special Award honor in Juarez’s career. He was the Illinois PGA Professional Development Award Winner in 2019, and the Illinois PGA Bill Strausbaugh Award Winner in 2020.
About the Illinois PGA/Illinois PGA Foundation
The Illinois Section of the PGA of America is a professional organization serving men and women golf professionals in northern and central Illinois who are recognized experts in growing, teaching, and managing the game of golf. The Illinois PGA is responsible for the administration of competitive golf tournaments, educational opportunities, support programs, and growth of the game initiatives. With over 760 members and associates, the Illinois PGA is one of the 41 regional Sections that comprise the PGA of America. The Illinois PGA Foundation focuses its community efforts on promoting the goodwill and growth of the game with an emphasis on activities that benefit youth. Foundation initiatives include: GolfWorks Illinois, youth-based Scholarship funds, PGA HOPE (Helping our Patriots Everywhere), Illinois PGA Birdies for Charity, and the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. For more information about the Illinois PGA and the Illinois PGA Foundation, please visit www.ipga.com and join us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
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Illinois PGA Communications