Over two decades later, Tom Waitrovich still recalls a piece of light-hearted yet competitive banter from Michael Jordan.
“Man, Waitro, you came all the way from Cleveland to let me take your money” said Jordan, at the time a member of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, as the two played a round at Sunset Ridge Country Club in Northfield, IL.
Indeed, Waitrovich did lose a few bucks in stroke play to the man who remains, arguably, the greatest basketball player of all time. And it was just one of several occasions the current Director of Golf at Lakewood Country Club in Westlake has played a round – and made a friendly wager – with the competition-obsessed hall-of-famer. It’s one of a slew of memories Waitrovich, 62, has from a well-traveled career in the golf world.
December 31 will be Waitrovich’s last official day at Lakewood after a 30-year tenure as its head professional. He started in the fall of 1991 and is only the third head pro in the club’s last 79 years.
The club first opened in 1921 at 2613 Bradley Road, and includes fitness, swimming and tennis facilities and hosts private events.
“There were 120 or so guys who applied for this job, and I was in the right place at the right time,” said Waitrovich, who moved to the area after serving in a similar capacity at Sunset Ridge. “It’s been a heck of a ride. I’ve been very fortunate.”
A native of Duluth, MN, Waitrovich has put roots down on Cleveland’s west side. He lived in Bay Village and Avon Lake before settling in Westlake in 1997, where he and his wife, Linda, raised their three children. Twenty-eight-year-old Kayla, 25-year-old Kevin and 22-year-old Brian are all graduates of Westlake High School.
Much like the country club he’s spent so much of his career at, Waitrovich grew to love the surrounding community.
“I think it’s kind of low-key. You can get around pretty good,” he said. “I grew up in the midwest, lived in Chicago, lived in Minneapolis and Duluth. I’m a northern and midwest guy. Cleveland is a great place to raise a family, it’s fairly affordable, there’s lots of stuff to do. It’s home. Westlake’s been great.”
He is stepping away from a role that has been equal parts rewarding and time-consuming, including more seven-day work weeks than he’d care to count during the months of March-December. He oversees all golf events at the club, including outings, tournaments and instruction, food and beverage and a caddie program that boasts between 60-80 young people. He also manages the club’s pro shop and its indoor simulator.
“It’s been fun meeting so many people,” he said. “When you’re the director you’re the point person for everything golf. You wear a lot of hats.”
One of the highlights of his career has been the migration of former assistants into head professional roles at other courses. He said 15 have made that move during his tenure.
“That’s something I’m not only very proud of, but our club is very proud of, too,” he said.
Over the years, he’s also provided instruction to countless golfers of all ages, spreading knowledge of the game he’s played since his days in Duluth, caddying at a public course called Lester Park.
“Golf was just something to do in the summertime. My first love was hockey,” Waitrovich said of his upbringing in a hockey haven in Northern Minnesota.
He played golf for his high school team while pursuing a future in hockey, but a ruptured quadricep muscle in his leg ended those aspirations. He played the center position and had drawn some college interest before the setback.
He continued to play golf and attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he eventually became a Division II All-American before graduating and turning pro in 1985. He was named to the school’s hall-of-fame in 2017.
He played in events while also working his way up to becoming a club pro in Tuscaloosa, AL, in 1986, then moved to Northfield, IL, in 1988 to work at Sunset Ridge.
Since moving to Ohio, he’s competed in numerous events sponsored by the Northern Ohio PGA, including a victory in the Ohio Senior Open in 2013. He was named to the organization’s hall-of-fame in 2017.
“I enjoy the competition,” he said.
His finest performance came at a pro-am event in 2011, when he shot a course-record 10-under par 61 at Bali Hai in Las Vegas. The record still stands.
“I was 52-years-old,” Waitrovich said. “That was quite a day. Not many people can say they shot 61, so that’s kind of unique. People will ask if that’s for 18 (holes), and I say yeah, 18. I made six birdies in a row, had an early eagle, then birdied 15 and 18 to finish with 61.”
What comes next for a retired golf pro? Well, more golf. Waitrovich will be spending some time in Florida this winter playing before returning home to take part in his other interests, which include indoor tennis and bass fishing.
Even moreso, he’s looking forward to spending time with his family.
He grew up in a blue-collar environment, spent his youth in Minnesota caddying for and playing a sport that would take him all over the country, and is ready to close a career chapter.
“I’m excited about it, and maybe a little nervous about it at the same time, which is okay,” Waitrovich said. “The game of golf has been very rewarding for me and my family. It’s been great.”
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