LPGA teaching great Dana Rader dies of rare brain disease

LPGA teaching great Dana Rader dies of rare brain disease

Dana Rader, a former LPGA national teacher of the year whose Ballantyne golf school consistently ranked among the nation’s best, died Wednesday of a rare brain disease, her family said. She was 64.

Rader died of the degenerative Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where she moved in 2017 after selling her Dana Rader Golf School.

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Dana Rader, shown in this 2012 photo for SouthPark magazine, moved her golf school from Raintree Country Club to Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge in 1997. Jamey Price Charlotte Observer file photo

Her school, which opened at Raintree Country Club in Charlotte and later moved to Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, trained at least 17,000 students a year, Rader’s family said in her obituary.

Over a career that began in 1980, Rader was named one of the top teachers in the nation by Golf Magazine, Golf Digest and Golf for Women. She was named LPGA National Teacher of the Year in 1990 and was inducted into the LPGA Teaching and Club Professionals Hall of Fame in 2017.

“I’ve always been a huge advocate of all people playing the game and have really been involved at the grassroots level getting beginners into the game,” Rader told The Charlotte Observer in 2011.

‘Beloved leader, mentor, friend’

Rader worked to get more women in the sport, including advising club manufacturers and others in the industry on how to create a more inclusive environment for women.

In a Facebook post Wednesday, the LPGA Professionals organization called Rader a “beloved leader, mentor, and friend. Her contributions to this organization and those who love the game are too numerous to count and for that, she will be sincerely missed.”

Golf Magazine for years ranked Rader’s school among the 25 best in the U.S.

Nancy Lopez, one of the all-time greatest golfers, became a mentor and friend and wrote the foreword to Rader’s 2002 book, “Rock Solid Golf: A Foundation for a Lifetime.”

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Golf pro Dana Rader, shown in this 2006 photo, suggested using a “nice size” umbrella to fix “slicing” the ball. CHRISTOPHER A. RECORD Charlotte Observer file photo

In 2020, Rader received the Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award, recognizing the teaching professional “who best emulates Lopez’s qualities of leadership, passion, giving and approachability.”

Through all of the accolades, Rader “was always like a local, low-key instructor,” the type you’d never expect had reached the pinnacle of her profession, fellow golf instructor Marc Lapointe told the Observer in an interview Thursday.

Lapointe, now based in Fort Mill, worked for Rader for 13 years at her school before branching out on his own as one of South Carolina’s most highly rated instructors.

“Dana had a huge impact on my life,” Lapointe elaborated in an email Thursday night.

She offered Lapointe, a Canadian citizen, his first job in the United States.

“She was the epitome of a leader,” he said. “She had such an impact on those around her. You could sense it just from being in the room with her that she was someone special. I didn’t just see Dana as just my boss, but as a mentor and a friend.”

On Facebook, Jason Sutton, chief golf instructor at Colleton River Club in Bluffton, South Carolina, said Rader “had a massive effect on my career and my life. I miss her so much and wish we had more time together. I love you Big Girl!!”

Golf her lifelong passion

Rader was born in Morganton.

She took dance lessons, rode a motorcycle and played basketball in her youth, but golf became her lifelong passion after her father introduced her to the sport at age 15, her family said in her obituary.

Rader learned from pro instructor Joe Cheves and golf great Billy Joe Patton at Mimosa Hills Country Club in her hometown, and made the men’s golf team at Pfeiffer University, where she studied physical education. She was inducted into Pfeiffer’s Hall of Fame in 1996.

“While she had the talent to try and qualify for the LPGA Tour, Dana found her real love for the game was in teaching,” her family said in her obituary.

“Every great teacher is a good student, and Dana learned from some of the best,” her family said, mentioning Lopez, Peggy Kirk Bell, LPGA founders Ellen Griffin and Shirley Spork and Charlotte developer and Ballantyne founder H.C. “Smoky” Bissell.

Rader trained at least 30 instructors in the years he worked for her, Lapointe said. Several, including himself, became directors of Instruction at other facilities or started their own golf academies, he said.

“She was a Hall of Fame(r) for sure, one of a kind,” Lapointe said. “She will be greatly missed.”

National LPGA leader

From 2010 to 2015, Rader served as national president of the LPGA’s teaching and club professionals and in 2015 received the LPGA’s highest honor for teaching professionals, the Ellen Griffin Award.

She also was a respected community leader, friends and family said, serving on the board of directors of the United Way of Central Carolinas, First Tee Greater Charlotte and Pfeiffer University, among others.

She was named Charlotte Business Woman of the Year in 2003.

Rader, who reached Master Professional status in her sport in 2013, also served on the staff of Square Two Golf and Nancy Lopez Golf and was the first woman to serve on Nike’s Advisory Board.

After selling her golf school, she returned to her love of teaching, first at Sea Pines Resort in Hilton Head, and, since 2018, as director of instruction at Belfair in Bluffton, South Carolina, her family said.

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Dana Rader, shown in this 2006 photo, takes a shot at the green from a sandtrap. Christopher A. Record Charlotte Observer file photo

Her faith in God fueled everything she did, Lapointe said, noting how the mission statement of her golf school started with “to serve God.”

“And although I initially thought it was an odd statement for a business, it became apparent very quickly that Dana had a strong faith in God that was present in her daily life,” Lapointe said. “Her impact goes far beyond golf, and I’m appreciative for the years I had with her.”

Family thanks community

“None of us knew she would leave us so soon,” her family said in her obituary. “But like all great teachers, Dana’s impact will never really leave us.”

Rader’s family thanked everyone for their prayers and well wishes “through this difficult time. Your love for her is such a beautiful tribute to the person she was and her impact on others.”

Rader is survived by Amy Prior; brother Brian Rader; cousin and Sissy Judy “JuJu” Hensley; “Aunt Boot” Virginia Hood Rader; and a nephew, nieces, cousins and extended family members.

A celebration of life service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21, at First United Methodist Church, 200 N. King St. in Morganton.

An additional service will be held in Hilton Head Island at a date to be announced.

Contributions in Rader’s memory may be made to the Dana Rader Leadership Fund, in care of the LPGA Foundation, the Beaufort Memorial Hospital Foundation or the CJD Foundation.

Sossoman Funeral Home and Crematory Center is handling arrangements.

Condolences may be sent to the family at www.sossomanfh.com.

Dana Rader golf tip 2006
In this 2006 photo, golf pro Dana Rader shows how to use a dollar bill to hit a bunker shot. Rader taught golfers to place the ball in the center of the dollar. The entire bill would land onto the green with a good shot. A dig or chop at the ball would cut the dollar in half, and hitting too far behind the dollar would leave the ball in the bunker. CHRISTOPHER A. RECORD Charlotte Observer file photo

This story was originally published August 18, 2022 5:43 PM.

LPGA teaching great Dana Rader dies of rare brain disease

Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.