April 2008

Do You Have What it Takes to Go Pro?

Author: Jim Bucci

So you want to be a pro golfer? Who wouldn’t? Think about it, life in the Lowcountry, more golf courses than you can shake a palmetto branch at, short (if at all) winters… Being a golf professional on and around our little piece of land does have its perks. However, the path to get there is rarely easy.

Confusing Names
First, let’s clear up the discrepancy in language between the terms pro golfer and golf pro. Tiger Woods is a pro golfer. His game is so good that he often gets paid just to show up at certain events. This privilege is for the very elite players in the game—so elite, in fact, that if you can accept that there are roughly 1,500 pro golfers on the six major national tours in the U.S. and compare that to the 26.2 million golfers over the age of 18 that exist in this country, you have a 1:17,466 chance of turning pro. While that is a rough estimate and probably statistically flawed, the point is that whatever the case, it’s an extremely long shot. If you make it, you can say you played in the rarified air that Tiger breathes.

While that may sound somewhat insurmountable, there is a much easier way to become a pro golfer (provided you are a verified scratch golfer). Empty your wallet. You can, if so inclined, participate in a variety of mini tours, happy to charge you significant entrance fees (up to $1,000 and more), that give you the chance to duke it out for small purses with other aspiring pros. Several tours make stops locally that may entice even the average golfer to give up his amateur standing just to say that he/she “has gone pro.”

Realistic Approach: Two Ways To Get There
If your golf is a bit weaker than Tiger’s and you don’t have the skills to play with the big hitters on the tours, but you love the game and are decent at it, you may ask, “What’s out there for me?” The answer is plenty! There is a life out there that is rewarding, fun and full of opportunities working as a golf professional.

However, you must be realistic. The number one complaint of golf pros is that they rarely get to play the game they love. But if you can get comfortable with that, then you have two primary tracks to becoming a golf professional:

1. Trial By Fire. The method most frequently employed by aspiring golf pros is to go to your local course and ask/beg for a job. Oftentimes these applicants tend to be younger, are avid golfers, and are able to work long hours outside (caddying, loading bags, cleaning carts, etc.) before getting a chance to move up the golf ladder. Relationship skills are key, as those offering the best customer service often move up more quickly. Knowledge is generally passed down from the head pro to the assistants through on-the-job-training. While some golf courses have outstanding training programs, others (none locally) employ the “hair-on-fire” approach, whereby solving crises on a priority level akin to the one-to-ten pain scale employed by doctors after surgery. It is often difficult to select the right golf course to work for as the uninitiated may be challenged to determine what management style is employed. However, with the right head pro as a mentor, this experience can be intensely valuable and can generate the leads, relationships, and opportunities necessary for long-term success in the industry.

2. Formal Training. The newest model for the aspiring golf professional is the formal Professional Golf Management (PGM) program. These programs are often offered at larger universities in conjunction with the PGA (e.g. Clemson and Coastal Carolina) as a four-and-a-half-year traditional bachelor’s degree, while smaller non-PGA institutions like the Professional Golfers Career College (PGCC) and San Diego Golf Academy offer an associate’s degree program that concludes in roughly 16 months. Locally, Hilton Head Island and Bluffton have just welcomed the PGCC to the Lowcountry, where students age 19-52 are seeking the shorter, more intense experience that will position them for jobs above entry level immediately following graduation.

While both tracks have their benefits and detriments, one thing is abundantly clear: all roads usually lead to the PGA. As the body that is recognized in the U.S. as the source for professional development for the golf industry, the PGA has established a program that must be completed by anyone wishing to be a certified golf professional.

The PGA Track
Two things stand in your way to achieving PGA Apprentice status: a job and a golf game. The PGA requires employment in acceptable golf-specific positions for at least six months before applying for the program, and then, after passing a Play Abilities Test (commonly referred to as the PAT’s), you get the privilege of starting on their own path of coursework that can take up to eight years to complete.

I think I mentioned that becoming a golf pro isn’t easy. However, if you love the game as I have come to, appreciate its benefits (did I mention the lack of a discernable winter?) and are willing to work harder than the average Joe at your craft, then you can have a great and fulfilling career as a golf professional.

Jim Bucci is the director of marketing for the Professional Golfers Career College in Bluffton and the co-chairman of the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce’s sports council.

Golf Tours with local events:

• One Day Golf Tour—www.onedaygolftour.com
• The Tarheel Tour—www.tarheeltour.com
• Professional Golf Management Programs:
• Professional Golfers Career College—www.golfcollege.edu
• San Diego Golf Academy—www.sdga.edu
• The PGA Track & Accredited Programs:
PGA of America—www.pga.com

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