Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
By: Mark G. Mangie
Spring has sprung. The opening pitches have been made. Barbeque grills have been hauled out of the garage and hosed down to get rid of the cob webs. And red blooded American males…and females…are heading to the golf course. The Mahoning Valley has been blessed with an abundance of golf courses. In fact, “the area has more nationally ranked public courses in our region than any other part of the country and are ranked #4 in the entire U.S. for top quality public courses!” (The Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau). Who knew?? I don’t play golf, but even I have had discussions with folks at various venues in Pittsburgh who come to the Mahoning Valley to play golf.
In addition to its outstanding public courses, the Mahoning Valley is also home to some of Ohio’s finest private golf courses including Youngstown Country Club, Trumbull Country Club, the Lake Club, and the Avalon Group. As fine as these courses are, arguably the best of the local private courses belongs Tippecanoe Country Club in Canfield. It is a Donald Ross designed course which opened in the mid 1920's. And Michael Spiech, Tippecanoe’s golf Pro, is one of the best Pros in northeast Ohio.
For purposes of full disclosure, my family has belonged to Tippecanoe since about 1970. I have been a member since 1984. As I said…I don’t play golf so I didn’t pay much attention to what went on. But by a strange sequence of events, I ended up on its Board and have served in that capacity for the past thirteen years. Only then did I begin to appreciate how good the course is, how well it is maintained, the challenges in running an operation like Tippecanoe, the importance of the golf Pro, and just how good Mike Spiech is at his job. Tippecanoe is definitely a golfer’s country club.
Mike Spiech came to Tippecanoe in 2004 replacing retiring local golf legend George Bellino. Stepping into to George’s shoes was a daunting task in and of itself. There wasn’t a serious golfer in the Valley who didn’t know George Bellino. But Mike had a vision, and he was determined to make it work.
Tall, quiet and unassuming, Mike can make anyone feel like a million bucks. That’s part of his job…to make people feel good. That’s harder to do than you think.
He has to work with all sorts of people with all sorts of personalities and levels of golfing skills. He has to make the novice golfer feel comfortable on the course while simultaneously allowing the scratch golfer to play to his/her maximum level. He said one of his strong suits is being able to arrange a game for anyone at any level. He has even comes after me on a regular basis to get my sorry behind onto the course. I don’t think the course is ready for me!!
I was skeptical about interviewing Mike. I am the antithesis of a jock. I know just enough about sports to make minimal small-talk conversation, and that’s about it. I didn’t know what to ask. So I was surprised when the interview went in a completely unexpected direction. So much so that I returned the next morning to follow up on topics for which I was completely unprepared. It turns out that being a golf Pro is much more than being able to swing a club and make a put.
YOU GOT TO BE A PRO HOW?
Mike was born and raised in Hubbard. He graduated from Hubbard High School in 1979. Mike’s Dad passed away in 1970. He owned a set of Kroydon Golf Clubs…a very good brand of clubs. Mike’s mother was going to give them away, but twelve-year-old Mike said he wanted to try the game out. His Mom and sister would drive him to the Hubbard Golf Course (now Pine Lakes) and other Hubbard area golf courses where he would play 27–36 holes each day. Dave Coller, the Hubbard Golf Course Pro, gave him a few lessons, but Mike’s golfing ability was mostly natural. By the time he was fifteen, he was a scratch handicap golfer.
He found folks to play with through the Vindicator golf league. Minimum age was 18, but the Vindy allowed him to join when he was 16.
Mom would give him $20.00, which he would turn into $40.00 - $60.00 with bets on the course to help pay for his expenses. Much of his time was spent with people older than him, many of them local professionals and business folks, which gave him a more mature outlook on life. He grew up fast.
While he was playing golf, his “job” was being an umpire for the Youngstown Metro League. Mike’s athletic ability included being an all-star catcher!!! His dream at the time was to be a major league umpire. Later in life he became friends with John Hirschbeck, the noted major league umpire. Mike said John had commented that he had always wanted to be a professional golfer. Mike said they should have switched lives because he wanted to be a professional umpire.
After graduation he tried attending Youngstown State University for a few quarters, but it just wasn’t for him. So his friend and mentor from the Hubbard Golf Course Pro Dave Coller put him on track to becoming a golf professional. Mike was hired at Alliance Country Club as the assistant Pro when he was 18. He became the head Pro when he was 21.
As he was building his practical street creds in Alliance, he worked on getting his PGA card.
The first step is passing an ability test which basically shows you know how to play golf. You are given a set number of chances in a year to achieve a specified score playing 36 holes. Mike accomplished this his first year out at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Alliance. Then you enter an apprentice program which is a concentrated course of instruction on the business of golf. Upon completion, you must pass an extensive test on the material. Mike’s class included some of the top PGA players including Andy Bean and Lon Hinkle.
The last step is working under a PGA accredited Pro for 36 months. Mike was somewhat a victim of his own success. His job as head professional at Alliance Country Club meant he wasn’t working for Pro. He solved the problem by working under Pros in Florida during the winter.
In 1987 he completed the final step in the process by appearing in front of the PGA Board for northern Ohio for an interview. He earned his Class A PGA card at the age of 27. That year he played the Space Coast Tour in Florida.
Mike stayed at Alliance Country Club for twenty years. When he took the job in Alliance, the club’s membership was 280. By 1987 he had grown the membership to 350 with a waiting list. Those involved in the business of country clubs know that kind of growth is phenomenal. His last two years he served as its general manager.
In 2004 Mike left Alliance moving to Tippecanoe Country Club…and continues to do great things. He is respected throughout the golfing community. He maintains strong ties with both the national and regional golfing organizations like the The Women’s Ohio State Golf Association and NOGA…the Northeast Ohio Golfing Association…helping to bring not only NOGA tournaments to Tippecanoe, but national tournaments as well. In 2014 Tippecanoe hosted the 2nd round of the NOGA Four-Ball (A,B,C,Sr) Championship. Last year it hosted the USGA U.S. Amateur Qualifying Tournament and will host the NOGA Stroke Play Championship this month. It has also hosted the ladies Ohio Amateur Championship.
In 2014 Mike was named to the Quarter Century Club of PGA of America recognizing his 25 years of service as a PGA member.
The interview then took an unexpected twist. In response to a question about how one learns to do all of the things necessary to be private club golf Pro…he disclosed his family had operated a men’s clothing store in Hubbard for fifty-five years…Spiech Men’s and Boy’s Wear. He worked in the store growing up. Today it is operated by his brother Richard…and they talk a lot about business. You mean the golf business? No…the retail business!!!
MEET MICHAEL SPIECH:
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