GLENVIEW, Ill. – March 17, 2021 – Mark Labiak of Ruth Lake Country Club has been voted the Illinois PGA Professional of the Year by his PGA Professional peers. Labiak has had a long career centered around his involvement with the Illinois PGA Section. A successful leader in every aspect of his life, Labiak accepts the Illinois PGA Professional of the Year Award as his first career Special Award.
“Winning the PGA Golf Professional of the Year for the Illinois Section is something I never even dreamed about,” said Labiak. “Getting my PGA Membership was one of the highlights of my life. It’s one of the greatest days ever. The day I received this Award tops that. Getting the phone call, and hearing that my peers not only nominated me but chose me as the recipient of this award is very flattering, words don’t really describe it.”
Labiak has been a member of the PGA for 29 years, but for him, golf started as something he did with his friends during the summer. It wasn’t until much later that he decided to make golf his career. Labiak’s interest in golf started with playing the Joliet Park District courses with some friends. He and his buddies would ride their bikes to the course and play golf all day long.
“I remember playing the Park District Courses in Joliet where I grew up,” said Labiak. “There were three courses we had to choose from, and my neighborhood friends and I would go there in the morning and play golf until dark.”
Labiak and his friends continued to play golf throughout their youth and into high school. They were all self-taught, never taking a lesson or being a part of any clubs, and yet were able to grasp the game well enough to play at higher levels.
“Our dads played golf, but they didn’t play a lot with us,” said Labiak. “None of us took any lessons or were caddies or members at private facilities. When we were teenagers, I played a lot with John Platt (also a PGA Member at Mistwood Golf Club). We would play with the older guys in their weekend games.”
Labiak went on to play golf in high school and played one semester on the men’s golf team at St. Francis College in Joliet before transferring to Illinois State University. He attempted to walk onto the golf team at Illinois State twice but was unsuccessful both times. Labiak then decided to return home to help his mother for about a year, when his long-time friend reached out to him.
“After a year of helping my mom, Platt reached out to me and asked me if I liked my job. I told him, no, I hated it,” said Labiak. “He told me that one of his old teammates from Illinois State was an Assistant Professional in Florida and that we should move down there and work for him. That’s sort of where it all started.”
Labiak’s career in the golf industry started in the Spring of 1986 after about 10 months of working in Florida. Labiak took his first Assistant position at Hillcrest Country Club in Long Grove, Ill. working for long-time Illinois PGA Professional, Steve Benson. It was there that Labiak learned the ropes of the industry and got some great advice that would lead to tremendous success in his career.
“Steve was known as a great player, but he was also a great golf operations guy, instructor and tournament administrator,” said Labiak. “He taught me a lot and told me that I would never get a Head Professional job just from working for him at Hillcrest. He said I needed to target about 20 places and 20 other Head Professionals. Another thing he told me to do was to get involved.”
Labiak took both pieces of advice to heart. He ended up accepting another Assistant position at Exmoor Country Club, where he worked for two years, before getting his first Head Professional job at Joliet Country Club. He also got involved in the Section by joining a committee while he was an Assistant at Exmoor. This was the start of a long stretch of Section involvement for Labiak.
“Getting involved in the Section is something I did because Steve told me to,” said Labiak. “I didn’t know what to expect but once I got involved, I realized that it didn’t take up that much extra time. It takes a little bit of time away from you, but what you get out of it and the people that you meet are incredible.”
“One of the things that is most important to Golf Professionals is our network,” said Labiak. “That is why it is so important to get involved in the Section. It doesn’t matter if you play in events, or join a committee or become a Board Member. It’s about getting to know as many people as you can because that is how you attract help and that’s how you make connections if you want to move on from the position you are in.”
Labiak would go on to become deeply involved in leadership roles within the Illinois PGA. He served on the Illinois PGA Board of Directors twice (three-year terms) and was also an Officer of the Section from 2012 – 2020. Labiak served as the Secretary of the Illinois Section from 2012-2014, Vice President from 2014-2016, President from 2016-2018, and finished his term as the Immediate Past President from 2018-2020. In addition, Labiak was involved in several Section Committees. He was the Assistants Committee Chair in 1993, the Tournament Committee Chair in 2010, the Finance Committee Chair in 2017 and 2018, and the Senior Committee Chair in 2019. Most recently, Labiak served as the Special Awards Committee Chair from 2018 to 2020.
“Being an Officer was by far the most rewarding part of my involvement,” said Labiak. “We got to do some very exciting things that we weren’t planning on. We got to replace a 17-year Executive Director and we found the perfect Executive Director for Illinois in Carrie Williams. That was very rewarding.”
“Mark was very influential on the way that I approached serving the Section as the Executive Director, said Carrie Williams, Executive Director of the Illinois PGA. “He was always there on the sidelines to give me the nudge I needed to assist me with which direction we thought we should take the Section.”
Labiak’s Section involvement is one of the reasons he ended up at Ruth Lake Country Club in 1998, a job he still holds to this day. Labiak ran into Illinois PGA Member, Mike Harrigan at the 1997 Illinois Open. Harrigan, who was the Head Professional at Medinah Country Club at the time, approached Labiak about the opening at Ruth Lake Country Club.
“I was on the putting green at Fox Bend at the Illinois Open in 1997,” said Labiak. “I was talking to Mike Harrigan and he told me that one of his members that he was good friends with was the President of Ruth Lake and asked me if I would be interested in their Head Professional job that had just opened up. I told Mike I was interested. A couple of weeks later I got a call from the Ruth Lake Country Club President. We started the interview process and a month later I got the job.”
“I was in the right place at the right time, and I used my network to get this job,” said Labiak. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to get involved and build a good network in this industry. You must work for great people, at great facilities and you have to get involved and network. Equally as important, is making sure you do the same thing for your Assistants and staff. Your Assistants aren’t going to be with you forever, but you have to get them involved and help them build their network so when there is a job opportunity, they are ready.”
Twenty-five years later, Labiak is still the Head PGA Professional at Ruth Lake Country Club. During those years, Labiak has put in countless hours serving the Ruth Lake Country Club membership and also gave a lot of his time to serve the Section. He credits his family for being able to succeed in all areas.
“When I first started my career, my wife, Joanne, was a flight attendant. After getting the job at Ruth Lake she gave up her career flying to raise our daughters,” said Labiak. “I went from being part-time married for the first seven years of my life, to my wife having full control and full support of everything that went on at home. Without her, I wouldn’t be here today, and I would not be accepting this award. She’s been my rock.”
Labiak’s involvement didn’t stop at the Illinois PGA Section. Over time, Labiak has become rooted in giving back to his community and raising money for charities. His first fundraising event took place in 2010 when he raised money for one of his friends by running in the Chicago Marathon. One of Labiak’s friends had struggled with a terminal illness for years before passing away, which unfortunately left his family of five in a financial struggle. Labiak decided to run the Chicago Marathon and donate all the proceeds to his friend’s family. He raised $17,000 from pledges by some of his members and friends.
Labiak has also had a great involvement in the community through golf. He was a Board Member of the Illinois PGA Foundation from 2012-2020 and has been a part of the Illinois PGA Foundation’s Birdies for Charity event for several years.
“Birdies for Charity is something I’m very passionate about. It’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever done,” said Labiak. “It’s not just about the raising of the money for me. We are over $2 Million raised for the charities and they all involve kids. Anyone that has kids knows that the last thing in the world you want to see is a kid suffering. To be in the event every year and listen to the stories of the parents from Ronald McDonald House, JDRF and Lurie Children’s Hospital really pulls on your heartstrings. To go out and play 72 holes, or 81 holes or 90 holes, it doesn’t matter how tired you are, you do it. Birdies for Charity is something I will stay involved with as long as I can. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever been a part and is the event that started my passion for charity.”
At the club level, Labiak created the Guns ‘N Hoses Golf Outing which is a complimentary golf outing to raise funds for local firefighters and policemen. He also created the Ruth Lake High School Invitational, which is intended to be a tune-up event for high schoolers before the State tournaments.
“Six years ago, we started an event called Guns ‘N Hoses at Ruth Lake to benefit first responders,” said Labiak. “John Platt and I also started the Ruth Lake High School Invitational eight years ago. It takes place right before the conference tournament. It’s a great springboard for the kids to go to the Conference tournaments and prepare for their State meets. Community involvement has become a passion of mine. You don’t think about it until you do it. Once you do it, you realize how important it is.”
Labiak’s selflessness and passion for getting involved as much as he can have translated to the way that he works at Ruth Lake and is something his members have become accustomed to.
“The thing we appreciate the most about Mark is his visibility and accessibility,” said Ruth Lake Country Club member, Hank Sledz. “Mark doesn’t hide in his office. You’ll see him out on the first tee at 7:00 a.m. making sure everyone is having a good time and talking about the smiles we are supposed to have on while we are at the club.”
The mission that Labiak has adopted and instilled in his staff is to make sure people enjoy their time at the club, and help them forget about all the things they have going on outside of the gates of Ruth Lake.
“The best part about doing what we do is watching the smiles we put on people’s faces,” said Labiak. When people drive through the gates, we want them to forget about all things going on outside of the gates for the short period of time they are inside of them. Seeing people smile while they are in the golf shop, or on the first tee, or the driving range, or having a drink after golf, that is what makes what we do worthwhile.”
“Mark has done a great job at Ruth Lake over the past 25 years,” said Ruth Lake Country Club member, Todd Tabachka. “I think all his peers respect him and I think this is just a wonderful thing for him and the club. He is always available to play golf with any of the members if they ask him to play. That’s part of the reason all the members consider Mark a friend not just an employee of the club.”
Labiak has made a career of balancing different responsibilities both in his profession and in his personal life, but he has never wavered from helping others in any way that he can.
“All you can hope is that you will be recognized as someone that does the right thing, stands up for what they believe in and thinks of others before they think of themselves,” said Labiak. “That’s what makes this award so much more special.”
Illinois PGA Communications