Dana Rader has a passion for golf. She’s channeled that passion into teaching others to play, building a successful business along the way.
“The idea came to me as a young girl; I wanted to have a school of instruction,” Rader said. “There weren’t a whole lot of schools out there, so it was a unique product that has continued to do very well.”
Rader’s wanted to run a sports camp since she was 10 or 11 years old. After a run at professional golf after college, Rader said she realized her childhood self was right – she wanted to teach much more than compete.
“I’ve been teaching now 32 years, and my teaching is about 75 to 80 percent of what I do, with about 20 percent being administrative,” she said. “I love it now just as much as I did then and it continues to be my passion.”
Rader started teaching golf in 1986 at the River Hills Country Club in Lake Wiley, S.C. Later, she moved in 1990 to teach at the Raintree Country Club in south Charlotte. In 1997, she opened her school in Ballantyne.
The school blossomed, with Golf Magazine ranking it as a Top 25 golf school and school instructors routinely being honored.
“I run a pretty unique business in that I’m one of the few schools in the country that employs full-time teaching instructors,” Rader said. “We cater to every skill level – from aspiring tour players to top junior golfers as well as weekend and new golfers. We have an incredible junior program that’s been very successful and we teach a lot of kids.”
Rader said anywhere from 15,000 to 17,000 students come through their program every year.
“We began to build a strong clientele and a strong business early on,” she said. “Schools just kept getting bigger. The economy has been challenging, but I’ve had a good year this year.”
The road to success was not without challenge, though, Rader said.
“The biggest challenge that I had was starting the business when I didn’t have a model to follow,” she said. “So I really had to do a lot of work with others to develop an economic model. That information just didn’t exist. It was a lot of trial and error.”
Rader said she met a lot of discouragement.
“I was told that if I didn’t teach a male PGA student, that my golf school would never make it,” she said. “And of course it has been very successful without it. We just want to work with people who want to better their game. That’s how it all kind of evolved.”
Rader said she tried to ignore any difficulties that she came across because of her gender.
“I never focused on that,” she said. “I focused on trying to make the golf school a good experience for everyone.”
To that end, it was important to have a diverse staff around her, Rader said.
“I have four women and four men on our team,” she said. “I’m not naïve. If a golfer wants to work with a woman instructor, then that’s what they want. If they want to work with a male instructor, it’s all about what makes them comfortable.”
Rader said having a diverse team helps meet a lot of different needs, personality types and areas of expertise in her patrons.
“I wanted to get a good team assembled so that we would all take care of our customers and help grow the game through grassroots programs like our three-day golf school,” she said. “But people (who work for me) come and stay. That’s important as we continue to grow. We’re very big on training together and meeting on a regular basis to stay up with the latest trends and teaching.”
Rader offered some advice for others who are looking to start their own business ventures – girls and boys; woman and men.
“For me, I dreamed about it, I thought about it a lot, then I began to put it on paper and plan it,” she said. “Get a lot of people to help you. You have to have help; you can’t do it by yourself. Have people look at your business plan and make sure it’s viable and strong economically. Make sure you’re truly doing something you’re passionate about, but also that it can be converted into dollars and cents.”
Rader emphasized that the most rewarding part of her job is teaching.
“It’s working with the people, watching them improve and enjoy the game and keep playing the game,” she said. “It’s not only our job to introduce people to the game of golf, but keep them playing and keep the sport alive.”
Find more information on Dana Rader and the Dana Rader Golf School at www.danarader.com.
South Charlotte Weekly will feature a number of women-owned small businesses in the area over the next few weeks. To suggest a local business that’s worthy of coverage, email news@thecharlotte weekly.com with Subject “women-owned small businesses.”