When the Wisconsin State Golf Association (WSGA) announced its new marketing plan for 2021, golfers across the state of Wisconsin let out a collective gasp – one lucky guy or girl would get paid to play golf – a lot of golf.
Golf enthusiasts’ interests were piqued, and news of the internship became the top story on Golfweek.com as it was eventually shared over 5,000 times during the week of The Players Championship.
The “Job Description” laid out a goal of playing 50 Wisconsin golf courses in 50 days: A dream to someone like me, and apparently to many others as the WSGA received over 200 applications.
Golf is hot right now. And nowhere is it hotter than in the state of Wisconsin. With the recent openings of The Baths at Kohler, 12-North at Trappers Turn and Pioneer Pointe at Hawks Landing, and developing work ongoing at The Lido and Sedge Valley courses at Sand Valley, no state in the US is seeing new courses open like we are.
Not only do we have world-class golf and great new options becoming available, but we’re finishing off a red-hot season that saw significant growth in rounds played, multitudes of new players and even a Ryder Cup for the ages at Whistling Straits. Wisconsin has been at the epicenter for growth in the game of golf.
It may sound sinister, but COVID-19 has been exactly what the game of golf needed. A sport that was previously dwindling in many ways has seen tremendous growth by way of new players who gave it a chance and started to realize what many of us do: Golf is great! It’s not just a game for stodgy and/or wealthy old white guys, but it’s a great pastime that can be enjoyed by all. Plus, it’s safe – social distancing is built in and the fresh air and leisurely walks in beautiful natural settings are good for the soul. It’s a sport that gives its players a challenge we can never truly conquer, but that keeps us engaged at all levels and has us always working on something new.
Rounds of golf in Wisconsin in 2020 were up over 20% versus 2019, even with an entire month of the season missed while courses were forced to close due to the start of the pandemic. Did that additional interest stick around? There had to be attrition, right?
If you think things have slowed since the pandemic started to “normalize,” you’d be wrong. Year-to-date 2021 rounds in Wisconsin are up another 22.4% over 2020, and are typically up around 7% month over month [to take in to account last year’s missing time].
Golf is booming in Wisconsin, and it’s high time we highlight and celebrate its incredible success.
Among those interviewed for the WSGA Internship were two standouts – applicants so good they changed the program.
The first, Bobbi Stricker, played college golf at the University of Wisconsin, is a competitive player on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour and in July won the Wisconsin Women’s Amateur Championship at The Legend at Merrill Hills in Waukesha. She’s likable and affable, loves the game of golf and is a proud Wisconsinite through and through.
The second is a California native who the term “golf-obsessed” doesn’t even begin to describe! Patrick Koenig’s golf adventures have been well-chronicled over recent years, beginning with his “Big Year” in 2018 when he left his job, bought an RV he turned in to an “RGV” (recreational GOLF vehicle, equipped with his digital photo studio), and traveled the country playing the game he loves while raising money for The First Tee.
He played over 450 rounds at 405 different courses in 48 states that year, taking incredible photos, making new friends and connections and laying the groundwork for what’s become a successful career as a professional golf photographer and, for a lack of better terminology, golf celebrity.
The WSGA couldn’t possibly let either of these applicants go, so they hired them both.
Bobbi played and posted on social media (link to her Twitter account) about the 12 rounds in her part of the campaign, which were spread out around her competitive events and travel including LPGA Q-School and the Women’s State Amateur.
Her experience brought her to a number of the state’s heavy hitters, including Erin Hills, the River, Meadow Valleys and Baths courses at Blackwolf Run, Lawsonia Links, Mammoth Dunes, Sand Valley and the Sandbox at Sand Valley Golf Resort, her former home course University Ridge, The Club at Lac La Belle, and the Straits and Irish at Whistling Straits.
She was able to play much of this golf with friends, former Badger teammates and family members – some of whom you’ve probably heard of like her parents, Ryder Cup Captain Steve and wife Nicki Stricker, and uncle and former PGA Tour player Mario Tiziani.
Patrick’s Badger State journey began at Brown Deer on July 15th, and he’d go on to play 76 unique courses in 50 days, culminating in a round with WSGA colleagues at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club on September 4th. Appropriately, he finished things off by draining a 70-footer for eagle on the 18th. Can you imagine a better last memory from a trip like this?
WSGA Executive Director Rob Jansen set up Patrick’s original 50 courses to play. If you’ve met or follow him on social media, though, it should come as no surprise that wasn’t enough.
Charismatic and with energy to spare, he has a great passion for the game and getting to know other golf enthusiasts. With over 90,000 Instagram followers, the hire of Patrick made a big splash in the golf world, and the support he and the WSGA received was so overwhelming he added a second round to 26 of the 50 days, including 17 at private clubs.
“Bobbi and Patrick did an amazing job this summer showcasing Wisconsin golf. It was fun to follow along on their journey across the state and the photos each of them captured during their travels will allow us to continue to promote the courses they visited for years to come. I hope more people have realized that Wisconsin is the #1 state for public golf in America.”
– Rob Jansen, Executive Director of the Wisconsin State Golf Association (WSGA)
Rain or shine, through intense August heat and swarms of flesh-eating mosquitoes, the 2-handicapped Koenig played on across our great state while taking thousands of professional-level photos and carding some solid rounds of golf, including a 68 at Trempealeau Mountain.
Many of the photos he took in Wisconsin can be found via links on his Intern Schedule, linked here:
I had the privilege of playing three-plus rounds with Patrick during his visit, and overall couldn’t have enjoyed the golf and his company more.
“In terms of internship playing partners, few golfers reached VIP status. I am proud to announce that Paul was one of those VIPs.”
– Patrick Koenig, Intern for the Wisconsin State Golf Association (WSGA)
How we met
Patrick and I had been in touch a little over the last year or so. I originally reached out to him to see if he had suggestions on courses to check out in Scottsdale, and mentioned I’d like to get together for a round if he finds his way back to Wisconsin for the Ryder Cup, or just in general for his golf adventures, this past season. He was kind enough to respond, and we kept in touch. Then, he let me know in May that he’d “be out in Wisconsin a bunch this summer.”
That turned out to be quite the understatement, as at the age of 41 he’d earned one of the most coveted and desirable internships in the country with the WSGA.
“I’ve long said that Wisconsin is the best state for public golf in the United States and I definitely proved it during the summer of 2021.”
– Patrick Koenig, WSGA Intern
The first round Patrick and I played together was at the Club at Lac La Belle, just outside Oconomowoc, on July 29. We were joined by Craig (@statelinegolfnut on Instagram) and Ben (@golf.spoiled), and while my golf game was in terrible shape (it was a brutal day of duck-hooks) we had a good time on one of the state’s most scenic courses.
It was, unfortunately, at the height of our hazy summer, and as our round went on the sky couldn’t have gotten less photogenic. Everyone enjoyed the golf course and company, regardless.
One of the things I’ll take from this day was something Patrick likes to do post-round: “What was your favorite shot of the day?” The four of us did a round robin on the back patio over dinner, each talking about our favorite golf shot and what we enjoyed most about the day. When you play a round where almost none of your shots were on, it’s nice to reflect on the ones that were, and to be grateful for the time spent on a great golf course with even better company.
For me, my favorite shot was my approach on 15, a short iron that cozied to about six feet right of the flag and set up my only birdie of the round.
We met up next at Kenosha Country Club on September 3, playing the penultimate day of his trip with my friend, Gregg, and Noah and Draymond from Black Sheep Golf Club in Sugar Grove, IL.
Gregg is a GolfWeek course rater and Board Member at the Donald Ross designed KCC, and is passionate about his courses – both Kenosha CC and the little slice of Heaven he built in his backyard, “The Pond.”
Patrick’s extensive experience playing top courses across the US was advantageous for Gregg to learn from, even in the small things, like “How do you think Kenosha’s logo and scorecard should look?” The smaller the better for scorecards is Patrick’s general sentiment.
Kenosha is not far from being a top-tier private golf club, and it’s the little details that could take it to the next level. They have a lot of big things going on right now, especially with their ongoing course restoration project [led by Drew Rogers] and centennial anniversary in 2022.
“The Pond” was another awesome experience. Gregg and his wife, Diane, were so welcoming to invite us over, feed us lunch and indulge us in a 5-hole short course experience that they created and maintain [with a little help from the KCC grounds crew] in their backyard, with par three holes and greens played between 85-120 yards over the Thompson’s stocked fishing pond.
As an aside, if you have young children like we do, check out Diane’s Etsy page for her children’s books. She’s an incredibly talented artist and writer, and carries out a wonderful philanthropic mission through her creative endeavors. Our 2-year-old daughter loves the “Bodacious Bode” series!
The Pond has a 1-club rule, which for me was my trusty 52-degree wedge. I had a hot start, but faltered after a lost ball and finished well above the even-par course record.
Noah played great and did tie the course record, sticking the final green and putting out (with wedge) for an even-par 15.
On the final day of his Wisconsin adventure, I was thrilled to get Patrick out to my home course here in Menomonee Falls, North Hills Country Club.
While it was another disappointing day as far as the sky was concerned, we were able to get out with my friends Jeff, Scott and Jason, and had a blast walking my home course on a comfortable late-Summer morning.
I loved looking through the photos he took during our round. Even with no interest in the sky, he was able to find great angles I’d never even considered in the 84 times I’ve taken pictures there. Here are a few examples of his shots:
Beyond enjoyable rounds of golf and a new friendship, it was a great learning experience for me spending time with and picking Patrick’s brain on photography, content creation and the golf industry, in general.
He is a true artist with course photography, which is something I share his passion for, and witnessing the way he scouts and shoots courses while keeping up with play and still enjoying the round was refreshing.
I ride the edge of this at times. As a content creator and fringe member of the “golf media,” I put pressure on myself to take a lot of photos, get shots of my favorite spots on courses I play and make sure I get and edit the best imagery I can to share back with the folks who host me. I’m also self-conscious about not slowing down play or negating the golf experience for others, which can contradict my content goals.
I write this website because I love golf, and because it gives me incredible opportunities to enjoy courses, resorts, gear and even trips that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to.
There’s a fine line, though, between enjoying golf and feeling like I owe content. I have made a total of $125 in over ten years on my golf writing and photography, and spend a minimum of 12 hours on each article I post. When you add in travel and time spent playing, taking and editing photos, that number can regularly reach upwards of 40-plus hours on individual posts.
I also have a full-time job and a wife, a 2- and 4-year-old. My time’s not exactly abundant, and golf has for a long time been one of my main releases and methods for destressing.
But this has always been a labor of love, and if I’m going to spend the precious free time I do have on it then it’s important to me I’m always finding ways to do it better.
I’m blessed to have a lot of talented people around me, and have been fortunate to meet and learn from a lot of them through golf. It didn’t take me long to realize there’s a lot I can learn from Patrick.
Patrick’s developed a keen eye that allows him to adapt well to inopportune conditions, for example. We had a rough summer for golf course photography – much of it could basically be thrown out as lost because of the thick haze we had across the Midwest (see sample article from WSAU on the wildfires out west and in Canada). We had terrible skies for two of our rounds together (Lac La Belle and North Hills), but he still got quality content.
I don’t have a background in art or photography. It’s something I started doing because of my golf blog, and if you were to look back 4, 7 or 10 years in my posts I bet you’d notice significant progress in my writing and photography skills (more than just having better equipment these days). I’ve worked on it to the tune of having over 60,000 golf photos on my current laptop. I love this stuff.
It’s obviously ideal when there’s an interesting skyline. The vibrancy of beautiful sunrises and sunsets, or dramatic cloud striations against a blue sky help make photos pop, but a day doesn’t have to be lost when it’s gray and bland.
There’s always a better photo to be taken if I find the right subject and angle, and since watching Patrick work I’ve been experimenting with framing photos in different ways, often using tree lines, buildings, water features or other contrasted settings as backgrounds that might help create interest where it wasn’t initially evident.
I’d probably need a week or two off after finishing an internship like Patrick’s, but in the month since returning home to Laguna Beach, California, Patrick’s worked as the official Social Media Host of The PURE Insurance Championship Impacting the First Tee at Pebble Beach Golf Links, co-hosted the 3-Club Challenge with Chelsea Pezzola, hosted the Travis Mathew Life on Tour celebrity golf and surfing competition, and is currently overseas after spending time behind the ropes of The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland where he’s spent the past week and half for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
That he can keep on going, doing one incredible thing after another and experiencing all of these things the world of golf and celebrity has to offer is amazing to me. And it also sounds absolutely exhausting!
Still, if I were to identify the perfect way to sum up this story about Patrick and his time spent here in Wisconsin, it makes me think of “The Stranger” from the final scene of The Big Lebowski: “I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there.”
I love knowing Patrick’s out there, doing incredible, once-in-a-lifetime golf things and living the proverbial dream for the rest of us, one high kick at a time.