The Golf Pro Crisis & Its Impact on Clubs

A few weeks ago, Golf Digest ran an article entitled “The Club Pro Crisis” and talked about the long hours, low pay and dwindling numbers entering the business. Combined with the fact that there are about 2,000 fewer golf course facilities (12.5%) than 2005 in the United States, the opportunities aren’t as plentiful and it stands to reason young men and women interested in golf as a career are seeking other options. Combined with consolidation of multiple roles at some clubs the GM, Golf Course Superintendent or a retail specialist may handle the duties a golf pro once handled. How does this impact golf course and club economics?

Some clubs feel as though they can get along without the services of a golf professional, who many perceive as being one of many golfers with professional playing aspirations who didn’t make it. Conversely, PGA members go through a rigid series of educational programs and apprenticeships, including a playing ability test to become certified as a PGA member. A club pro’s duties may include any number or all of the following:

  • Instructor
  • Organizer/Supervisor
  • Event Manager
  • Merchandiser
  • Public Relations Agent
  • General Manager
  • Food & Beverage Manager
  • Starter/Ranger
  • Superintendent

Most of the upper echelon of pros would probably tell you it doesn’t stop there. To me, the real impact is probably in the area of public relations, maybe more accurately “Golf Ambassador”. The golf professional (as opposed to professional golfer) sometimes plays an outsized role in the experience of golfers of all levels of skill and enthusiasm. In some instances, the head pro is someone who becomes the face and image of the club for many. He/she is the first point of contact for new members and young people taking up the game, often the trusted instructor, and going forward the source of golf equipment, attire and even travel advice. It’s typically the pro that arranges games, authorizes access and manages play. The golf professional or his/her staff impacts almost every player at any given golf facility.

Golf professionals, like most vocations, come in many shapes and sizes. There are the strong players, some with a background of playing the PGA Tour. There are the “managers” who are most adept at operating and managing a golf facility, serving patrons and members – and running events and the “personalities”- skilled at attracting patrons, selling memberships and influencing the atmosphere. The best professionals combine all these traits and are adept at running what is essentially a hospitality enterprise. Unfortunately, there is limited diversity among golf professionals. Currently, there are only four players of color on the PGA Tour (Tiger Woods, Cameron Champ, Wyatt Worthington and Harold Varner III). Of the PGA’s 29,000± members, reportedly only 186 are African American. There are also only four African American players on the LPGA Tour, but many Asian-born players as well as Americans of Asian heritage. I can’t remember the last time I encountered a minority head professional at any course and while their numbers are growing, women are similarly under-represented in the world of club golf professionals. Golf professionals influence the culture of any course or club.

While the dearth of new young talent entering the profession may make opportunities for more diversity, the fact is that the pro has an outsized influence on the experience of many golfers and can be the one person who influences the new golfer whether to stick with it or seek other activities. This means that not only do clubs and courses need to recognize the value a well-trained pro brings to the club but also the PGA needs to develop its educational programs and training to ensure that young professionals realize that golf is a hospitality business, at all levels. It’s not at all uncommon for golfers to make decisions on where to play, what club to join or continue membership or how enthused they are about the game based on the relationship developed with the club pro.

The Golf Pro Crisis is real and like many other industries in today’s tight labor market, clubs’ economic success could depend on attracting talent capable for these positions and training them in a wider variety of skills than traditionally thought of for club pros.