Featuring 100 Women: Forging Champions

Former Iowa State women’s golf coach, Joan Gearhart

The Masters Behind Iowa’s High School and College Golf Success

In the verdant fields and sprawling campuses of Iowa, where the heartbeat of golf echoes across meticulously manicured greens, a cadre of dedicated mentors shape the next generation of golfing talent. From the windswept fairways of high school courses to the storied collegiate arenas, these coaches stand as beacons of inspiration and knowledge, molding raw potential into polished proficiency. With a keen eye for technique and a passion for the game that borders on reverence, they guide their charges toward excellence, instilling not just skill, but also discipline, sportsmanship, and a profound love for the sport. In the heartland of America, the realm of Iowa golf, these mentors are the architects of dreams and the stewards of tradition.

Tess Balsley – Veenker Memorial Golf Course

Tess Balsley (second from left)

Tess Balsley has long been known at Veenker Memorial Golf Course and the Iowa Masters Tournament. She first got her start at the Ames course in 1985 when she was a sophomore at Iowa State. Just four years later, Balsley was hired on full-time as the Club House Manager where she has remained for more than 25 years. Her duties range from league manager of over 140 participants, to registering players for the various events they host, and tournament prep. In addition to other normal administrative duties for the course, perhaps her most notable role is as the point of contact for the Iowa Masters Tournament held each July. The event continues to be a long-standing tradition on the Iowa Golf calendar and draws field sizes of more than 150 players.

Balsley’s efforts on a day-to-day basis are seen and appreciated by all those who tee it up. Hosting multiple high school, Iowa Section PGA, and IGA events annually, she has become a household name for those working in the industry. Her efforts have also seen her garner the Iowa Golf Association Club Manager of the Year award in 2005.

Sarah Bidney – Hyperion Field Club

Sarah Bidney, teaching pro at Hyperion Field Club, stands as one of Iowa’s premier golf instructors, boasting numerous accolades including three-time Iowa PGA Section Teacher of the Year and two-time Golf Digest Top Five “Best in State Instructor” for Iowa. Her teaching philosophy prioritizes individualized approaches over generic methods, aiming to unlock each golfer’s best swing. Notably, Bidney’s expertise extends to junior golf, where she excels through the Operation 36 program, renowned for its engaging curriculum blending games and creative swing techniques.

Operation 36 challenges kids to progressively shoot 36 for nine holes from various distances, fostering sustained interest and skill development. Bidney’s dedication to junior golf has earned her national recognition as an Operation 36 Master Top 50 Coach and three-time recipient of the Iowa PGA Section’s Youth Player Development Award. Beyond her accolades, Bidney’s genuine passion for the sport shines through, fueled by her own love for golf since high school. Despite her busy schedule, she remains committed to sharing the joy of golf with as many young players as possible, ensuring a bright future for golf in Iowa under her guidance.

Kelley Brooke – Bethpage Black

Hailing from Bettendorf, Kelley Brooke has made a profound impact on the golf industry over the past four decades, excelling as a player, instructor, and businesswoman. Getting her start in Iowa, she captured the 1985 Iowa Girls’ Junior Amateur before later attending the University of Iowa on what was the first-ever athletic scholarship for women’s golf. Her extensive professional career includes teaching over 50,000 golf lessons, owning golf venues, and receiving prestigious accolades such as the LPGA Professional of the Year Award in 2018. In New York City, Brooke has been instrumental in revolutionizing golf and recreation, establishing numerous instructional programs, including the largest junior golf program for children with disabilities and the Police Athletic League Golf Program for economically disadvantaged youth.

Operating three golf centers and managing renowned courses like Bethpage Black and Montauk Downs Golf Course, Brooke has contributed to putting clubs in the hands of those who might never have thought to play. Beyond her on-course endeavors, she has authored instructional books and articles for esteemed publications, showcasing her expertise and passion for the sport. Brooke’s media presence extends to television appearances, radio hosting, and guest spots on prominent shows and podcasts, amplifying her influence and reach within the golf community. As a lead instructor for NBC/Golf Channel, she shared her wealth of knowledge with audiences worldwide, further solidifying her status as a respected figure in the industry. Additionally, Brooke continues to compete on the Legends of the LPGA Tour, demonstrating her continuing commitment to the game she loves.

Lori Gaffney-Burmeister – Willow Creek Golf Club

Lori Gaffney-Burmeister, renowned as an upbeat and passionate golf instructor, first honed her skills as a high-level player, notably contributing to Valley High School’s championship victories. Her journey in golf began with fond memories of high school and junior golf in Iowa, marked by a memorable hole-in-one during the 1983 Iowa Women’s Amateur. Venturing beyond Iowa for college, Lori excelled at the University of Georgia, contributing to an SEC Championship team and further refining her game. Transitioning briefly to professional play on tours like the Futures Tour, Lori ultimately discovered her true passion in teaching.

Joining the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Division, Lori embarked on a successful teaching career, spanning various resorts across the country with the John Jacob Golf Schools. Returning to her roots in Iowa, she spent 27 years at the Longview Golf Dome before moving to Glen Oaks Country Club and now Willow Creek Golf Course in Des Moines. Throughout her career, Lori’s teaching style has earned her accolades, including recognition as one of Golf Digest’s top five teachers in Iowa in 2019. With a knack for making golf enjoyable for students of all ages, Lori’s positive impact resonates in Iowa’s golfing community, contributing to the game’s growth and enjoyment.

Joan Gearhart – Iowa State University

Joan Gearhart, a trailblazer in women’s golf, was recently inducted into the Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame for her pioneering coaching career. As head coach of the first ever women’s golf teams in Iowa State’s history, she led the team to three AIAW National Tournament appearances. Gearhart’s dedication and achievements have earned her much recognition, marking a highlight in her lifelong commitment to the sport.

Gearhart’s journey in golf began unexpectedly during high school, leading to a passion that shaped her life. From coaching at Iowa State to becoming one of the 40 Master Life teaching professionals in the LPGA, she has left an unforgettable mark in golf. Despite challenges such as funding shortages and inventive solutions like homemade direction devices, Gearhart’s love for golf has remained unwavering. Today, she continues to share her expertise, particularly with women eager to embrace the game, enriching lives and fostering a love for golf at the Alamo Country Club in Alamo, Texas.

Michelle Klein – Jesup High School

Michelle Klein epitomizes kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity, and has left an indelible mark on the Iowa golf community over the past decade. Her dedication to women’s golf in the state is unparalleled, notably as co-captain of the Iowa Junior Girls’ Four-State Team for six years, where she served as a mentor and created memorable experiences for young players. Beyond her role as an IGA Board Member, Michelle’s involvement in committees like the Women’s Rules and Competitions Committee and the Ann Griffel Scholarship Committee underscores her commitment to advancing women’s golf. Her contributions extend to coaching the Jesup High School girls’ golf team, instilling valuable life lessons in her players while fostering their love for the game.

Despite her busy schedule, Klein finds time to compete herself, demonstrating her cheerful spirit and success on the course. Her notable achievements include qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur in 2022 and securing victory in the Senior Division of the Iowa Women’s Four-Ball Championship in 2023 with partner Laura Leszczynski. Klein’s impact on Iowa women’s golf is undeniable, earning her the 2021 Sean Flanders Volunteer of the Year Award from the IGA and cementing her as a driving force for the sport’s growth and excellence in the state.

Julie Manning – Iowa State University

Julie Manning (far left)

Former Iowa State Women’s Golf Coach Julie Manning inspired all of her former players to chase greatness. After leading the Cyclones for 20 years, Manning retired following the 2004 season, though her impact continued to last for all of her former players.  Manning’s tenure was marked by commitment to her players’ success both on and off the course. She inspired her team through her passion for the sport and her genuine care for her players’ personal and academic development. Manning’s coaching philosophy emphasized hard work, discipline, and resilience, instilling valuable life lessons in her athletes.

Under her guidance, the women’s golf team achieved notable successes, including conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances. Manning was known for fostering a supportive and inclusive team culture. Her retirement was met with gratitude and admiration from the Iowa State community, recognizing her significant contributions to the university and the sport of golf. Throughout her career, Manning’s dedication and leadership left a lasting legacy, inspiring generations of athletes to strive for excellence.

Christie Martens – Iowa State University

Christie Martens has molded the Iowa State women’s golf program into a national powerhouse during her time leading the Cyclones. Under her guidance, the team has secured a remarkable 14 consecutive NCAA Regional berths since 2010. In 2014 they earned Iowa State’s first appearance at the NCAA Championship since 1993. Throughout her 20-year tenure, Martens has consistently led her team to top-25 rankings and program-best finishes and accolades, including Big 12 Coach of the Year honors in 2011. Her deep roster of talented players has contributed to numerous tournament victories, individual medalists, and notable achievements in both collegiate and professional golf arenas.

Martens’ impact extends beyond the golf course, with her players excelling academically and earning numerous academic All-Big 12 honors. Her recruiting prowess has attracted highly touted international talents, ensuring a diverse and competitive roster. Martens’ legacy is further solidified by the success of her former players, many of whom have transitioned to successful professional careers, including LPGA playing privileges and major championship appearances. With Martens’ leadership, Iowa State’s women’s golf program continues to thrive. In 2023, her squad took ISU to new heights both in school and in NCAA history when they smashed the 54-hole team score record, posting 60-under-par 804 at the Mountain View Collegiate. Setting new records and consistently competing at the highest levels of collegiate golf, Martens raises the bar year after year for the Cardinal and Gold.

Morgan McMillen – Oneota Golf & Country Club

General Manager or Head Golf Pro are two ways to describe Morgan McMillen. But becoming the first female to serve as both the General Manager and the Head Golf Pro can only be described as trailblazing. In the 100 years that Oneota Golf & Country Club has been in existence, no other female has held both titles concurrently. For those who know McMillen, it’s no surprise to see her succeed at such a high level.

She had an accomplished collegiate career at Wartburg College in Waverly. She earned All-Iowa Conference honors three times, racked up three top-nine finishes at the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships, including a third and second-place finish, and earned Women’s Golf Coaches Association All-Midwest Regional honors as a senior. Upon graduating in 2015, she joined the golf professional ranks while also serving as the assistant coach for Luther College. As an Iowa PGA Section Pro, she’ll look to capture her third consecutive Iowa Women’s PGA Professional Championship later this summer. She enjoys giving back to the members at Oneota and helping them build not only their golf fundamentals but love for the game.

Megan Menzel – University of Iowa

Megan Menzel has led the University of Iowa women’s golf program for over a decade, ushering the team to remarkable achievements both on and off the course. Under her guidance, the Hawkeyes have seen significant postseason success, including appearances at the National Golf Invitational and NCAA Regionals. In their 2023 post-season berth to the National Golf Invitational, freshman Shannyn Vogler brought home the first individual tournament title since 2018 for the Hawkeyes. Throughout her tenure, Menzel’s teams have shattered records and consistently ranked among the best in school history, with notable accomplishments including top finishes at prestigious tournaments and individual achievements.

Menzel’s coaching prowess extends beyond competition, with an emphasis on academic merit reflected in numerous Academic All-Big Ten honors and awards. Her commitment to player development and success has solidified Iowa’s position as a competitive force in collegiate golf. With a wealth of coaching experience ranging from collegiate coaching to country club instruction, Menzel’s leadership continues to elevate the Hawkeyes to new heights, both on the fairways and in the classroom. She has also coached four Big Ten Sportsmanship Award recipients with Chelsea Harris (Soda), Amy Ihm, and back-to-back recipients in 2023 and 2024 with Jordan Amelon and Kaitlyn Hanna.

Lisa Miller – PGA Professional

PGA Professional Lisa Miller has had a life engulfed with golf. For good reason too. In 1978, she secured the first women’s golf scholarship at the University of Northern Iowa, graduating with a B.A. in Education in 1979 and later earning a master’s degree in athletic administration from the University of Iowa in 1988. Notably, in 1994, she became the first woman to achieve Class A Membership in the Iowa PGA Section, and in 2005, attained PGA Master Professional status, only the ninth woman to do so at the time. Miller’s career saw her becoming the first female board member in the Iowa PGA Section and being inducted into the University of Northern Iowa’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. Her professional journey traversed various golf courses, with significant roles including PGA Head Professional at Indian Creek Country Club and Director of Golf for Cedar Rapids municipal golf courses

Since 1995, she has served as a PGA of America Adjunct Facility Member, continuing to mentor aspiring professionals even after her retirement in 2017. She has garnered numerous awards, including the Iowa PGA Bill Strausbaugh and Iowa PGA Professional Development accolades.

Post-retirement, she remains active in the Iowa PGA, contributing as a Board Member and Chair of the Scholarship Committee, while also teaching veterans through golf programs. Lisa aims to inspire and support women aspiring to join the PGA, advocating for increased female representation in golf leadership roles. She also founded the Women’s Fairway Scholarship awarded to one assistant female annually to help further their education and training toward a career in golf.

Janet Rooney – Des Moines Golf & Country Club

Janet Rooney has been the Head Golf Professional at Des Moines Golf since 1999, boasting over 20 years as a PGA member. Her responsibilities encompass the hiring and scheduling of staff in various capacities, including the pro shop, outside service, and starters. She manages both 9-hole and 18-hole women’s leagues, ensuring smooth operations and enjoyable experiences for participants. Janet takes charge of the monthly inventory for the golf shop, catering to members’ needs by facilitating special orders. Her organizational and diverse skill set make her an invaluable asset to the team, contributing to the efficient functioning of the golf facility.

Under her leadership, the pro shop and related services maintain a high standard of professionalism and customer satisfaction. Rooney’s tenure at Des Moines Golf reflects her dedication to the sport and commitment to providing exceptional service to members and guests alike. Her role involves not only administrative duties but also fostering a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for all golfers. Through her career, Rooney has continually demonstrated her expertise and dedication to the golfing community, earning the respect and admiration of colleagues and patrons alike. Described by Director of Golf Scott Howe as “a well-rounded, terrific hire” Rooney has more than earned her keep at the West Des Moines club.

Kari Tomash – Cedar Rapids Country Club

Kari Tomash, a PGA Class A Member for 13 years, owns more than 20 years of golf professional experience, marked by a passion for teaching and fostering golf participation among juniors and women. Raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she discovered her love for golf through her father, eventually earning a golf scholarship to Charleston Southern University. During her tenure there, she clinched five Division I tournament titles and garnered numerous accolades, including being named the 1993 Big South Freshman of The Year.

Recognized with the 2019 Wisconsin PGA Section Youth Player Development Award, she is also Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) Certified. Graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, she commenced her career as a PGA Golf Professional at Cougar Point on Kiawah Island. Transitioning through various esteemed clubs nationwide, such as the Daniel Island Club and Butte des Morts Country Club, she thrives on cultivating lasting relationships with members and students, defining her favorite aspect of being a golf professional. Now at Cedar Rapids Country Club, Tomash continues to grow the game in her hometown.

Chelsea Soda – Echo Valley Country Club

Chelsea Soda, Director of Instruction at Echo Valley Country Club, has quite the resume´. After capturing 3 Illinois High School Team State titles, she brought her talents to the University of Iowa where she was a staple for the Hawkeyes. Leading the team in scoring average for three of her four years, she capped off her career with a 7th-place individual finish at the 2012 Big Ten Tournament. Soda was also named the 2012 Big Ten Conference Sportsmanship Award winner.

After graduating, she turned professional and embarked on her pro career. After playing in mini tour events and Monday Qualifiers, Soda got her big break in 2013 when she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club.

Her coaching career began at Illinois State University as an assistant, but she soon realized she was ready for a new challenge. That new challenge led her to the state of Iowa and Echo Valley Country Club in 2015. Soda’s favorite part of the new job was giving lessons and teaching junior golf. From there Soda went to Nantucket, MA and Denver, CO to learn from top-100 coaches and develop her own style of teaching. In 2022, Soda came back to Echo Valley and has been providing its membership with instruction programs since. In addition, Soda runs junior golf programs for the City of Waukee at Sugar Creek Golf Course and volunteers for First Tee — Central Iowa and the University of Iowa.

Erin Strieck – Pinnacle Country Club

With over 20 years as a PGA member, Erin Strieck oversees various aspects of golf operations and leagues, ensuring exceptional experiences for members and guests. Strieck’s career highlights include being the first female in various roles, such as Director of Golf at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa in Galena, Illinois, and Head Golf Professional/Director of Golf at Pinnacle Country Club in Milan, Illinois. She has actively contributed to the growth of the Iowa PGA, serving on the board and as Secretary, and has been involved in national PGA initiatives like PGA LEAD.

In 2021, she made Iowa Section PGA history when she was named the first female president of the organization.

Strieck’s leadership extends beyond the golf course, emphasizing mentorship and community engagement. Under her leadership, Pinnacle Country Club has seen increased participation, especially among women and juniors, fostering a welcoming environment for all. Her dedication to professional development and exemplary teaching skills have earned her accolades, including the Professional Development Award in 2020. She was also awarded the 2023 Iowa PGA Golf Professional of the Year, the highest honor in the Iowa PGA. Through her commitment to excellence and inclusivity, Strieck continues to leave a lasting impact on the Iowa PGA and the golfing community at large.

Jeanne Sutherland – University of Nebraska

Jeanne Sutherland boasts a remarkable career spanning four decades in collegiate golf, marked by numerous achievements and national success. With strong ties to the Midwest, Sutherland’s collegiate journey began at the University of Northern Iowa, where she earned accolades as a student-athlete and later became a member of the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Hailing from Dubuque, Iowa, her accomplishments have left a permanent legacy in collegiate golf.

In her debut season as head coach at Nebraska in 2022-23, she led the team to an NCAA Regional appearance, marking her 19th time guiding a team to such a berth. Before her latest post at Nebraska, Sutherland served as the head coach at SMU for 10 seasons and at Texas A&M for 15 seasons. Under her guidance, Nebraska shattered school scoring records and saw individual success reach uncharted territory. Sutherland’s coaching prowess extends beyond Nebraska, as evidenced by her numerous accolades and achievements at SMU and Texas A&M. At SMU, she led the team to consecutive NCAA Regional appearances, achieving notable successes such as a runner-up finish at the American Athletic Conference Championship. During her time at Texas A&M, Sutherland transformed the program, leading the team to multiple NCAA Championship appearances and capturing several tournament crowns and conference titles. A recipient of multiple Coach of the Year honors, Sutherland’s impact on collegiate golf is widely recognized. Her players have garnered numerous individual accolades, including All-America honors and conference championships. Beyond coaching, Sutherland has contributed to the golf community through her involvement with the PGA and WGCA, as well as her role as a golf professional.

Sarah Ward – West Grand Golf

Sarah Ward, a Des Moines native, has seen all that the Iowa golf scene has to offer. After an accomplished playing career at the University of Iowa, Ward turned professional. She went on to play on the LPGA Futures Tour, now known as the Epson Tour, where she held status from 1994 through 2001. After playing professionally for several years, Ward made her way back to her hometown and started teaching at West Grand Golf in West Des Moines. For the last 22 years Ward continues to help players of all ages and abilities improve their game. She contributes to the instruction teams of the Jane Blalock Clinics For Women and First Tee — Central Iowa. On any given summer day, one is sure to see an enthusiastic Ward on the lesson tee at West Grand Golf working with repeat clientele of all ages.

Elise Warne – William Penn University

Elise Warne, Head Men’s Golf Coach at William Penn University (WPU), boasts an impressive coaching career, guiding numerous standout players and earning accolades such as Heart Coach of the Year in 2023. Under her leadership, the Statesmen clinched the Heart title in 2023 and secured a spot in the NAIA National Championship. Warne’s coaching prowess was honed during her time as assistant coach and director of player development at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Minnesota, where she oversaw various aspects of the golf program.

Warne’s own golf career at WPU was illustrious, marked by four all-Heart of America Athletic Conference honors and three Heart Player of the Year titles. As an NAIA Third-Team All-American, she claimed victory in numerous tournaments and holds several school records, including the single-season stroke average and multiple 18-hole and 72-hole records. Additionally, Warne’s achievements extend to winning the NAIA long-drive competition and contributing to record-setting team scores at WPU. Her remarkable career trajectory emphasizes her impact on both coaching and playing fronts, solidifying her as a pivotal figure in William Penn University’s golf program.

Sharnae Winters – Hyperion Field Club

Sharnae Winters, Head Golf Professional at Hyperion Field Club, got her start in golf when she was young. Winters’ upbringing in Adel and her golfing journey through Des Moines Area Community College and the University of Nebraska shaped her passion for the sport. After earning her Class “A” PGA membership in 2012, she launched her professional career at Milburn Country Club in Overland Park, Kansas, before transitioning to the First Assistant Golf Professional role at the Vaquero Club in Westlake, Texas.

During her tenure there, she deepened her expertise in golf management and cultivated personalized service for club members, enhancing their overall experience. Returning to her Iowa roots in 2021, Winters assumed the role of Head Golf Professional at the Hyperion Field Club. Enjoying being back home, Winters enjoys sharing her love for the game with each of ‘Hypos’ members. She hasn’t lost her competitive edge either, often teeing it up in various Iowa Section PGA events throughout the year.

Other Section PGA Professionals include:

Mardi Kvidera – Sioux City Country Club

Sherry Newsome – Indian Creek Country Club

Carol Nitchske-Henrich – Bright Grand View

Sarah Overton – Finkbine Golf Course

Karrie Van Ravenswaay – The Ridge Golf Club

Mallory Simmelink – Landsmeer Golf Club

Abigail Tinlin – Echo Valley Country Club


Next Week on Women’s Wednesday…

In honor of Mother’s Day, look back on some of the most successful and well-known families in Iowa Women’s Golf history.

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