Ann Marie Armaly was 30-something when she decided to take up golf. But she didn’t think much about it after the golf pro at a local course missed their scheduled lesson, so she was surprised when a staff member at the club asked her to wait because the golf pro was rushing back to make their appointment. She learned later that the staff had called the golf pro, Jim Roschek, with the instructions “You need to return ASAP. You really don’t want to miss this lesson. Trust us.”
Turns out they were onto something.
That was in the 1980s, and Armaly was busy raising two children while also working as a successful independent insurance agent. She didn’t have time to dedicate additional energy to golf beyond learning the difference between a hook and a slice and not wanting to embarrass herself on the course while conducting business. But that persistent golf instructor, Jim Roschek, had other plans, convincing Armaly to continue her lessons, and the two connected, on and off the course.
As their relationship grew — they married in 1989 and she became Ann Marie Roschek — so did her interest in golf. Not only did she grow into a golf enthusiast, but she also became a certified golf instructor and began assisting her husband, a PGA professional, in running both the Milham Park and Grand Prairie golf courses.
Jim, after 28 years as director of golf with the Kalamazoo Municipal Golf Association, left that position in 2007 to serve as president and CEO of the Municipal Golf Association in San Antonio, Texas. During his tenure in Texas, Ann Marie continued running Grand Prairie Golf Course, with Jim returning in 2019.
Today, in a cooperative partnership with Kalamazoo Township, the Roscheks operate the facilities at Grand Prairie Golf Course, located on Grand Prairie Road in Kalamazoo. “We cater to a wide range of golf enthusiasts, from those who are new to the sport to the more experienced golfer who wants to get in a quick nine,” Ann Marie explains. “It’s a family-friendly course that also caters to those wanting to improve their short game on a beautiful course.”
Supporting female golfers
According to a staff member, those who golf regularly at Grand Prairie remark that the Roscheks’ work has resulted in fairways and greens that are on par with any of the top-rated courses in the area. The course’s pro shop carries golf clubs for adults and juniors and a large selection of golf apparel for women — a deliberate move by Ann Marie, who believes that female golfers have had little choice when it comes to golf attire and equipment.
“We have women who belong to area country clubs who come here to shop because they know that they can find quality, fashionable attire that they won’t find anywhere else. It’s important to us to support female golfers who might feel unrepresented elsewhere,” she says.
Being a female business owner in an industry long dominated by men comes with challenges, but Roschek says she has had surprisingly few. She recalls one instance when a male employee was unwilling to accept taking direction from her. “It got to a point where I straight up asked him if he had trouble taking orders from a woman, and he replied honestly that he did,” she says. “But this was rare occurrence. The truth is that I’ve had little pushback as a woman in the golf industry, and that’s a great thing.”
Running the golf course is a full-time-plus affair for the Roscheks. While the course is generally closed from November through March, the task of running the business is a year-round job involving ordering products, assessing inventory and maintaining equipment so that the course is ready for spring. The Roscheks enjoy time in Florida during the winter months, but work doesn’t stop just because there’s snow blanketing the course in Michigan.
Speaking of snow, operating a golf course in Michigan has its own quirks and challenges. Michiganders are familiar with those precious days in late winter when the sun suddenly appears and the temperature jumps to a balmy 60 degrees.
“We’re always ready for those exceptional few days in the early months when the snow vanishes for a moment and people are scrambling to find their golf clubs,” says Ann Marie. “We have a great staff here and we’re able to open up the course on those rare days, allowing people the treat of golfing in the winter.”
A family business
It’s safe to say that for the Roscheks running a golf course has become a family affair. “I grew up on the east side of the state and didn’t move to West Michigan until I was 27,” says Ann Marie. “I love Kalamazoo and the people here. It’s so nice here that my parents decided to follow me.” Her parents, Jim and Tina Armaly, started helping at the courses, enjoying their new jobs in their retirement years. While her father has died, her mother, now 90, retired at age 87.
When Ann Marie isn’t busy behind the counter or in the office at Grand Prairie, she’s likely on the range helping golfers improve their games. A certified golf instructor, she focuses on helping those who are new to the sport or wanting to improve some aspect of their game. Being an effective golf instructor involves experience, intuition and a deep understanding of the sport, she says, as well as the ability to make people feel comfortable during the learning process.
“Golf isn’t something mastered in a day or even a season,” she explains, “but rather it’s an ongoing process. And there is always something that we can be doing better to lower our score. We’re always saying, ‘If I had just made that putt … ‘”
While the golf industry had been on the decline for years, the Covid-19 pandemic had a hand in its recent resurgence. In 2020, the National Golf Federation reported that the number of golfers in the U.S. increased 20 percent over 2019, its largest net increase in 17 years. “Three years ago I would have said that golf has been on the decline,” Roschek says, “but the pandemic led people back outdoors in search of something to do with their families, and suddenly people were rediscovering the magic of following that little white ball.”
As a result, more young people are taking up the sport than ever before — 2020 saw the largest gain in youth golfers since 1997, according to the NGF — and Grand Prairie has a strong junior program.
“Children as young as 5 take part in our summer programs, and it’s thrilling to see them light up as they sink a putt or drive the ball down the fairway,” Roschek says. “They are the future of golf. Unlike many other sports, golf is something we can continue to enjoy long into our lives. We have many older golfers on our course, and we love seeing them out here. There’s nothing better than seeing a grandparent on the course introducing golf to their grandchildren.”
It’s said that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Roschek couldn’t agree more. “I’m so lucky to be involved in all of this,” she says. “And because of Jim’s affiliation with the PGA, we have been able to see the best talent in the sports world. I have had the honor and pleasure to see Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and so many more greats at premier venues like the U.S. Open Championship, The Ryder Cup and The Masters. I’m blessed.”
As a family tees off on the first hole, Roschek is nearby on the range helping a young woman with her swing. It’s all in a day’s work for her, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.