Written By: Greg Johnson
FARMINGTON HILLS – Mark Erickson of Owosso, newly retired in 2016 from a career in public education, was looking to get something to eat in the short term and looking for a retirement activity besides playing golf in the long term.
He found both at a Burger King in the Detroit area.
“There was a guy with a (Golf Association of Michigan) jacket and I asked him if he worked for the GAM, and he said, ‘no, I’m a course rater. He sat at his table, I sat at mine and we chatted about it. It sounded interesting, he gave me contact information and it went from there.”
Erickson, 66, has been named the GAM Course Rater of the Year for 2023, Hunter Koch, associate director of course rating, announced today. The award is presented annually to the course rater who demonstrates outstanding proficiency with the Course Rating System™ and is committed to helping grow and develop the GAM Course Rating Program.
Koch, who volunteered as a course rater for the GAM before joining the staff, said Erickson was the first person he met when he started.
“I think what makes Mark such an admired person within the course rating team is the passion that he shows for course rating that radiates from him to the raters on his teams,” he said. “He has an inviting personality that makes everyone around him feel important to the team.”
Koch added that Erickson’s impact on the GAM is reflected in the number of successful raters who have trained and learned under his leadership.
“And beyond that, from an organizational standpoint, Mark is extremely attentive to detail and is always willing to help when needed. He is extremely understanding, highly adaptable, and always wants to learn more and become a better rater – all extremely important traits of successful course raters.”
Erickson has been a captain/team leader since his second year working with the GAM. He oversees an area in the central part of the state, manages relationships with GAM member courses in that area and coordinates and leads the ratings at those courses. He said he was humbled by the award.
“This is a huge honor,” he said. “There are so many incredible dedicated raters in the state and any number of them are worthy of this honor. I hope they will work with us for a long time and we have the opportunity to recognize all of them. They are truly great people who give back.”
Erickson, who was a school teacher and then an administrator in the Owosso area for 36 years, said he grew up playing and loving golf. His younger brother, Mike, is a PGA Professional and the director of golf instruction at Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville. His wife Kathy volunteers as a course rater, too.
“I have always enjoyed golf and now I feel like this is my way to contribute to this great game by being a part in building the future,” he said. “Rating helps golf and golfers and grows the game. If a course has seven tee boxes to provide the appropriate tee for every golfer, I will rate every tee. Every tee is the right tee for somebody and to make that possible in some small way is fantastic.”
He said if he had to stop course rating today the things he would miss the most are the friendships he has gained in recent years.
“When you are empty nesters like we are (two daughters), retired, the opportunities to forge new friendships are not great normally, but with course rating we have the opportunities to make new friends every year and have friendships with people from all over the state,” he said. “It’s great to still have an outlet to meet interesting people.”
Erickson said he is already excited for the challenge of course rating in the 2024 golf season.
“There are new rating guides from the USGA that are changing things up this year,” he said. “Over 20 changes, many subtle but good changes, and that means a lot of off-season training to develop the skills for rating and the calibration of our teams. It’s a big off-season for us and we will get started with Zoom meetings soon and start going through things for the new season.”
Erickson is happy he stopped at Burger King that day in 2016, though he doesn’t recall the name or ever crossing paths with that rater again.
“It’s great to be a part of a large group of dedicated raters, and golf in Michigan is blessed by the work of the GAM and the dedication of all the course raters,” he said. “I’m very proud to be a partner in that.”
In addition to Erickson being named the Course Rater of the Year, the GAM chose Chris Bixby as the Rookie of the Year and Lisa Stewart-Visniski as the Trainer of the Year. Like Erickson they will be invited to the GAM’s Annual Meeting in the spring where they will be introduced and honored along with other award winners.
The GAM Course Rating Program, which includes 125 or more volunteer raters, typically rates 50 or more courses each year across the state, and the raters are volunteers who collect raw data for the Course Rating System. It is one of the many services provided to Michigan golf by the GAM and is dependent on volunteers. Course raters are typically avid golfers who have an analytical inclination and the process orientation to apply the methodology while playing the course. Their data collection helps to produce the course ratings needed to apply the World Handicap System via the GAM and the United States Golf Association.