Bergum earns 2024 Friend of Golf award from state coaches association

            Longtime youth golf coach John Bergum thanked a small audience of his players, family, and state golf coach association members moments after being presented with the PGA Friend of Golf award last Wednesday at Trempealeau Mountain Golf Course for his work in teaching golf to county youth over the last 20 years.   (Times photograph by Benjamin Pierce)

John Bergum is still easing back into his golf swing after eye surgery required a delayed start to this season for the longtime teacher in the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District.

And while he might not currently be able to play as much golf as he would like, Bergum can still be found each week on Trempealeau County golf courses sharing his passion and knowledge of the sport with the future of local golf.

Bergum has led the G-E-T summer school golf program for the last two decades and was recognized recently by the Wisconsin Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) with the 2024 Friend of Golf Award to honor his dedication to growing the sport of golf.

“Everything I’ve done, whether it’s teaching or coaching, I do it for the kids. It’s very humbling. I didn’t coach a lot of high school sports because I wanted to be with my family as much as I could, so I did a lot of middle school sports. But I felt I was still there to give those kids that opportunity and to be recognized like this from the Wisconsin Golf Coaches Association is beyond my wildest dreams,” Bergum said after receiving the award last Wednesday in Trempealeau.

Bergum started the summer school golf program alongside G-E-T athletic director Rick Schmidt 20 years ago in Ettrick. The program runs through August and sees over 90 kids spend Monday and Wednesday mornings learning golf at Trempealeau Mountain Golf Course before heading to Ettrick Golf Club each Thursday.

The program is offered through G-E-T summer school but also teaches students from other area school districts. One student from Texas is staying with his grandmother in the area this summer, and Bergum invited them to join the class for the summer.

Wisconsin residents can be nominated for the Friend of Golf award each year. The award is granted to people who have devoted significant time and “built the game of golf in their community,” WGCA board member and Tomah girls golf coach Tonya Gnewikow said.

Bergum is Wisconsin’s lone recipient of the award for 2024.

“He’s very, very deserving,” Gnewikow said of Bergum. “John has devoted unconditional hours, passion and time into youth in this whole area, so we just wanted to make sure it didn’t go unnoticed.”

Bergum taught sixth graders in G-E-T for 32 years before retiring in 2023. He previously worked as the high school JV golf coach and started the district’s middle school golf team.

Courtney (Bergum) Zangl is Bergum’s daughter. The 2015 graduate of Holmen High School, former Winona State University golfer and current UW-La Crosse assistant girls golf coach helps with the summer golf program, which is where Zangl began her own golf career in fourth grade.

Zangl recalled trips to the golf course for a donut and a 1919 Root Beer in her youth while Bergum coached summer golf before eventually wanting to learn the game from her father, someone Zangl said has plenty to share.

“He knows a lot, and he can also do a lot. He’s a guy that calls his shots all the time. … I think it’s really impressive what he knows and then what he’s able to do on the course and teach the kids,” Zangl said.

Ten to 15 kids enrolled in the inaugural years of the program, and lessons were only in Ettrick.

Two decades later with nearly 100 students between two golf courses, multiple coaches and changes along the way, Bergum remains a constant and has no plans of stopping.

“Golf is a sport we want youth involved in because they (course management) see it as that’s their future. And I see it as an opportunity, a gift of a sport they can play for the rest of their life if they are healthy,” Bergum said.

“This morning we had 33 kids out here at 7:30 in the morning, otherwise what else are they going to do? It has grown. It’s a passion of mine.”

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