100 Degrees & Climbing: Significance of a College Education in Todays Golf Business

by Brian Dobak
May 24, 2010

Do you wonder the importance of having a college degree and what a college education has to offer? Well, according to a survey by the US Census Bureau, those with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $51,554 in 2004, while those with just a high school diploma earned $28,645. Those without a high school diploma earned an average of $19,169. In today’s economy, those numbers could be down. Funny, I still see entry level assistant professional positions that pay $20,000 a year. I know of entry level assistant professionals with college degrees that make that little, and I know of experienced assistant professionals with college degrees that make far less than $51,554. With all this said, for those of us that are passionate about our career in the golf business, we can't ignore what is becoming a smoldering hot topic as the business evolves.

It is arguable that the golf business is increasingly becoming just as it says - a business. The more it might go in that direction, the hotter the desire will become to have a college degree under your belt. Having a college degree may not fill your pockets immediately, but it will certainly give you an edge over the many other golf professionals without a college degree. My first golf professional job after I graduated was at a high end, 36-hole, private facility in Philadelphia. We had many assistant professionals, nine to be exact, and I was only one of two that had a college degree. That was then and that may be rare now.

You might be asking, “What does a college degree prove in this business?” “I work hard and that’s all that matters”. You’re half way correct, hard work does matter very much. But what a college degree can verify to Head Professionals and hiring committees is that you have the proven ability to manage your time over a lengthy period. From a social standpoint, you will likely be more refined in how you interact with people of all authorities. A college degree can confirm that you are organized in accomplishing tasks within time constraints. Because of your patience and discipline, the degree you achieved can verify that you were able to lay out a path, reach milestones, and arrive at an ultimate goal.

“Ability” “Manage” “Time” “Organized” “Accomplishing” “Tasks” “Constraints” “Patience” “Discipline” “Goal”. Take note of all those words in the previous paragraph. If you did not or do not go to college or you left college, this may raise a red flag to employers. You may have all the above characteristics, but they are not proven under strict conditions. In an industry that seems to be becoming less about golf and more about business, a college degree will aid you greatly in maximizing your potential and earning the best that your hard work deserves.

Before we continue further within the golf business, what are the intangible benefits of having a college education? One benefit of a college education is that it develops a person’s ability to think abstractly and critically as well as improves their ability to express their thoughts clearly both orally and in writing. It is also widely believed that a college education helps people become a responsible citizen by giving them a greater understanding of their community, country and global issues. If not achieving anything quite as grand as this a college education certainly helps people become more self-sufficient.

As the Sea Island Company's flagship facility, Sea Island Golf Club was voted the “No. 1 Golf Resort in North America” by Golf Digest in 2007-2009. At one point, The Sea Island Company, included Sea Island Golf Club, Ocean Forest Golf Club, and Frederica Golf Club. The company has become an industry powerhouse since its face lift began a little more than 10 years ago. The Sea Island Company clubs are in the circle in which such clubs can be considered a pinnacle facility for an assistant professional to learn from the best and work under the most challenging conditions. Although it all sounds like paradise and in some ways is, you’re not working there as a golf professional if you don’t have a college degree. At some points (the golf business is a revolving door), there have been as many as 16 assistant golf professionals positioned within the three locations – ALL of them having college degrees.

Take Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania as another example. SVCC has hosted more than one USGA Championship, carries a rich history of tradition within its gates, and caters to Eastern Pennsylvania’s upper class population. The clubs General Manager, Gene Mattare says “I would not hire an assistant or head professional who does not have a college degree. I think it is extremely important. You are dealing with a highly educated clientele and you have to be able to converse and communicate with them on a higher level.”

There are some facilities that are willing to hire golf professionals without college degrees, however they still put a heavy emphasis on it. Consider Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. CCC is a regular stop on the PGA Tour, has hosted two U.S. Open Championships and a PGA Championship, and will host the 2011 U.S. Open Championship. General Manager Mike Leemhuis paints a vivid picture in his preferences for golf professionals with college degrees. “I look at a college degree as one of your "arrows", if you have it, great. If you don't, it’s an "arrow" you need to get. The same with a master’s degree, CCM, MCM and PGA certification. We would hire those without degrees and do hire the best assistant professionals that we can find but be sure that I will check to see what "arrows" are in their career quiver.”

Jim Smith Jr., Director of Golf of The Philadelphia Cricket Club and Past President of Philadelphia Section, requires college degrees of his golf professionals, “I believe it is a very important part of being a well rounded professional”. Oak Hill Country Club Head Golf Professional Craig Harmon requires degrees from his assistant professionals as well.

The moral of the story is this: You need to sit down and ask yourself, “What do I want out of this career path?” If you want to be the very best and work your way to the top or somewhere close, then the higher you get, the more significant a college degree becomes. As an assistant golf professional, you will have more opportunities if you have a college degree and you will put your resume higher in the pile when gunning for positions. If you don't have a college degree, does that mean you will never be able to accomplish what you want to accomplish? Absolutely not. But the odds might be stacked against you.

Bottom Line: Your opportunities as an assistant golf professional and beyond are greatly increased if you have a college degree in your credentials. Consider adding that arrow to your quiver.