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Golf Pros are anything but Uninformed and Unprepared to Meet Challenge of Chosen Profession

    This is the second part of a five part series taking a look at golf professionals. The second part examines how an aspiring golf pro becomes one and what it takes in a field which has dramatically changed over the course of the last two decades.

    When Ray Rash failed to make his high school’s basketball team, his life took an unexpected turn in the form of golf.

    Then his intention became pursuing a career as a member of  the PGA Tour, but he decided the life of constant travel wasn’t for him and quickly changed his focus to becoming a golf professional.

    Currently the golf pro at Sugar Mill Country Club, located in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, he also knows from almost 30 years of first hand experience, as a PGA of America member, it is a profession which lends itself to the need for constant evolution starting at and including its earliest phase, training.  

    The PGA of America’s Professional Golf Management Program (their training program) has evolved at a tremendous rate since the early 90s.

    “The number of players greatly increased in the 90’s and it led to a frenzy of new golf courses,” Chris Hunckler, managing director of membership programs for the PGA of America, said. “Seeing it interested employers  We felt we needed to interview employers. Time and time again, a lack of meeting the needs that the growth of the industry brought was cited.”

    In order to earn the proper credentials to became a PGA of America golf professional one must first achieve a specific score for 18 holes of play, known as the Player Ability Test. Would-be golf professionals must also be employed in the industry for six of the last 12 months. They then move into an apprentice program.

    Within each of the three levels, trainees are required to take a series of courses. Each course is a mix of subjects which fall into one of three core areas, the association’s historical cornerstone of teaching golf, business training or working with customers.

    The PGA of America determined  a principle reason for the deficiency in meeeting the needs of the growth was a lack of standarized objectives during the then-training program.    

    The result was the current structure which was introduced in 1994. The incorporation of business training and working with the customers as core areas as well as two of the three seperate courses has steered the program towards a better clarity of standardized objectives.

    An emphasis on interaction between the students as well as the instructors was also created because of the changes and it work symmetrically with the clarity-of-objective-focused structure. The emphasis came about because of a shift to a discussing the material with the instructors. Trainees are expected to be prepared to discuss the material with the instructor after self-study. 

    The employment of full-time professors and adjunct instructors at the headquarters in Port St. Lucie, Florida has also made objectives more standarized and clearer. However, internet courses are available.  Trainees take classes once per level and each lasts one week.

    Various tests and demonstrations are also required. Members are given a total of two years to complete each level.

    In a similar manner to the Boy Scout's system of awarding badges, 165 work activities are aslo required over the course of the three levels.  

    According to officials of the PGA of America, these modifcations since 1994, the introduction of how the material is presented has become more consistent.

    But the more things change, the more the PGA of America's traditional backbone of game courses and ability remains the same.

    "I had to pass the PAT," Rash said. "Then I enrolled in the apprentice program and needed to be prepared to go to the classes. The material was crammed into a small time-frame. I had to pass a test at the end of each level and give a demonstration."

    For those members who wish to go beyond the standard training, the PGA Certified Professional Program began seven years ago. It is for those members who wish to go above and beyond the standard training. Divided into six exceedingly detailed career paths, they are much more specific than the already extremely in-depth standard apprentice program.  

     The career paths are golf operations, general management, instruction, retail, ownership as well as leasing and executive management.             

    “Think of the standard apprentice program as undergraduate work and the Certified Professional Program as a master’s program,” Hunckler said. “Completing the Apprentice program qualifies members to find employment. The Certified Professional Program allows members to move into a detailed and specific area if they wish.” 

    He also said the Certified Professional Program matches the growing trend for specificity in the golf workforce, while allowing for those members who do not wish to pursue it to still establish  a career in the industry.

    "The certified program is the master's with the little extra something which is the difference," Hunckler said.   

     With the industry continuing to move in the direction of specificity the PGA of America has even designated a member’s area of concentration as they are designated into one of 24 classifications.

    But again the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    “My background is like a lot of other golf professionals,” Rash said. “I enjoyed the game the first time I played it and about a year later I dropped 54 strokes on the same course. In between I decided to work at the course. I went to Campbell on a scholarship and caddied for the LPGA golfers. When I was looking for a career it was a natural fit."










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