PGA PGM Program Spotlight: Clemson University

October 11, 2010

I graduated from college in 2002, and I did not attend a PGM University Program. I have many friends that have attended one. Because of the post-graduate path I took through the PGA PGM Apprentice Program, my knowledge of the PGM University Program was minimal. But the more I worked with PGM University graduates and interns, the more I became curious about their path, and the more I learned about the PGM University dynamic.

This week’s entry is the first of a series of articles spotlighting PGM Programs and related topics revolving around them. This weeks spotlight is a feature article on the PGM Program at Clemson University. There are currently 20 schools that offer the program to its students. The first one was established by Ferris State University in 1975. Mississippi State University followed suit in 1985 and then New Mexico State University in 1987 and Penn State University in 1990. Since 1990, 16 more schools have been approved and the golf business now has a new path for aspiring golf professionals to take.

To begin, take this perspective from Brian Soule, a member of Clemson University PGM’s first graduating class in 2005. He served three internships at Green Hill Yacht & CC, the Sea Pines Resort, and Pebble Beach Golf Links. After getting his Masters degree at UNLV and working with their PGM Program as a graduate assistant, he joined the faculty with Penn States PGM Program in July 2009. Brian serves as an instructor, academic advisor, and most importantly, as the Internship Coordinator and Assistant Director:

The current setup of the PGA Golf Management program is one in which students are able to gain a college degree while working their way toward PGA membership; a "best of both worlds" scenario. The opportunities available to students in the internship program are endless. Students have the opportunity to work in all different settings in the golf industry, ranging from daily-fee courses to elite private facilities. In the past five years or so, we have also seen an interest in the non-green grass side of the industry, where students have interned at indoor teaching facilities, with golf equipment manufacturers, and with PGA Section and even PGA National offices.

The current state of the internship program at Penn State is quite healthy. This summer alone, we have placed 132 students at 101 sites in 21 states, with positions ranging from working at Top-100 clubs to working for Top-50 instructors. The students will be presented with opportunities to learn about the golf industry, to learn about how to run an operation, and to learn how to teach the game of golf, just to name a few. The positions range from first-year positions in the golf industry, helping to run outside operations, to full-time assistant golf professional positions for our graduating seniors.

The students coming out of the current PGA Golf Management curriculum are more prepared than ever, and much of that is due to their intense four-and-a-half year schedule, in which they are always working, whether it is in the classroom or in the field while on internship.

With all careers, there are many ways that students can progress through their line of study and set themselves up for long, successful careers. In the PGA Golf Management program specifically, students are presented with unique opportunities to set themselves apart and to truly develop as golf professionals and as individuals. The first opportunity is that students begin their college careers in a "cohort"; a group at their respective university with whom they will study for four-and-a-half years. This cohort is their first real exposure to the power of networking. They learn quickly that their colleagues are the most important people in their professional careers, and that the relationships that they form are as important as any other aspect of the golf industry.

On that point, students who learn the value of networking and relationships early in their college career are typically the ones who we see excel through their internship programs and who set themselves up for the top positions post-graduation.

A second strategy that many students take advantage of is to use the resources available to them as effectively as possible. Students in the university PGA Golf Management program are blessed with the support of their cohort, the faculty at the university, and just as importantly, they are blessed with their affiliation with the PGA of America. When students utilize the resources available to them, such as seeking advisement from their faculty, studying with their cohort for PGA Checkpoint, and utilizing the many resources available to them from the PGA of America, they are truly set up for success.

Brian gives a great perspective into the PGM University model. Now let's hear another Clemson PGM graduate, Reed Lansinger. Reed is currently in his third full year at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey. Through his interview with PIFG, he provides plenty of great insight into his experiences in the Clemson PGM Program, and offers a great perspective on the values of the PGM University model.

How did Clemson PGM prepare you for your immediate future as a golf professional?

As a freshman, all the incoming PGM students are grouped together in a residence hall. So right from day one, you are together with the kids that will be your classmates for the next four years in your major. This not only gives you people to study with but provides you with friends with similar interest’s right from the get go. My class started with 20 people and we graduated with 11. The drop out rate isn't a bad thing. PGM is very golf-intense so it really weeds out the kids who aren't as interested as they originally thought. Just like the PAT does a decent job of eliminating golf professionals who aren't very good at the game. Also, in my mind, the drop out rate had nothing to do with our faculty or the classes.

Each class, each volunteer opportunity, and every internship goes a long way to shape a student's interests in the golf business. They show you what side of the business is attractive to you, whether it is teaching, merchandising, or something completely different.

Where did you do your internships and what did you learn from each one?

My first year internship was a three month stint at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, which is a 36-hole private facility in suburban Philadelphia. I worked for Terry McDowell, who is currently the pro at Mirasol in Florida. It was a terrific first internship because my only previous work experience in the golf business was as a caddie.

My second internship was a six month stay at Merion Golf Club also just outside Philadelphia. I worked for Scott Nye and did everything from fold shirts to junior clinics to picking the driving range. The highlight of the internship was having the club host the 2005 U.S. Amateur tournament in August.

My third internship was at the Sea Island Golf Club. I worked the summer months in 2006 for Brannen Veal and Chrissy Felton. After spending the first 3 weeks at the Retreat Course, I spent the rest of the summer working at the Lodge. It was a different type of operation than I had previously worked at, resort versus private. My exposure to teachers like Mike Shannon and Jack Lumpkin was the highlight of my internship. The experience of working in a multi-million dollar golf shop was also very rewarding.

My final internship was at the Baltusrol Golf Club working for Doug Steffen. I did three months doing almost everything. After I finished my final semester at Clemson, Doug offered me a job as a full time assistant professional. Now, I am starting my third full year here.

Have you been able to apply what you learned in PGM/internships at your first professional job at Balty? What have you been able to apply?

I would argue that my internships were the most valuable part of PGM. You learn so much with on the job training. My classroom background at Clemson prepared me for those internships and then the internships prepared me for my full time job. I think the biggest thing that classroom training prepared me for was customer service. Customer service is perhaps the most crucial aspect of being a golf professional and the model that the PGA education program drills into you is definitely important. Also, teaching basics were very important and is something every professional should review until they can recite them without pause.

In reflecting on your experience at Clemson PGM, what advantages do you perceive exist in attending a PGM school for aspiring golf professionals?

The biggest advantage in my mind is how they set you up for your internships and provide assistance in finding and gaining work experience. The other thing is that when I graduated from Clemson, I was essentially a Class “A” professional. All I had to do to make it official was to find a job. Because of Clemson's reputation as a golf school and as a rising PGM school combined with the internships I completed, I had a job offer from Baltusrol and Merion. Not an easy decision, but a great problem to have. Also, the way Clemson's program is set up, they provide such great opportunities to play and learn about golf and to expand your knowledge of the business. The smaller size of the program is also very advantageous. The individual attention is not found in any other PGM program. Rick Lucas and Adam Savedra work extremely hard to make it a great program and to see all of us succeed. They are such a great resource for me as I move on in my career. Not a month goes by where I don't call up those guys on the phone. The alumni network of Clemson PGM is also growing and is another terrific resource.

Were you involved with the Clemson PGM students association and did you have a seat on its student board of directors? What do you think can be learned from having this kind of opportunity?

Yes, I held a position almost every single semester on campus. Freshman rep, secretary, vice president and then I was President as a junior and a senior. Then my last semester on campus, I didn't do anything on purpose. It’s always a good opportunity. You learn how hard it is to organize a big group of people for golf and various other events. It also allows you to be the face of the program student wise. I enjoyed it for sure.

From what I have been able to gather, the PGM University path is the way of the future for golf professional education and advancement. Not only do students have an opportunity to graduate a Class “A” PGA Professional at a ripe, young age, but they can also graduate with multiple work experiences under their belt at world-class facilities via an internship placement program. Let’s not forget that they will graduate with a bachelor’s degree from a major college as well. Talk about killing three birds with one stone! Hopefully this entry gives you a bright perspective on the PGM university path. On that note, look forward to future articles featuring PGM university programs.