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Waage living golfing dream in Florida
Monroe native Rich Waage is the Director of Golf at Orchid Island Golf & Beach Country Club, a high-end club that features an Arnold Palmer championship golf course. (Photo supplied)
MONROE - Some people get to their dream job with years of schooling, intense interviews or maybe even some athletic talent.

Monroe native Rich Waage had none of these under his belt, but found success in other ways. The self-proclaimed "nice guy" says that for him it's been networking, hard work and results that have taken him to Florida for the past 18 years where he serves as the Director of Golf at Orchid Island Golf & Beach Country Club, a high-end club with million dollar views that features an Arnold Palmer championship golf course.

Waage feels he got his start right in his hometown, when at age 8 his father, Sylvan, took him to Windy Acres to play nine holes for fun. That was the last time his father played, but he still dropped his son off at the course to play some holes regularly. Soon, Waage had a junior membership to the Monroe Country Club, although he admits he was never very serious about golf.

"I was a baseball and tennis player in high school," Waage remembers. "I didn't think I was good enough for golf."

But Mike Muranyi and Ed Rufenacht saw some qualities in Waage other than his golf handicap and gave him the opportunity to help out. He learned quickly the game was more than a physical sport.

"The more you play and study the swing and can take the intellectual part of golf and apply it physically - that's what makes the game challenging," he said.

Waage, a 1985 graduate of Monroe High School, attended Madison Area Technical College for liberal studies for a semester before the golf business called to him. He was unsure of what he hoped to do and never dreamed he would find a career in his hobby sport.

Waage was just 19 when Muranyi was the pro at the country club and along with Rufenacht, they helped him land a job during the winter in Jupiter, Fla. in the fall of 1986.

"I'm still thankful for that opportunity," Waage said. "Through them I could network with other professionals. Ed and Lydia (Rufenacht) were gracious to me."

Waage settled in the Jupiter area and worked at Jonathan's Landing Golf Club the summer of 1986 and 1987 and the power of networking unfolded.

Waage was able to meet other golf professionals and charted his course to the PGA. He had a roommate who was from St. Charles, on the west side of Chicago, and with his connections he was able to work between the Midwest and Florida for a few years.

Then he met someone working in Connecticut at the Wee Burn Golf Course, a Scottish, high-end country club just outside of New York City.

Waage said the job made him grow up in a hurry. In New York City each member of the club was a CEO of a Fortune 500 company or working on Wall Street. There was a lot of wealth in metropolitan New York he had never seen so up close and personal. He continued networking and rubbed elbows with nationally known golf pros in his early 20s.

He took every opportunity to meet new and different people who might influence his future. He realized quickly that working hard and doing a good job would open doors for him. And open they did.

In Connecticut he received his PGA Class A Membership status. He had the opportunity to advance, but felt home calling. He missed the laid back, less demanding people from the Midwest.

Upon his return, Waage began working in Waukesha at Merrill Hills Golf Course for a couple of summers where he met his wife, Emily. He was in his mid-20s and felt qualified to apply for his own professional job. Up until now, he had always held assistant and apprentice positions.

He also had a desire to settle down, stop traveling, hang his hat and stay year round somewhere. That happened at Jonathan's Landing back in Jupiter in 1993, where he would stay for about four years.

But in 1997 it was networking again that opened more doors for Waage.

The head pro from Waukesha took Waage along to Orchid Island with him that year. Since he left for six months out of the year Waage was able to take over. In 2005, Waage took the reins and was promoted to the Director of Golf, a post he's held at Orchid since.

Waage is in his 18th year at Orchid, where he's created a welcoming atmosphere and designed a strong tournament program.

Almost 85 percent of members at Orchid go north for the winter, Waage said, and members have playfully dubbed it "Camp Orchid" because of the many amenities it offers.

There are three major club houses, the Golf Club, which is undergoing a $2 million renovation; the 25,000-square-foot beach club and fine dining, pool, grill and access to the beach along with riverfront property. It's located on a barrier island, which isn't offered by many on the east coast of Florida.

The average home price is $1.5 million and reaches up to $15 million on the beach. And, for most, Orchid Island is a second or third home.

An equity certificate to join the club runs about $140,000 and annual dues are about $15,000.

Orchid boasts a challenging course with winds up to 25 miles per hour and lots of water hazards. Orchid was the host of the 2013 Florida State Open and the average score was a 77-78. The 2014 South Florida PGA Championship average score was 80. They're currently in negotiations to host the future national champions.

Waage says he enjoys his job and although he never anticipated a future in golf, he's happy that his life turned out this way. He still enjoys a handful of tournaments each year that he plays in at a scratch level.

"The golf business has been good to me," Waage said. "And I hope to continue to be a part of it."

Waage resides in Vero Beach, a 35-minute drive from Orchid with his wife of 20 years and their five children. He is the son of Sylvan and Lorraine Waage, who still reside in Monroe.