Ground Zero Training: In-House Training Programs

by Brian Dobak
November 23, 2009

Has there ever been a point in your career, long or short, when you just felt like a “body in the golf shop” or a “counter jockey”? A point where you felt like you were just going through the motions - coming to work, doing what you’re told, close the shop, and do it all over again the next day? Don't fret, because something can be done about it. As much as it helps to get the core competencies of the business through our PGA PGM/Apprentice Programs, our training really starts on ground zero - our club.

Many managers take for granted the importance of training their assistant professionals. Let us put it this way. Over the course of your career, you have probably built an extensive network. Even if your fifty years old and going strong, your network continues to grow, it always will. Now continue to think. Each time you hire a new assistant, that assistant represents a few things to you.

1.) The assistant is a new addition to your network and you now have an opportunity to have a positive impact on his or her growth as a golf professional and even person. If the assistant is successful, you are successful.

2.) If trained properly, the assistant is also a means to enhance your operation as well as your network. Having a positive influence on each other can pay dividends in the short and long terms. With all of this said though, many managers seem to take all of this for granted.

The PGA of America is even too heavily relied upon for the responsibility of training apprentices through the PGM Program. Could the PGM Program be more challenging? ABSOLUTELY! But at the end of the day, not enough attention is given by facilities and the PGA Professionals managing them to truly training their apprentices. The PGM Program is there to help you establish credibility and provide you with the core competencies of being a golf professional. The facilities and the golf professionals managing them have the day-to-day, true responsibility of molding and shaping apprentices into the very best golf professionals they can be. A lot more rests on you than you may think. Managers need to embrace the opportunities they have to mold their apprentice professionals.

Take Colleton River Plantation Club in Bluffton, South Carolina. Other than its two golf courses respectively designed by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye, they also have an expansive practice facility. Director of Instruction, David La Pour has made his imprint on apprentice education through The Golf Academy at Colleton River. The program encompasses 42 different tasks with regard to instruction. Each member of La Pour's staff, which consists of PGA Professionals and apprentices, must take part in the certification process, which has four checkpoints: Base Instructor, Lead Instructor, Senior Instructor, and Master Instructor.

Examples of the certifications include everything from how to use video systems when conducting a lesson to public speaking, even protocol for conducting a chipping lesson. During an interview by PGA Magazine, La Pour says it can take two to three years for a staff member to complete all 42 certifications. "The benefit of this is that we have centralized teaching styles and concepts," explains La Pour. "Our students can get a lesson from one instructor and then get a continuation of the same lesson from a different instructor next week. The strength, in my opinion, is the teamwork we have as golf professionals and the improvement we see in our students."

According to La Pour, the certification program lends added value to his membership as well as his staff. "The members see the value of the Golf Academy and the training program, they see it when they take lessons," he says. "They know there is something there that gives them a stable and credible learning experience." PGA Professionals should want their assistants to go on and have successful careers as head professionals, and La Pour's certification program gives his assistants a head start. "Its an accomplishment they can put on their resumes," he explains. "I know the assistants aren't going to be here forever, and when their next employer sees Colleton River Golf Academy Certification on their resume they'll have a chance to explain everything they learned during their training there. "We're doing this because we want assistant professionals - future PGA head professionals - to add value to their vocation and service to the club and its membership."

Another model of an in-house training program is The Sea Island Golf Club Apprentice Training Program. It is a prime example of the possibilities an in-house apprentice training program can bring. The program is divided into three levels, similar to the PGM Program, and offers a comprehensive, hands-on regimen designed to walk assistants through every aspect of the golf operation under real working conditions. No hypothetical projects that can be short-cutted or skirted around, all real.

Level 1 requirements consist of:
-Attending four seminars
-12 hours of full swing observation with three different instructors
-4 hours of short game observation with three different instructors
-12 hours of driving range set-up for golf schools/corporate programs
-4 club fitting observations with two different fitters
-Three fitness evaluations
-Manage an assigned area of the golf shop/trained on procedures
-Manage supply inventory control and trained on maintaining par levels
-Trained on corporate group responsibilities and expectations
-GHIN System/Tournament Software: Trained to run multiple event (1-5)
-Scoreboard design and calligraphy to an acceptable level
-Attending two computer classes (6 hours)

Level 2 requirements consist of:
-Attending two seminars
-Pass 3 swing analysis worksheet tests
-6 hours of full swing observation with three different instructors
-2 hours of short game observation with three different instructors
-6 hours of driving range operations for golf schools/corporate programs
-Four club fitting observations with two different fitters
-Three lessons video taped and analyzed
-Assigned to member group (Men's, Ladies, Seniors, Juniors, etc.)
-Assigned major tournament (Member-Member, Member-Guest, etc.)
-Retail liaison for two inventory counts
-Analyze and interpret two monthly P&L statements
-Develop a budget and P&L statement for two events
-Attend PGA Show and give detailed report on new products/services
-Assigned to supervision of a select golf operations department

Level 3 requirements consist of:
-Set up and administer shot by shot skills testing and round analysis
-Administer and review mental golf workshop information with a student
-Pass a club fitting evaluation
-Design and execute a teaching program for a selected demographic
-Complete a swing analysis using video software and create a DVD
-Conduct a learning seminar
-Assigned as chairman of a member group
-Assigned accountability for all matters pertaining to a major event
-Help develop the budget for Sea Island Golf Club with the HP
-Analyze four monthly P&L statements
-Develop budget and P&L statement for one major event
-Execute a project as laid out by the Head Professional
-Attend PGA Show and give a detailed report on new products/services

As you can see, the levels get a little more advanced as you progress, but each one prepares you with the fundamentals that will guide you through the next level. When Golf Business Network asked Brannen Veal, Director of Golf of Sea Island Golf Club, about the Sea Island Apprentice Training program, he had some great incite into the program that he spearheaded:

"Any apprentice that comes to us will get a full understanding of teaching, club fitting, the private club experience, resort experience, tournament operations, management skills and budgeting. The Sea Island Apprentice Program takes one year to complete and we have a 100% retention rate after they complete the program. Eventually, other clubs contact us to acquire one of our apprentices when they have an assistant pro opening. It makes it tough for us, but it is best for the kids in the end. After someone goes through the program we identify an area where they excelled or showed a passion and we will make a recommendation that they consider specializing in that area. In the end, the apprentice is put through regimented training and given a complete understanding of why they are doing each task. But most importantly, they are mentored by the management team at Sea Island and given a lot of the life skills needed to succeed anywhere."

-Establish Relationships
-Increased Motivation

-Better Quality Apprentice
-Greater Commitment
-Improved Morale
-Foster Team Work
-Higher Staff Retention
-Increased Productivity
-Operation Develops Positive Reputation
-Operation Stays Competitive

-Team work

You may not have all of the avenues and resources to put together a program like that of the Colleton River Plantation Clubs or Sea Island Golf Clubs, but that doesn't mean you can’t put together a program that is tailored to the characteristics of your club. Think outside of the box and use the characteristics of your club or network of area clubs to formulate a program that will better your operation and the assistants under your wing.  Equally as important, as an assistant professional, when interested in moving on to a new experience, you may want seek out a facility with a training program.