She figured she could afford enough gas to be able to drive to work two or three days a week. The rest of the time, she’d have to run.
Back in 1980, she was making just $6,000 a year working as a golf instructor at Myers Park Country Club in Charlotte. But Dana Rader knew she wouldn’t want to do anything else — even if it meant she had to run to get where she was going.
That year, at 22 years old, she left an interview at a telecommunications company with a job offer that included a starting salary three times what she was making at the country club fresh out of college. Driving her apple green Chevy Impala down the road, she thought about how much easier everything would be with more money.
If she accepted, maybe she wouldn’t have to live on fast food and meals from the club.
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But about three miles away from the company, it was like God intervened, she recalled.
Nope, I’m not going to do it, Rader thought. It was sudden and stern. She didn’t question it.
She turned down the job offer that day.
“I knew if I became a good (golf) teacher, I’d make more money,” Rader said recently. “I didn’t put it the other way around.”
Rader has been “married” to her career for 37 years. That’s how she puts it, smiling, sitting in her new office at the Sea Pines Golf Learning Center.
In October, Rader was named among the “50 Best Teachers in America” by Golf Digest.
Only four women made the list.
Throughout her career, Rader, who has garnered more than a dozen accolades and awards, has proven time and again she is doing what she loves.
She started golfing later than most, at the age of 16. After shooting a 102 in her first round with a friend, she decided she wanted to play. She later took lessons from the late Joe Cheves, a professional golfer who set a world record for most strokes shot under a player’s age.
Rader said she always wanted to teach and had a dream of one day opening a sports camp. After finding golf, she decided that teaching golf was her passion.
She studied the game like it was her job. In the summers, she was out on the course at 8 a.m. each day. She journaled each night; she read everything she could get her hands on.
Title IX was passed in 1972, and in 1976, she was one of the first two women to join the men’s golf team at Pfeiffer University near Richfield, N.C.
“I was nervous, obviously,” Rader said. “I earned their respect because I had game. I could play.”
She never sensed animosity among her teammates. But she does have a few stories about showing up the men she played with.
One time, in a tournament with five colleges, a guy said he’d get rid of his beard if she beat him. He had to shave, she recalled.
In 1987, she started the Dana Rader School of Golf, now known as the Ballantyne Golf Academy with Dana Rader in Charlotte. In 1990, she was named the Ladies Professional Golf Association’s National Teacher of the Year.
Between 2010 and 2015, she served as national president for LPGA. During her time, she was in the first commercial with LPGA teachers to air nationally on the Golf Channel. This year, she was inducted into the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Fame.
But for Rader, there’s no place she’d rather be than on Hilton Head, where she has been vacationing for 30 years. After the property where her Charlotte golf school is located sold about 18 months ago, she started telling students that in a few years she’d be on the island.
But then she decided she didn’t want to wait.
She called up Tim Cooke, director of instruction at the Sea Pines Golf Learning Center, and booked a week on the island in April this year. She moved to Hilton Head Plantation in July and started at her Sea Pines job in September.
Cooke said he knew hiring Rader was a “home run” for the center after her first day on the job.
He asked her to give a lesson to a husband and wife visiting the resort from England. Rader spent an hour with them, and they left. An hour after their lesson ended, the couple came back to the center to find Cooke.
“We’ve just had a lesson with Dana (Rader),” they told him. “And it’s the best lesson we’ve ever taken.”
“Without exaggeration, it was the very first lesson she gave,” Cooke said. “The look in the husband’s face and how excited they were by the lesson was clear.”
Rader said she already has about 25 or 30 students in Sea Pines.
“You sometimes have to make your own way,” she said. “You have to be willing to do that. I knew where I wanted to be. It’s tough when you don’t really know where you want to go. For me, this is where I want to be.”
At 59, Rader said she trusts her gut like she did at 22.
And by doing that, she added, “everything just fell into place.”