Game Changers

'There's More Climbing to Do' : Ian Ziska, PGA, and the Strive for Excellence at American Dunes

By Lisa Goulian-Twiste
Published on
(Russell Kirk/GOLF LINKS)

(Russell Kirk/GOLF LINKS)

Ian Ziska says his career in golf has been an “amazing journey filled with synchronicity.” It started with a summer job at the age of 12 in the shoe room at Cadillac (Michigan) Country Club under PGA Professional David Kendall.
And at age 45, his path has landed him as PGA Head Professional at American Dunes Golf Club in Grand Haven, Michigan, a facility that donates its profits to the Folds of Honor Foundation benefitting the families of fallen and disabled U.S. armed service members.
“I was introduced to the game by my golf family at Cadillac Country Club,” says Ziska, the 2023 Merchandiser of the Year for public facilities. “In a sense, I was raised by the club, from my first summer in the shoe room to working my way into the bag room and then into the golf shop. I had never played before, but got my first set of clubs and fell in love with the game.”
Born and raised in Cadillac, Ziska joined the high school golf team and was an all-state golfer before going on to play at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, where he enrolled in the PGA Golf Management University Program. He credits program director Matt Pinter with being “tough, but fair,” adding, “I was no perfect student by any means and barely checked enough boxes to get into the program. But once in, I was invested in the culture and became a leader within the student association – basically prepared myself every way possible as I headed into a career in golf.”
After graduating in 2001, Ziska went to work for PGA Professional Doug Bell at Manistee National Golf & Resort, a 36-hole resort near Lake Michigan. As an assistant professional and then PGA Head Professional there, merchandising was a natural fit for Ziska, who grew up with a passion for art and design.
“I’ve been able to tap into my creative side throughout my career, and it’s been fun to deliver that element into the retail space,” he says.
After 12 years at Manistee, an opportunity came for Ziska to return to Ferris State as the PGA Director of Golf, running their golf facility and shop. It was here he achieved one of his proudest accomplishments in merchandising: taking a golf shop with sales of about $70,000, adding a “national reach” with an online component, and boosting those sales to nearly $300,000.
“I was very proud to create a culture at Ferris State, building trust with guests and delivering gear to alumni seeking a premium offering not found in the bookstore. It was a small achievement but a big move for a public university course,” he says.
In 2019, after Ziska had been at Ferris State for six years, an opportunity to team up with Bell came again. He was leaving Manistee to become General Manager at American Dunes, and wanted Ziska to come along as PGA Head Professional.
Ziska (far right) and PGA Associates Stone Whipple (left) and Cooper Bell proudly feature red, white and blue in many of their golf shop offerings.
Ziska (far right) and PGA Associates Stone Whipple (left) and Cooper Bell proudly feature red, white and blue in many of their golf shop offerings.
American Dunes, a “golf church” constructed to honor the birthplace of the Folds of Honor, was a new facility featuring what Ziska calls “Jack Nicklaus’s most patriotic Signature Design.” And even though there was no physical golf shop or in-person shopping for more than a year after Ziska arrived, he was able to use his online experience to start racking up some impressive sales.
“We were under construction, so online became our primary source of retail, and we saw great support with nearly $250,000 in online sales the year before we opened,” he says. “We’re a million-dollar shop now, and we’re on an awesome trajectory. Our team is grateful for the support from our visiting guests. It’s an absolute honor to deliver them the ‘most patriotic gear in golf.’
“With (Folds of Honor Founder and PGA Professional) Lt. Col. Dan Rooney as our lead, brand awareness is essential to success, and his direction is pretty specific: ‘sell the coolest gear.’ Thankfully, I have been on target.”
Brands that rise to that level include Pukka and Ahead for headwear and Galvin Green, Turtleson, Peter Millar, Greyson and FootJoy for apparel. The shop has also done well with Puma’s Volition line, which is in alignment with the American Dunes mission, and Nicklaus golf apparel, which celebrates the club’s sense of American tradition.
“We proudly offer in-your-face Americana featuring the colors red, white and blue,” Ziska adds.
The shop is also big on props, including a Jack Nicklaus Drive Street sign and military items like artillery shells and ammunition boxes, military footlockers and other touches. At just over 700 square feet, there’s not a lot of space, but Ziska and his team make the most of it, knowing who will benefit from their success.
“Every day is Patriot Golf Day at American Dunes,” he says. “Our team strives to educate and bring awareness to our mission: to support the Folds of Honor Foundation and American heroes and their families. We provide guests an unmatched experience as they play ‘Golf’s Most Heroic Round’ and enjoy retail offerings that deliver a brand they are proud to support and showcase.”
On a personal level, Ziska says he’s been lucky enough to find success at three different facilities and to win several Michigan PGA Section awards – and he considers this national honor the coronation of a lot of effort.
“I’ve got to thank my wife, boys, family and friends for their incredible support,” he says. “I grew up in golf and was mentored by some of the best people in the industry. To be recognized at a Section level and now at a national level is unreal; I’m so honored by that feat."

“I try every day to be better than the day before, and I’ll continue to do that. I think this recognition solidifies some of my efforts in my career, and I feel like I got a little closer to the top. But there’s certainly more climbing to do.”

Ian Ziska, PGA