GLENVIEW, Ill. – February 16, 2021 – The Illinois PGA Section has announced its slate of Special Award winners for 2020. Mark Labiak (Ruth Lake Country Club) has been selected as the 2020 Illinois PGA Professional of the Year and highlights the 15 Illinois PGA Members who won awards in this awards 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 2020 awards placing special emphasis on the 2019 season. The Illinois PGA awarded the Patriot Award and the PGA Executive of the Year Award for the first time in Section history.
Following are the 2020 Illinois PGA Special Award Winners:
- Mark Labiak, PGA (Ruth Lake Country Club) – Professional of the Year
- Chris Green, PGA (Glen View Club) – Teacher of the Year
- Mark Hirn, PGA (Bloomington Country Club) – Assistant Professional of the Year
- Dan Shelden, PGA (Ruth Lake Country Club) – Youth Player Development Award
- Vince Juarez, PGA (KemperSports) – Bill Strausbaugh Award
- Nick Papadakes, PGA (Onwentsia Club) – PGA Professional Development Award
- Connie DeMattia, PGA (Cantigny Golf) – Player Development Award
- Don Habjan, PGA (Makray Memorial Golf Club) – Bill Heald Career Achievement Award
- Ian Brown, PGA (Butterfield Country Club) – Merchandiser of the Year – Private
- Juan Espejo, PGA (Maryville Golf Academy) – Distinguished Service Award
- Jamie Nieto, PGA (The Preserve at Oak Meadows) – Deacon Palmer Award
- Mike Hainline, PGA (Odyssey Golf Foundation Golf Course) – Patriot Award
- Mike Williams, PGA (Landscapes Unlimited) – PGA Executive of the Year
- Randy Bolstad, PGA (Willow Crest Golf Club) – Merchandiser of the Year – Resort
“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 year’s Special Award winners exemplify all that PGA Professionals have to offer as experts in the business and game of golf.”
Professional of the Year
Leading the 2020 class of Special Awards winners is Mark Labiak, 57, winner of the Professional of the Year Award. 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 and 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.
Labiak is the Head PGA Professional at Ruth Lake Country Club in Hinsdale, Ill., a position he has held since 1998. A PGA Member of 29 years, Labiak started his career at The Grove Country Club (formerly Hillcrest Country Club) in 1986 as an Apprentice Professional. He worked at Hillcrest for seven years, gaining his PGA Membership in 1991, and becoming an Assistant Professional (A-8). In 1993, Labiak did a short one-year stint at Exmoor Country Club before taking his first Head PGA Professional job at Joliet Golf Club in 1995. Three years later, Labiak would take his career to Hinsdale and become the Head PGA Professional at Ruth Lake Country Club, a position he still holds today.
“I’m extremely humbled to win this award and to be named the Illinois PGA Professional of the Year,” said Labiak. “It’s an honor that my peers have selected me to win this award especially in 2020 when any golf professional could have been the Golf Professional of the Year. Other than the day I was elected into membership in 1991, this is the highlight of my career.”
Labiak has been 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 was the Secretary of the Illinois Section from 2012-2014, the Vice President from 2014-2016, the 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 2010, the Finance Committee Chair 2017 and 2018 and the Senior Committee Chair in 2019. Most recently, Labiak served as the Special Awards Committee Chair from 2018 to 2020.
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 since it originated in 2010. At the club level, Labiak created the Guns n Hoses Golf Outing which is a complimentary golf outing to raise funds for the local firefighters and policemen. Labiak plans to stay active in the community by contributing to the PGA HOPE program, a program that introduces golf to veterans, and through the Illinois PGA Junior Tour.
Despite being nominated for many awards throughout his career, this marks the first Illinois PGA Special Award for Labiak.
Teacher of the Year
Chris Green, 34, of Glen View Club in Golf, Ill. has won the 2020 Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year Award. 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 PGA membership. This award is based on a professional’s overall performance in teaching, innovative and special teaching programs initiated or implemented, articles published, as well as outstanding golfers the professional has instructed.
Green, who started with Glen View Club in 2017 as its Director of Instruction, has played a large role in the growth of the game for Glen View Club and its members. He created the Glen View Junior Academy, which filled a void of junior golf instruction at the club. Since its inception in May of 2017, the Glen View Club Junior Academy has grown to 52 juniors.
In the last four years, Green has completely refreshed the ladies' instruction offerings at Glen View Club. There are three options for female members at Glen View Club: the first is The Ladies’ Boot Camp, a multi-day instruction class designed for serious players who haven’t touched their clubs throughout the winter months. Ladies’ on Course Playing Lessons include a two-hour lesson that focuses on pre-determined tactics and student-driven topics. The final option is the Ladies’ Academy Classes, designed to meet weekly through the summer covering one topic per session. Green also created the Men’s Academy Classes in 2020 following the success of the Ladies’ Academy Classes. The 2020 Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year Award marks the first Illinois PGA Special Award for Green who was the 2019 runner-up in this category. Green has also been named to the Golf Digest – Best Young Teachers in America (2018-2021).
Assistant Golf Professional of the Year
Mark Hirn, 59, of Bloomington Country Club in Bloomington, Ill. is the 2020 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 is considered a well-regarded and model PGA Professional. Hirn began his career in the Philadelphia Section in 1991. It wasn’t until 2004 that Hirn became a member of the Illinois PGA. He spent two years working at Dick’s Sporting Goods, managing the golf retail section of the store. Hirn became the Assistant Golf Professional at Bloomington Country Club in 2006 and has served in that role for the last 15 years. Hirn assists the golf operation in all areas. His duties include sharing responsibilities in merchandising, inventory control, tournament operations, handicapping, club repair, first tee and course management, member relations, and providing golf instruction to all sectors of his membership. Although this marks the first Illinois PGA Special Award for Hirn, he has won five Central Illinois PGA Chapter (CIPGA) Awards in his career. He is a two-time CIPGA Teacher of the Year (2012, 2019) and a three-time CIPGA Assistant Golf Professional of the Year (2010, 2011, 2012).
Youth Player Development Award
Dan Shelden, 38, of Ruth Lake Country Club in Hinsdale, Ill. is the recipient of the 2020 Illinois PGA Youth Player Development Award. The Illinois PGA Youth Player Development Award recognizes the PGA Professional who is a leader in junior golf and who reflects the ideals of those who work with youth golfers. As the PGA Director of Instruction at Ruth Lake, developing and promoting junior golf is Shelden’s biggest responsibility. The primary focus of the Ruth Lake junior golf program is to develop a lifelong love for the game of golf in an environment that is motivating, inspiring and fun. Using a variety of holistic teaching methods, Shelden focuses on the development of golf and character. He prides himself on providing a fun and safe learning environment along with elite-level instruction to students of all ages and skill levels. This marks the first Illinois PGA Special Award of Shelden’s career.
Bill Strausbaugh Award
Just one year after receiving the Illinois PGA Horton Smith Award (now the PGA Professional Development Award), Vince Juarez, 44, of KemperSports in Northbrook, Ill. is the 2020 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. Juarez is a Master PGA Professional that 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 a member of the Illinois PGA Professional Development Committee. This marks the second Illinois PGA Special Award honor in Juarez’s career.
PGA Professional Development Award
Nick Papadakes, 49, of Onwentsia Club, Lake Forest, Ill. is the 2020 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. Papadakes has been deeply involved in the Illinois PGA Section, most notably serving as the Section President. Papadakes takes great pride in education and has had strong input on the Section’s education opportunities. He served as the volunteer Education Committee Chair from 2010 to 2016. In that time, the Section conducted over 80 educational events averaging over 30 participants each. He was also a part of the efforts to grow and strengthen the annual Illinois PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit that now averages close to 200 participants annually. As an Officer of the Section, Papadakes has actively promoted educational programs to all Illinois PGA Members. This marks the fourth time Papadakes has won the PGA Professional Development Award (2012, 2015, 2018). He has also won the Illinois PGA Bill Strausbaugh Award (2017).
Player Development Award
Connie DeMattia, 53, of Cantigny Golf, Wheaton, Ill. has won the 2020 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. DeMattia manages and directs one of the largest youth golf programs in the Chicagoland area. This past year (2020) the Cantigny youth golf program enrollment was 1,949 total junior golfers participating in the first four stages of the Cantigny Golf Junior Development Program (CGJDP). Also, 1,144 (50%) of the 2,284 total private lessons performed at the Cantigny Golf Academy were youth private lessons for ages 17 and under. The Cantigny Junior Development Program is a blueprint of modern athletic development methods. DeMattia designed the five stages of involvement for the Cantigny Golf Academy several years ago to meet the needs of the market and his golfers. This marks the third Illinois PGA Special Award of DeMattia’s career who won the Illinois PGA Youth Player Development Award last year. DeMattia has also won the Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year (2010) and was the Illinois PGA Player of the Year in 2005.
Bill Heald Career Achievement Award
The 2020 Bill Heald Career Achievement Award recipient is Don Habjan, 69, of Makray Memorial Golf Club, Barrington, Ill. 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 that has not been previously honored as the Illinois PGA Golf Professional of the Year. Habjan has been a PGA Member for 42 years. He started his career in 1975 as an Assistant Golf Professional at Midlothian Country Club and made stops at McHenry Country Club (1982-1992) and Crystal Lake Country Club (1993-2000) as Head Golf Professional, before landing at Makray Memorial Golf Club in 2001. Habjan has been the Head PGA Golf Professional at Makray for nearly 20 years. He served on the Illinois PGA Board of Directors from 1979 – 1980 and was the Chair of the Assistants Committee, and also held spots on the Tournament and Membership Committees. Habjan’s career can be summed up by his 42 years of service to the Illinois PGA Section and the game of golf in Illinois. He has always been active in hosting events and volunteering whenever needed. This marks the second career Illinois PGA Special Award honor for Habjan who won the Illinois PGA Merchandiser of the Year – Public Facility Award in 2007. Habjan was also an Illinois PGA Senior Masters Honoree in 2018.
Private Merchandiser of the Year
Ian Brown, 42, Director of Golf at Butterfield Country Club in Oak Brook, Ill. is the 2020 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. Brown re-joined the Illinois PGA Section in 2018 when he became the Director of Golf at Butterfield Country Club, and his use of a resort-style merchandising philosophy has played a large part in the club’s golf shop success over the past few years. Constantly changing displays, offering premium products, weekly trunk shows, and fitting days are just some of the ways Brown has boosted sales during his time at Butterfield. This marks the first career Illinois PGA Special Award for Brown.
Distinguished Service Award
Juan Espejo, 62, of Maryville Golf Academy has been selected as the 2020 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. Espejo has worked at the Maryville Golf Academy for 26 years. The Maryville Golf Academy was established in 1994 to offer the Maryville children residing at the Des Plaines campus, the opportunity to work, play and practice at neighboring PGA-led facilities. Espejo provides instruction in golf lessons, caddying, club repair, golf ball recycling, golf facility operations and tournament management. Espejo has also been involved with PGA HOPE and executes the annual Illinois PGA/Maryville Gleason Cup Invitational. He is involved with the Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholars program in raising funds for the Evanston Par Club initiative. He is also a mentor for the WGA Caddie Program. This marks the fourth Illinois PGA Special Award honor for Espejo. He is a two-time Illinois PGA Youth Player Development Award winner (1998, 1999) and is now a two-time Illinois PGA Distinguished Service Award Winner (2015, 2020). Espejo was the inaugural recipient of this award in 2015.
Deacon Palmer Award
Jamie Nieto, 37, of The Preserve at Oak Meadows in Addison, Ill. is the 2020 Illinois PGA Deacon Palmer Award winner. 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 2003, while doing yard work at his family home in Franklin Park, Nieto tried to burn some logs using an accelerant. The accelerant can exploded and Nieto suffered third-degree burns over 65 percent of his body. He was taken to Loyola University Medical Center and was put in a medically induced coma for three weeks while doctors performed surgeries to keep his body free from pneumonia and infections and keep him alive. He wound up losing the tips of the fingers and thumb on his right hand. That led to reconstructive surgery and therapy.
Through a long recovery period and therapy process, Nieto was able to return to the game of golf in 2007. He landed his first Assistant Professional job at Chalet Hills Golf Club before moving to Bridges of Poplar Creek in 2009. Nieto then moved to the resort side of the industry taking an Assistant Professional position at Pheasant Run Resort in 2011, where he set the course record (64) while working there. He became the Head PGA Professional there just a year later before returning to his childhood course, The Preserve at Oak Meadows, as the Head PGA Professional. Nieto, who is deeply rooted in the burn survivor community, instills a simple but impactful motto to his students, staff and burn survivor patients: never give up. Community involvement has been an important part of Nieto’s life since his accident. He created the Burn Awareness Golf Outing that is now in its 15th year. The outing has afforded Nieto the opportunity to annually raise funds to support burn survivors on their road to recovery. The overall goal of the outing is to send burn survivors to the annual World Burn Congress. The World Burn Congress is a conference of burn survivors, their families, medical professionals and other industry professionals to further enhance the lives of the burn community. Nieto has also participated in the Illinois PGA Foundation’s Birdies for Charity event. This award marks the second Illinois PGA Special Award for Nieto, who won the Distinguished Service Award in 2016.
Mike Hainline, 59, of Odyssey Golf Foundation Golf Course, in Tinley Park, Ill. is the inaugural recipient of the Illinois PGA Patriot Award. The Illinois PGA Patriot Award bestows special recognition on a PGA Golf 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. Hainline has been the Head PGA Professional at the Odyssey Golf Foundation Golf Course since 2018. The Odyssey Golf Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides both the therapeutic and recreational benefits of golf to veterans, active military personnel and children and adults with special needs. Through the use of the golf course and its professional staff, the Odyssey Golf Foundation provides free golf instruction, practice and education to participants. Throughout his career, Hainline has operated several different PGA programs and initiatives such as hosting tournaments for the Wounded Warrior Project as well fundraisers for Patriot Golf Day. This marks the first Illinois PGA Special Award of Hainline’s career.
PGA Executive of the Year
Mike Williams, 50, of Landscapes Unlimited, is the first-ever 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 will be held as a model PGA Professional. Throughout his career, Williams has served the Illinois PGA as a member of various committees and was a member of the Board of Directors. As his career progressed and responsibility (and associated travel) increased, it became more difficult for Williams to be as active in the Section as he once was. Nonetheless, he has continued to remain highly focused on the development of those PGA Members and Associates around him. In fact, one of his most important responsibilities is the direction of the Manager and Leadership Development Programs at Landscapes Unlimited. These serve as the company’s mentorship programs and annual leadership conferences. These development programs provide new opportunities for growth and improvement for PGA Professionals. This marks the third Illinois PGA Special Award for Williams. He won the Illinois PGA Bill Strausbaugh Award in 2001 and the Illinois PGA Public Merchandiser of the Year Award in 2009.
Resort Merchandiser of the Year
Randy Bolstad, 62, of Willow Crest Golf Club in Oak Brook, Ill. has won the 2020 Illinois PGA Merchandiser of the Year – Resort Award. The Illinois PGA Resort 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 resort facility. Bolstad incorporated a merchandising philosophy years ago that focuses on areas his facility deems important in retail operations. This plan includes hiring and training enthusiastic Golf Shop team members so they can provide consistent quality retail customer service, making golf shop sense of arrival experience inviting, creating an attractive retail look and feel highlighting a good mix of products for both men and women each year, and an ongoing goal of building a strong rapport with all members and guests. Bolstad is now a 14-time winner of this Award (1992, 1995-2001, 2003, 2005, 2007-2008, 2016, 2020). He is also a three-time Illinois PGA Horton Smith Award Winner (1995-1997).
About the Illinois PGA/Illinois PGA Foundation
The Illinois Section of the PGA of America is a professional organization serving the men and women golf professionals in northern and central Illinois who are the 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 840 members and apprentices, 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 and the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. For more information about the Illinois PGA and the Illinois PGA Foundation, please visit www.www.ipga.com and join us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
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