Pro is in the swing of things

Golf: Columbia Association brass opted for local talent in choosing Joan Lovelace to be head pro and general manager at Fairway Hills and Hobbit's Glen.

Howard At Play

November 23, 2003|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Joan Lovelace keeps an old black-and-white snapshot of a man and a teen-age girl taped to a wall in the second-story storage area she has been using as an indoor driving range at Fairway Hills Golf Course in Columbia.

"Oh, that," Lovelace said, referring to the photo, which is about waist high and faces a right-handed golfer - which Lovelace is - who swings from a worn, synthetic turf mat into the energy-absorbing, small-mesh nets that make slamming golf balls indoors feasible. "That's me and `Mr. Lupe.' He was my golf coach at Howard [High]."

And that helps explain why Lovelace's recent appointment to a newly drawn job as head Professional Golfers' Association professional and general manager of Columbia Park and Recreation Association's two courses, Fairway Hills and Hobbit's Glen, carries a neat resonance locally.

For in this era of business executives so often viewing top-level administrative openings as best filled by some expert from out-of-town, Columbia Association brass opted, instead, for local talent.

Joan Lovelace is about as local as they could get, in fact. Lovelace, 42, who grew up in Ellicott City's Worthington subdivision and now lives on the "other side" of Ellicott City, off Centennial Lane, learned to play golf as a teen-ager - and later, all the little details of how a golf pro makes a living - at Hobbit's Glen and Fairway Hills' predecessor, Allview.

Her first golf swing, a 4-iron one afternoon with her Dad, she said, came off the 17th tee at Hobbit's Glen. Her shot flew farther than one struck by one of her father's playing partners. She was 12.

"I thought, `Wow, that's fun. I want to do that some more.' Of course, the next three shots I tried never got off the ground - tried to hit harder," she said. But with that experience, her father, John, became her first and main golf teacher. He and his wife, JoAnn, now live on a golf course in Greencastle, Pa.

Lovelace also recalled walking, at maybe 14, into Allview's pro shop and seeing then-pro Gene Ward holding court behind its counter.

"I remember thinking, `I'd like a job like that some day,' " she said. She could never have even suspected that Ward's retirement, at 73, would open up her chance at the Columbia Association's top golf job.

She went to Howard High, Class of 1979, and played golf on the boys team because there wasn't a girls team. She became the team's No. 1 player, although she often competed against the other team's No. 2 player as a tactic Mr. Lupe employed to gain a competitive edge and, often, a team win.

The talent that earned her promotion also started at Hobbit's Glen, where in high school she became a clubhouse employee. Among her duties was washing golf clubs.

She put away her clubs for 3 1/2 years to try college at what was then called Catonsville Community College and worked a year as a lab technician before deciding golf would be her career.

And the rest boils down to hard, targeted work - years of study and experience to achieve professional certification from the Ladies Professional Golf Association, which stresses teaching, and then from the male-dominated Professional Golfers' Association, which stresses management.

A PGA spokesman said that 15 women it has certified are general managers nationally; just 126 are head professionals. Lovelace, though, is the sixth, possibly the seventh, woman to manage a club in Maryland since the 1980s, a state golf association spokesman said.

Dave Leonard, chairman of the advisory Columbia Golf Committee, said Lovelace "has done a great job at Fairway, and she's totally knowledgeable about how the Columbia Association works. This is not an easy job because of all the constituencies a pro has to serve and keep happy - and now she'll have two courses. But she has her finger on the pulse of the things that matter."

Lovelace feels confident, she said, about being able to help heal some of the hurt at Hobbit's Glen, which is being rebuilt after a tempestuous, divisive fight about deteriorating course conditions over the past two years that caused some members to leave.

"I know so many of those people, because I worked there for so many years," she said, adding that "I want to make sure that Hobbit's is a welcoming, friendly place."

Among her new duties: building up the revenue-generating outing business while not offending club members - a PGA initiative, not just the Columbia Association's - and, of course, teaching the game.

Her former teacher, Frank "Lupe" Lupashunski, 77, lives in Ellicott City, near Howard High, where he coached golf for 25 years and taught political science until retiring in 1983. He was also the county elections board president for two decades.

"Somebody told me about that picture," he said. "I knew Joanie had the potential to become a very good golfer, and today, she has the reputation in the golf community of being a very good teacher."

She has also become his boss. Mr. Lupe works part time as a starter at Fairway Hills.

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