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‘See what you started’

Longtime Whispering Firs golf pro’s storied career in athletics includes being pre-Title IX star at the University of Washington

Northwest Guardian

Published: 02:24PM August 16th, 2012
‘See what you started’

Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian

“This is probably the best job for me in that all I do is teach. That’s really what I love to do,” said Burkhart, who has served as LPGA golf pro at Whispering Firs for 11 years.

For more than a decade Chris Burkhart has been a familiar face at Whispering Firs Golf Course at McChord Field on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The Master Life LPGA professional offers private golf lessons and every summer, conducts weeklong camps for children and adults. But golf is just a small part of Burkhart’s history that includes a multi-sport collegiate career before Title IX, a coaching career that has spanned four decades and becoming a published author.

Burkhart’s career began south of JBLM in Olympia, where she was born in 1950 and was raised with two other siblings. Both her mother and her father served in the Army, but Burkhart was destined for a different path. Her parents encouraged her and her siblings to be active in athletics, and converted the yard into a makeshift football field or baseball diamond. There was also a basketball hoop and a sawdust high-jump pit.

“We just did everything,” Burkhart said. “I sort of grew up as the tomboy.”

At age 8, Burkhart started to swim competitively and broke several pool records at the Olympia YMCA. At 11 she was already 5-foot-11 and still growing. As she entered high school, the only sport females could earn a varsity letter in was tennis.

“Dad handed me a book on tennis and said, ‘This is the way it’s supposed to be played,’” Burkhart said. “I grabbed a racket and played tennis.”

Excelling in everything she touched, Burkhart played No. 1 singles all three years of high school.

The athletic opportunities were similar at the collegiate level where tennis was the only Pac-8 women’s sport. But when she enrolled at the University of Washington in Seattle the 6-3 multi-sport athlete wasn’t satisfied playing just one season a year. Rather, she played field hockey in the fall, basketball in the winter and tennis in the spring. When the track and field team and the swim team were low on numbers she would be recruited for meets where she would break records.

“It just worked out I was able to do all five sports, but only one was a Pac-8 sport,” Burkhart said.

She graduated from the UW in 1971 and started a high school teaching job in Federal Way, coaching a variety of high school sports, and later, the UW women’s basketball team. During her three-year coaching tenure at UW, Title IX was instated and Burkhart became the first women’s Pac-8 basketball coach.

“While you’re in the midst of it I don’t think you ever realize what’s going to happen or it’s any great big deal,” Burkhart said. “It was almost (like) one day I was coaching a club sport and the next day I was a Pac-8 coach.”

While growing up in Olympia, Burkhart’s parents said she and her siblings could play any sport they wanted to as long as they also played golf. Burkhart excelled at the game as a youngster, but at the time it didn’t mean anything to her.

“I was just having fun with it,” she said. “But golf was always in the back of my mind.”

Burkhart became more serious about golf when she started her teaching career. She took time off to take golf lessons and turn professional, playing on the Women’s Professional Golf Tour from 1979-1981 and earning Rookie of the Year honors. After not making the cut for the LPGA Tour three times, she was spurred back into the instruction part of the game and her playing days turned into a teaching career.

Burkhart was the assistant golf professional at La Quinta Country Club in California for six years before she became the men’s and women’s golf coach at Washington State University from 1990-1996. Over time the travel took a toll on her and she started to miss being in the classroom.

“I sort of said I think I need to get off this merry-go-round and so I resigned,” she said. “I really love to teach, not just golf.”

Around that time Burkhart started working on her golf book, “Golf A to Z: Everything You Need to Know to Talk a Great Game.”

Burkhart returned to the classroom at Lincoln High School, where she again coached a variety of boys and girls athletics. Her book was published in 2002 — around the same time Burkhart was hired at Whispering Firs Golf Course on McChord Field. Burkhart enjoys being back in the military scene that she is so familiar with.

“This is probably the best job for me in that all I do is teach,” she said. “That’s really what I love to do.”

When she’s not teaching private golf lessons or health, biology and science, Burkhart continues to coach the Lincoln girls’ bowling team and the boys’ and girls’ golf team. For more than 41 years, she has coached multiple sports every year.

It wasn’t until 2007 that Burkhart was recognized for her athletic achievements at UW. Nearly 200 women were presented with their college letters for their participation in athletics before the 1975-76 school year in a ceremony on campus. Burkhart was there to see women she played with and coached be recognized.

While at an alumni function someone said to Burkhart, “Can you look around and see what you started?”

“You don’t realize it as you’re doing it,” Burkhart said. “It just happens. You just do the best you can with what you have to work with.”

For private golf instruction from Chris Burkhart, call Whispering Firs Golf Course at 982-4927.

Chris Burkhart by the Numbers

41 Years coaching multiple sports

11 Years as Master Life LPGA Professional at Whispering Firs

5 Number of sports participated in at the University of Washington

3 Years on the Women’s Professional Golf Tour

1 First women’s Pac-8 basketball coach