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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Lake Creek golf pro's done it all

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Storm Lake native Melea Raveling didn't play her first round of golf until she was a freshman in high school.

Ten years later, she was playing on the prestigious women's Pro Futures Tour in Florida.

She admits she was blessed with natural ability in golf, but given the circumstances, that might be a bit of an understatement.

"I can remember the first high school meet I competed in," said Raveling, who now lives in Alta and is the Director of Golf at Lake Creek Country Club there. "I think I shot something like 52."

Later her freshman year during an invitational meet, she found herself in the sand trap for the first time ever.

"I had no idea how to play out of the sand," she said, chuckling at the memory. "I played it the best I could and wound up chipping in."

Raveling went on to compete four years in varsity golf at Storm Lake High, where she also was a starter in basketball and softball.

By her junior and senior years, she was averaging 81 for eighteen holes and took sixth at the Iowa State meet as a junior and fourth as a senior.

On the eighteenth hole at state as a senior in 1991, she remembers walking up the fairway and seeing Briar Cliff College's women's golf coach Lila Fromnelt waiting near the green.

Fromnelt had some good fortune when Raveling decided to attend Brian Cliff. She was the No. 1 player there for three years, and went to NAIA national tournaments three times. She was medalist of the national tournament her senior year, the runner-up her junior year and a top-ten finisher her sophomore year.

She says Fromnelt, who by the early 1990's had built the Briar Cliff women's golf program into a national power, was her long-time mentor.

"She, along with my parents were my strongest influences in golf," Raveling said.

"Playing at Briar Cliff was a special experience, and I still am good friends with the girls I played there with. It was like a family, where everybody was supportive of everyone else."

She was also a three-time All-American at Briar Cliff, which at that time, competed in many meets against NCAA Division I and Division II teams.

As a freshman at Briar Cliff, Raveling averaged an 88 for eighteen holes. But under Fromnelt's tutelage, she improved rapidly. She averaged 78 as a sophomore, 76 as a junior and 74 as a senior.

Scores that low on the tough courses Brian Cliff played on boded well for her future.

She played on three pro tours from 1995 until 1998, including the Futures Tour and the Central Florida Challenge.

In 1995 at the Florida Open and competing against 28 members of the LPGA Tour, Raveling finished in the top 20 and led several tournaments going into the final round on numerous occasions.

Nevertheless, playing golf at the pro level isn't as glamorous as some might think it is, she said.

"I'd never trade the experience I had playing pro for anything," Raveling said. "At the same time, it's very difficult.

"You basically live out of your car and money is always a consideration. You've got to play well enough to gain sponsors to pay your expenses.

"And it's so different than college golf was. Everybody would just as soon see you shoot a million and nobody really cares about you. I finally felt guilty taking money from sponsors because I wasn't making much money."

That doesn't mean Raveling wasn't a factor in the tournaments she played in. But making money playing pro golf is a tough proposition.

"I think the winner of the Future's Tour one year came out something like just $2,000 ahead after expenses," she said. "So you have to play very well just to keep up with expenses."

Raveling says she often thought about attempting to qualify for the LPGA Tour, but that, too, is expensive.

"It costs $2000 up front to try for your qualifying card," she said. "But by the time you figure in travel and other expenses, it would cost at least $10,000."

Raveling finally tired of the grind playing professionally and signed on as head men's and women's golf coach at Briar Cliff, where she succeeded Fromnelt.

She coached there from the spring of 1999 until 2002. By the time she stepped down to take the director of golf job at Lake Creek, her women's team was ranked sixth in the nation and the men's team missed qualifying for nationals by just one stroke.

"I enjoyed the coaching, even the recruiting," said Raveling, who admits to being "a people person."

That came in handy Sunday afternoon at the Lake Creek Clubhouse, where there was a 27-hole men's tournament going on.

One player needed a new grip on his driver while several others stopped in just to chat. All the while, Raveling was directing other clubhouse employees on everything from collecting cash receipts to other business.

At Lake Creek, Director of Golf is an apt title for her duties.

"I do everything from giving lessons, to setting up leagues and tournaments," she said.

That leaves little time to play, she said, one of the few downsides to the job.

"I think this year I've played two eighteen hole rounds and one or two nine hole rounds," she said. "One of my goals this year is to simply get out on the course and play more."

Lake Creek was in debt by $300,000 when Raveling started there, but by selling some preferred stock and some other wise business decisions by its owners, the club is now in the black.

"We're up and running well right now," she said. "But we'd like to be in full stride in a couple of years. Membership is on the increase right now."

Nevertheless, Raveling still dreams of playing on the LPGA Tour. She's married now and has children, but the dream hasn't left.

"I went out the other day and shot 32 for nine holes, but I'd have to play and practice a lot more if I ever wanted to qualify for the pro tour," she said. "But it's always in the back of my mind."

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