Tips to Stay Sharp as Snowbird Golf Professionals

by Brian Dobak
November 22, 2010

Chad Penman is a PGA Assistant Golf Professional at Maidstone Club in East Hampton, New York during the spring, summer, and fall, and travels south to Calusa Pines Golf Club in Naples, Florida during the winter.

“In working in the north and the south, I have noticed that the outside operations assistants in the winter climates tend to treat their jobs as a vacation from the northern grind. I try to get the guys at my club to be motivated and continue working towards their professional goals even though they are working in a non-traditional assistant position. If they’re going to develop effectively, assistant professionals need to stay sharp during their winter experience in the south. Observe teachers, finish PGA bookwork, practice, and play.”

Chad is right.

If you are a snowbird golf professional, we have to stay sharp when we go south for the winter. It’s not a vacation. You are under the microscope no less than you are during your primary job in the north. Approach your winter job as your primary job no less than you do of your northern job. Make sense? Veteran head golf professionals will weed out assistant professionals that don’t stay sharp. As I said in a previous article, they smell a great work ethic like its blood and they know exactly what a poor work ethic looks like. Don’t take that for granted. Tom Dyer, Director of Golf at Old Marsh Golf Club aptly states:

"Appreciate that the golf world is very small, you must do your very best in all positions regardless of job description or duties. You never want bad performance coming to back to haunt you in the future, especially when peak performance at a winter club (due to the broad northern national base of most Sunbelt memberships) has the potential to create opportunities for you all over the country."

Relish the opportunity for networking. When traveling south for the winter, it won't take long to notice what is happening. If you’re a snowbird assistant professional, your network doubles and triples in size. You cultivate new relationships every time you go back and forth and before you know it, you now have “family” in multiple areas of the country. Potential job opportunities will arise, however they will only arise if you stay sharp and continue to work hard.

In this business, image isn’t everything, but it sure does account for a lot. Even on your jaunts south, project yourself professionally and with integrity. And work just as hard as you do at your job in the north. Again, going to Florida for the winter sounds exciting, and it is in many ways, but by no means is it a vacation. Treat it like a vacation and you might be packing your bags and going back to the great white-out.

Brian Boushie, Director of Golf at Jupiter Hills Club in Tequesta, Florida provides PIFG readers with some great perspective into the matter:

Recharge the Batteries

Having the entire winter season to “re-charge the batteries” is crucial to having a successful Assistant Golf Professional experience.  Finding an Assistant Professional position in the south that requires a 40-50 hour work week can seem like a part-time job after coming off an 80-hour workweek in the northern part of the country.  Using those hours to stabilize yourself mentally and physically will keep your passion for the game and the business strong.

Physical Fitness 

Get in shape!  Finding the right exercise and healthy eating program will keep you strong both mentally and physically.  It will help you play better golf and also help you to prepare for those 12-14 hour days that can be so demanding on your body.  Find one night a week that you can organize a game of football, basketball, softball, etc. with the other Assistants.  It’s a great way to stay in shape and helps you to get to know your peers a bit better.   

Observe Teachers

South Florida has the finest teaching professionals in the country.  Seek them out.  Book yourself a lesson with them.  Call them and ask if you can shadow them for a day to watch them teach.  When I was an Assistant, I spent all of the money I made on taking instruction from some of the finest professionals in the country.  This is where I formed my teaching philosophies that have carried me through my career.  Invest in your own future!   

Off the Clock Learning

You will learn more when you are off the clock than when you are on. Most of the time seasonal Assistant Professionals are parking cars, cleaning clubs, loading bags, picking the range, etc.  While these are the basics of our business and can be viewed as the most important, you will need to learn more than these skills to be a fine Head Professional.  Come in on your day off and shadow your Director of Golf, Head Professional, or even First Assistant.  Ask if you can run a tournament or event on your off time.  Come in and spend a day with the Merchandiser for the Golf Shop.  See what they do, how they do it, and how they prioritize their time.  Ask the General Manager if you can shadow him/her for the day.  It always helps to learn how other Clubs manage their operations to give you the most rounded experience possible.    

Game Improvement

Work on your golf game.  Practice.  Set goals.  Play.  At Jupiter Hills, our Assistants work 3.5 days per week in the winter.  This gives them another 3.5 days to come up to the Club and practice, play with the Members, and work on their golf games.  No one is going to hire a Head Professional who can’t break 80!  You must be able to beat every Member at the Club if you are their Head Professional!   

Golf Course Maintenance

Visit with the Superintendent to see if you can shadow him or his assistants a day a week on your day off.  Learn how to mow a tee, green and fairway.  Learn the agronomy side of the business because you will need to be knowledgeable on it in the future. 
    Tom Dyer continues with his assessment of why it's important to go south as well as making the best of our winter experiences:

    I believe it is essential for young professionals employed seasonally at Northern clubs to strive to work the winter season somewhere in the Sun Belt. There are numerous reasons and benefits ranging from additional income, ability to work on your golf game, learn and gain experience from different professionals and lastly to double ones network of new members and professionals you can resource in the future.

    To make the most of your experience be very disciplined with time management. Maximize every opportunity to play and practice. Spend time enhancing your teaching skills by watching good instructors work or offer to assist them for a day in exchange for observing. Get involved in your winter clubs tournament operations even if you have to volunteer, the experience could be invaluable in the future.

    There you have it. When going south or west for the winter, stay organized, stay focused, keep working hard, and never get comfortable. It's not a vacation.