In golf and in life, Mary Dagraedt lived by two simple guidelines: play by the rules and always follow through.
She did both very well.
Dagraedt, who passed away Monday, July 1, following complications from a stroke, is remembered for her love of the game and instilling that passion on to many others, from the Illinois Valley to Florida. She was 88.
Spring Creek’s Kathy Potthoff met Dagraedt 50 years ago at a golf course, naturally, at the same time she met her husband, Chris. Degraedt and golf, even though Potthoff didn’t know anything about it at that time, became a fixture in her life and career in golf ever since.
“Mary is already missed by many,” Potthoff said. “She gave of herself everything possible. Her time, her energy, her money, her expertise. Although Mary’s gone, she’s left so much with so many people in the Illinois Valley and beyond that she’ll be remain in our heats forever.
“She was so involved with Spring Creek. She was part of the family.
While living in Florida, where she coached collegiately, Dagraedt returned to her native Illinois Valley each summer to teach golf. She was the head professional at Spring Creek Golf Course in Spring Valley for 38 years, where she’s held the women’s course record for more than 50 years. She taught golf lessons at six courses around the Illinois Valley.
One of Dagraedt’s many students was Max Halberg Jr., owner of Wyaton Hills Golf Course in Princeton. It is Dagraedt who helped launch Halberg’s own career in golf.
“When I was a little guy, she started giving lessons in the area and I took them from her at Wyaton,” said Halberg, who bought the Princeton course in 1981. “She’d do Tuesdays at Wyanet, Wednesdays at Spring Creek, and other days at other courses.
“She’s quite the lady. She was my mentor, and I’ll miss her. She’d do anything for you and help you out. We had a friendship that maybe you hadn’t seen each other for a couple of years and then it’s like you never left.”
Not only did Dagraedt teach Halberg how to play the game, she taught him how to teach it. After he bought Wyaton Hills, Halberg went to Spring Creek to help Dagraedt teach junior golf. He found he was still learning from the master.
“We’d have a line of people, and she’d be at one end and I’d be at the other. She’d reach the middle and I’d still be on my second or third one,” he said. “She told me not to give them too much information to have to think about, but give them one or two things to work on and move on.”
Halberg visited Dagraedt after she returned to Illinois for rehab after having her stroke and he joked the first thing she started talking about was the rules of golf. He was not surprised.
Dagraedt was a stickler for the rules and officiated tournaments in Florida and the Illinois Valley for more than 30 years. That was the only way the game could be played the right way — by the rules.
She co-authored a book with Bruce Fossum, “Golf,” in 1974 on the rules of golf.
Dagraedt was a co-founder of the Illinois Valley Women’s Golf Invitational in 1958, which will mark its 61st year Aug. 11 at Edgewood Park in McNabb. Halberg said it was a real treat to have the tournament come to Wyaton Hills last year knowing Dagraedt would be around.
“I was so glad we got to have it at our place last year,” he said. “She officiated it, and we marked the course and everything all according by the rules. I learned more about the rules that day.”
Halberg said the Illinois Valley women’s tournament is such a good event because Dagraedt implemented a rule for every situation possible and “they’ve got it down in black and white.”
Throughout her high school and college years, Dagraedt excelled in every sport she attempted, including tennis, softball, basketball, volleyball and field hockey, winning many trophies and awards.
It wasn’t until she took a crash course in golf at Illinois State University in 1951, to prepare herself for a student teaching job, that she realized golf was her true passion.
Dagraedt moved to Florida where she initiated the golf program at Miami-Dade North Community College and led her women’s team to 18 consecutive state championships and national titles in 1978. 1980 and 1981.
She coached Miami-Dade and Florida International University simultaneously and was influential in the lives and careers of girls from around the world, sending more than 70 of her students to the LPGA to pursue careers either on the tour or as teaching/coaching professionals.
Dagraedt was also the head golf professional at Hollywood Lakes Country Club in Florida until 1986, when she went on to become the head teaching professional at Sunrise Country Club as well as the head teaching pro at Raintree Country Club.
She is the only person to receive all three of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional top honors: National Teacher of the Year in 1974, National Coach of the Year in 1981 and National Professional of the Year in 1984.
She was also inducted into five Halls of Fame — Illinois State, the LPGA Teaching and Coaching Hall of Fame, the National Golf Coaches Hall of Fame, the Florida Community College Activities Hall of Fame, and the Sports Society Hall of Fame.
Known for her high fashion on the course, Dagraedt was once voted in the top 10 Best Dressed Women in Golf by Golf Digest.
A private Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. July 20 at St. Patrick’s Church in LaSalle. A Celebration of Life is being planned from 3 to 6 p.m. Aug. 18 at Spring Creek.