Of all the compliments Jim Sobb has received during his 30-year career as the director of golf at the Ivanhoe Club in Mundelein, Ill., one in particular conveys the type of respect he garners.
“He’s the Bob Ford of the Midwest,” said Jason Rasmussen, a former lead assistant for Sobb who since has become the head professional at Ozaukee Country Club in Mequon, Wis. “The way he talks to you, when you walk away from him, you feel like you just spoke to a guy who really cares. Even after all the years he has been at Ivanhoe, he still has the exuberance to make you feel like it’s his first day there.”
It’s a lofty comparison to put Sobb’s name in the same category as the legendary Ford, the longtime pro at Oakmont and Seminole, but it’s certainly warranted. A member of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame, Sobb has enjoyed a stellar competitive career that featured appearances in three PGA Championships, five Western Opens, three U.S. Senior Opens and two Senior PGA Championships. He’s collected three Illinois PGA Championship victories and captured both the Illinois Match Play and Senior Match Play championships in the same year. He’s been the Illinois PGA Senior Player of the Year on six occasions and has played in the Radix Cup – an annual team event pitting Illinois PGA professionals against the state’s best amateurs – more than 20 times.
But for everything Sobb has accomplished on the course, it’s his larger-than-life reputation at Ivanhoe that puts him into another league of club professional. His name has become synonymous with not only his facility but also the mentorship of fellow professionals and the relentless enthusiasm he demonstrates when interacting with others. That is why Global Golf Post has chosen to honor Sobb its 2020 Pro’s Pro.
“From a young age, I was just attracted by golf,” Sobb said. “It’s for the love of the game but it’s also for being around people who also love the game. It’s being around members and seeing their passion. That’s the ultimate joy for me.”
A lifetime Chicago-area resident, Sobb started playing the game at age 10 but didn’t focus solely on golf until later. He was the quarterback for Palatine High School, where he also played basketball and golf. He considered football scholarship offers but eventually decided to attend Western Illinois University, where he walked on to the golf team and earned a scholarship as a freshman.
Sobb immediately wanted to enter the golf business when he graduated college in 1977. He started as an assistant professional at what was then known as Hillcrest Country Club in Long Grove, Ill., before moving on to the now-defunct Thorngate Country Club in Deerfield, Ill. There, Sobb learned from Mike Harrigan, the head pro who would go on to hold the same position for 13 years at venerable Medinah Country Club.
“The way Mike treated people, the way he ran golf tournaments, the way he taught – he was just the consummate golf professional,” Sobb said. “That’s what I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be just a teacher or a player or a junior golf leader. I wanted to do it all.”
It wouldn’t take too long for Sobb to become that type of leader. In 1983, he became the head pro at a small public course in McHenry, Ill., called Chapel Hill Country Club and held the position for two years before moving to Highland Park Country Club. Hoping to find a private facility where he could flourish, Sobb made his way to Ivanhoe in 1989 and has been in the same position since.
How do you establish consistency and a relationship with members that stands the test of time? There’s no simple answer, but it’s clear that Sobb has invested himself heavily into every role of his job. It starts with his decorated playing career, which continues in the form of Sobb frustrating opponents despite his lack of power.
“As he has gotten older, his distance isn’t there but he can still score with the best of them,” said Pat Mannelly, an Ivanhoe member and former long snapper for the NFL's Chicago Bears. “He will annoy the heck out of you. He’ll hit a hybrid to 4 feet and make players hit their 7-irons inside of that. And he will get into guys’ domes by doing that.”
But it’s not just about having a golf club in his hand. Sobb owned the Ivanhoe golf shop for 25 years and has won the Illinois PGA Private Merchandiser of the Year honor. He’s an Illinois section Bill Strausbaugh Award winner for outstanding mentorship and makes it a point to hire interns who arrive with little or no experience in the golf industry so he can teach them all parts of the operation. The caddie program he developed at Ivanhoe has become a model for excellence – the club had four Evans scholars who all began attending major universities last fall. On any given day, you can find Sobb as a teacher, a tournament director, a starter or anything in between.
“He’s the Bob Ford of the Midwest. The way he talks to you, when you walk away from him, you feel like you just spoke to a guy who really cares. Even after all the years he has been at Ivanhoe, he still has the exuberance to make you feel like it’s his first day there.”
That versatility and positive energy he brings to each moment with his more than 300 members is the reason Sobb’s name carries extraordinary weight. A great illustration of that occurred last year when Ivanhoe’s club champion, George McGuire, played in a tournament for club champions from private Chicago-area facilities. When McGuire arrived for the event, officials gave his son a caddie bib with the Ivanhoe name on the back. After about 45 minutes on the practice range before the round, McGuire’s son excitedly told him, “Dad, I have never been so proud in my life.”
McGuire thought his son was talking about him, but that had nothing to do with it.
“He said, ‘The fact I have Ivanhoe on the back of my bib, now everyone is coming up to me and telling me what a wonderful guy and class act that Jim Sobb is,’ ” McGuire recalled. “That moment said anything more than what I could say.”
That pride is what Sobb lives for. He views himself as an ambassador of the club who understands his facility’s demands right down to the idiosyncrasies of each member. Every year, Sobb assembles his staff and comes up with something new for the upcoming season, whether that be a new tournament format, new policy or optics in the golf shop. They’ll even change the way phones are answered in the shop just to prevent their service from becoming stale.
That attention to detail extends to his family life. Sobb has been married to his wife, Tina, for 28 years and worked to send their son, Ryan, 26, and their daughter, Abbey, 24, to college. Despite the demands of his work, Sobb never missed Ryan’s little league or Abbey’s cheerleading and often did the bulk of the driving. Just like he is a constant presence at Ivanhoe, Sobb is the same type of father and husband.
When he leaves Ivanhoe one day – and that day would appear to be in the distant future – Sobb hopes that consistency and well-roundedness are a part of his life legacy.
“It’s been a privilege to be a part of all facets of the game,” Sobb said. “When members introduce me to their guests, there is a pride that comes with that. I know they are proud of their pro.
“To be that person for so many years, it has been a real honor.”