By JENNIE ZEITLER
Former Melrose High School golf coach Jim Ploof will be inducted into the Minnesota High School Golf Coaches Hall of Fame June 10, in St. Cloud.
Growing up in Little Falls, Ploof’s interest in golf was unlikely.
“Little Falls was the baseball hotbed of Minnesota,” Ploof said. “My grandfather lived with us and he was a baseball nut. I had no idea we lived four blocks from the golf course.”
Ploof was introduced to golf when he tagged along with his best buddy and next-door neighbor, Jimmy Diercks, to the golf course. The next year, Ploof’s parents bought him a membership to the club and a “rickety old set of clubs,” he said.
He spent hours looking for balls and playing golf and then Rich Weigel came along.
“In the late 1950s he gave us lessons and started the golf team. He told us to keep at it, and we worked hard at it,” said Ploof. “Sometimes you don’t realize who your mentors are until you can look back. We were a bunch of ragtag kids until he got hold of us.”
Ploof held a spot on the Little Falls High School golf team for four years, graduating in 1965. He won a club tournament in Little Falls in 1969.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State University after student teaching at the junior high level in Alexandria.
“I had wanted to teach high school, but junior high was my niche,” he said. “The kids are different from one week to the next, from one minute to the next. They have energy and you can have fun with them.”
He started teaching art in Melrose in 1969 and added coaching in 1970. With a high school golf program just a couple years old, Ploof started a junior high boys’ golf team. In fall 1972, the girls program was established with Ploof coaching.
“My wife, Carolyn, was very helpful,” Ploof said. “If both teams had a meet on the same day, we would each take a group. If you’re in the coaching business, it helps if your spouse is very understanding and tolerant of your endeavors. Carolyn was that for me.”
In 1977, he took over the whole boys’ program. Although he resigned as the girls’ coach at that time, he took up the job again sporadically throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s and into the 2000s, as he was needed.
Ploof’s childhood dream was to design and build his own golf course. The Meadowlark Country Club in Melrose was a fledgling five years old when Ploof came to town.
Before the interstate was constructed, the course was four blocks from the high school.
“They have been tolerant of me here to allow me to put in some sand traps and plant trees; I love this place,” said Ploof. “It’s been good; I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
When asked to name a favorite hole, Ploof said, “They’re kind of all like your little children after you’ve worked on them and played them for so long.”
But he could admit that holes five and six are favorites because they are risk/reward holes.
“At 330 yards, you need to hit a long drive and it better be straight,” he said. “The holes have been redesigned with sand traps, ponds and trees.”
But hole three is also a favorite. Ploof painted a view of the hole from the top of a rise two years ago. Prints were made and sold as a fundraiser for the course.
Although Ploof retired from teaching and coaching nine years ago, he has been substitute teaching ever since. He has been a member of the Meadowlark Board since 1995.
Ploof never expected to be named to the Hall of Fame.
“But there are many ways to measure success,” he said. “It’s about passion for the sport, and doing the best you can for the kids.”
Ploof wrote a booklet, “Tips for High School Golf Coaches,” which was distributed by the Minnesota State High School League. Requests have been made for the booklet by coaches in many other states.
“It includes a lot of peripheral things involved with coaching, such as how to organize a team,” he said.
“It’s especially significant to be recognized by your peers, knowing what they’ve accomplished,” said Ploof. “It’s a real honor to be added to that list” of Hall of Fame inductees.
Ploof is always teaching the game in some way or another, helping out those who ask for advice.
“I was hoping in my retirement to be living out here on the course like I did when I was a kid,” he said, chuckling. “As you get older, the holes become longer and narrower and the cups get extremely small.”
Ploof muses on the different turns a person’s life takes.
“If I hadn’t gotten the job in Melrose I would have headed to Florida for a six-month course to become a certified PGA professional. I don’t know if I would have made it on the circuit, but would have started as an assistant pro somewhere,” he said. “All these little decisions we make … I’m glad it turned out like it did.”
Ploof plays about 40-50 rounds of golf per summer, but would like to do five times that.
“Meadowlark has a real nice small-town atmosphere,” said Ploof. “It’s open to the public but has shareholders.”
“We’re here for such a short time to touch the lives of just a few generations and hope to pass something along,” he said.