PGA PGM Program Spotlight: Penn State University

November 29, 2010

The Penn State University PGM Program certainly seems to have it going on. When it comes to opportunities available to the students, the PSU PGM Program is pretty dynamic. The program was founded in 1990 and since then, its faculty and staff have molded a program that, for lack of a more fitting word, advances its students. Penn State PGM graduates have interned and/or worked at a litany of the countries finest clubs including Shinnecock Hills, Merion, Oakmont, Somerset Hills, Inverness, Prairie Dunes, Aronimink, Butler National, Crooked Stick, Olympia Fields, The Country Club, Baltusrol, Myopia Hunt, Saucon Valley, and Congressional.

But don’t count out the other career paths. Penn State PGM graduates have found themselves in positions within the PGA of America national office, PGA sections, manufacturers like Fairway & Greene, Acushnet Company, and Nike Golf’s world headquarters, as well as tournament service companies like BlueGolf. When all is said and done, Penn State PGM students select an internship from among over 8,000 facilities throughout the United States.

When asked about what makes Penn States PGM Program standout from the pack, Brian Soule, the programs Internship Coordinator, aptly states:

"One of the things that really stands out at Penn State is the alumni base. We currently have over 400 alumni, most of whom work in the business. The alumni range from being sales representatives for Peter Millar and Polo Golf to being co-head golf professionals at Augusta National. The alumni not only represent us well, but they also reach out to us each year for their intern needs, which helps "build the network" that we always hear about."

From a merchandising standpoint, for three consecutive years, Penn State Golf Courses were ranked in the “100 Best Golf Shops” list by the Golf World Business Magazine, a Golf Digest publication serving golf retailers. PGM students have the opportunity to learn from this “Model Golf Shop,” which was also recognized by the Philadelphia PGA Section as a “Merchandiser of the Year” for four consecutive years.

How can we pose to you this article without discussing the Penn State PGM’s new golf instruction facility, The Golf Teaching and Research Center (GTRC). Designed to advance golf research and instruction, GTRC opened its doors on November 11, 2009 with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Says Brian Soule, “It has already been recognized as a "groundbreaking" facility. In the Center, we have two 3-D motion analysis system (one optical and one electromagnetic), 2-D video analysis using V-1, a FlightScope Launch Monitor, and many other useful tools that we use to help train our students both in their own games and as instructors.

Eight motion sensor cameras stationed around the room register his movements, and a complex stick person replicates the swing on high-definition monitors at either side of the room. This motion capture system is the same type of technology used to give the video game version of Tiger Woods realistic movement. But in Keller Building, the technology becomes a teaching tool. The center provides a cutting-edge, high-quality learning environment for Penn State PGM students. In addition to the motion capture system, the GTRC boasts a three-dimensional Doppler radar ball-flight machine that predicts the trajectory and distance of the ball, a synthetic putting green, and several pieces of equipment to modify clubs. The center also has a space in which physical assessment tests are conducted with help from faculty members in the Department of Kinesiology.

“We are excited about the Golf Teaching and Research Center because it is further educating our students to become better teachers of the game, which will allow them to be more marketable after graduation,” says Dr. Burch Wilkes, director of the PGM program and instructor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management.

By breaking down the finer points of how a golfer moves and swings, the center will give students a new perspective on golf and golf instruction. “The equipment in the Golf Teaching and Research Center is more advanced than most other teaching institutions right now, which will give students a real advantage when they graduate,” says Eric Handley, director of the GTRC and instructor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management.

Because it is indoors, the center also provides year-round education—which is a huge asset when snow-covered fairways prevent golfers from practicing and learning. “We typically like our students to learn outdoors, in the environment they’ll be working in, but it’s not always easy in the northeast,” says Handley. “We hope to serve the golf community through the center,” says Handley. “The instruction techniques we’ll be creating and developing will not only benefit students, but the entire golfing industry as well.”

Additionally, Penn State PGM has a very well run student society that gives students an opportunity to be an elected officer and sit on the society’s executive board. Also within the student society, students have the opportunity to be involved in community service projects, scholarship programs, enjoy the perks of merchandise programs, educational travel expenses, learn from guest speaker series, and attend and host educational seminars. Patrick Gunning, Class of 2007 and currently an assistant professional at Shinnecock Hills describes some of his experience in the PGM Program at Penn State:

“The PGA/PGM Program at Penn State University has helped me develop as an individual and professional. I have been able to refine my leadership skills as a member of the Executive Board, serving as Secretary, Vice President, and President; improve my golf game through our tournament series; and most importantly, gain valuable industry experience through internships. One of the greatest assets of the PGA/PGM program is the incredible network for students. I attribute all of my success in the golf industry to the experiences that have been made available to me through the PGA/PGM program at Penn State.”

You don’t have to be a genius to see what the Penn State PGM program is trying to do. It seems as though they are trying to not only build upon their network, but also revolutionize the PGM University program model. From the looks of it, they are doing a pretty good job of it.