A Look Inside the 2011 PGA Spring Conference of Leaders

by Brian Dobak
April 11, 2011

"You learn from listening, not talking" - Leo DeGisi, 2-time Philadelphia PGA Golf Professional of the Year

On the evening of March 30th, I returned home from attending the 2011 PGA Spring Conference of Leaders in St. Louis, Missouri. The annual conference brings together the PGA National Officers, Board Members, Past Presidents, Delegates from all 41 PGA Sections and PGA Committee members. It was my first one and the experience was eye opening and impressive. With that said, my goal was to just watch and learn. When it comes to knowledge, PIFG wants to spread the wealth. To give you some perspective on how the PGA is operated and how we as members and apprentices are involved, provided below is the agenda of the conference.

Informal Session

On Tuesday March 29th, the Informal Session was held to discuss two Resolutions concerning PGA members who do not meet the MSR requirements and are transferred to Class F status. The session gave every attendee the opportunity to stand and speak for or against the resolution to Article VIII of the Professional Development Program. I witnessed first-hand how democratic our governance process is in the PGA of America, and it is a good thing.

Special Meeting

On early Wednesday morning, the Delegates continued with the Formal Session, in which the two Resolutions were voted on. Again, everyone in the room was given an opportunity to speak for or against the resolutions. Once again, what I witnessed were golf professionals like you and me being given the opportunity to speak their mind. A democratic and very appropriate process. Some delegates spoke on behalf of their entire section, some just spoke on behalf of themselves. For more information, log on to PGA Links for a closer look at the resolutions brought forth at the Spring Conference of Leaders.

Strategic Planning Update & Discussion

Following the Special Meeting, the conference continued with an eye opening update of the PGA's new strategic plan. The PGA hired Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to gather data and information to formulate a strategic plan being dubbed "Golf 2.0". A common theme or word used during the strategic planning session was the word "reset". The term is in reference to the fact that since the recession hit, industries across the board have had to reevaluate their business practices, and initiate new objectives and strategies, thus literally starting from scratch and "resetting". Such is the case with Golf 2.0. Although the PGA will not literally be starting from scratch, Golf 2.0 is most definitely a "reset" for the future.

The golf industry is in a bit of trouble in case you haven't noticed. Although it could be a lot worse, the industry is still in need of repair. As you can probably guess, the economy has had a major effect on the industry. Golf courses have been closing while the number of golfers is declining against the backdrop of a growing U.S. population. Golf 2.0 is a comprehensive and broad initiative at spearheading the charge towards growing the game. I am in awe that what is happening is essentially this: The PGA has moved their needle from what they and the golf industry perceives about the public, to how the public perceives the PGA and the golf industry.

Because of this paradigm shift in how the PGA of America acquires information, the dynamics of what is needed has shifted from what the PGA and the industry believes should be done, to what the public believes is needed. Because of the BCG study, the said shift will likely create change in our Association like we haven't see in decades. Golf 2.0 will trickle down into all of the PGA's programs, especially the member-education programs. Golf professionals will need to be trained differently. During the meeting, it was discussed that, historically the relationship between PGAHQ and the rank and file apprentices and members has been a bottom-up relationship. In Golf 2.0, it will have to become a top-down relationship meaning the PGA will have to come down to our level in providing training and education instead of us going to them.

The BCG study is not proprietary information, meaning it is not confidential and it is available to you. I HIGHLY encourage you to reach out to your sections Executive Director and request a copy of The PGA of America: Golf 2.0 presentation by BCG. Golf 2.0 will effect all of us in a positive way. You are going to hear more and more about Golf 2.0 as time goes on and the Association is likely going to experience an almost unprecedented evolution since it's founding in 1916 because of it.

Committee Meetings

After the strategic planning meeting, we broke up into our committee groups. Each committee was designated a board room at the Hilton St. Louis Airport (host site of the conference). The committee meeting was another example about how I was able to see how the gears turn in the PGA of America. I saw first hand that, despite what many believe, the PGA is not actually run by the national officers and PGA Headquarters. There were more than a bakers dozen of committees represented at the conference, and each one is literally comprised of golf professionals just like you and me:

-Affinity & Consumer Marketing
-Communications & Public Relations
-Disabled Golf
-Government Relations
-Junior Golf
-Play Golf America
-Section Executive Directors

Education Committee

The committee I am privileged to serve on is the Education Committee. In the past few years, the PGA has been revamping and enhancing it's educational programs to it's members, particularly it's formal apprentice and member training programs. In this term, we are continuing the momentum created in the previous committee term. What the previous committee term developed was the revised programs for all its member education programs:

PGA PGM 2.0 (formerly the Professional Golf Management Program)
PGA CPP 2.0 (formerly the PGA Certified Professional Program)
PGA MPP 2.0 (formerly the PGA Master Professional Program)
PGA Legacy

Now that Golf 2.0 has been unveiled, we discussed as a committee how it will trickle down into the apprentice-member education programs. As stated earlier, we will have to train our apprentices and members differently due to the requirements of Golf 2.0. The new PGA Education Program is greatly enhanced and could be what we are looking for going into the future. It may not be more difficult for apprentices and members to work through (An educational program does not have to be harder to be better), but they are more efficient and they now better prepare us for the business and economic conditions that exist today and will exist down the road.

Regarding Golf 2.0, it was also discussed that integration between education, employment, instruction and player development committees will be critical from a collaboration and decision-making perspective. There was further discussion that most of our committees overlapped with education. We also agreed that all aspects of the industry need to be leveraged to move the needle in this plan. Specifically, owners and general managers need to be pulled together and sold on the concept. And the application of the content must be turnkey and easy to understand.
Last but not least, all generations must be considered when building educational program designs. The distribution of this information needs to be blended between local delivery and digital online (social networking) delivery.

During the committee, one of the committee chairpersons, Dawes Marlatt, made a great point on education that I would like to convey to you. There is no question that in the world we live in, the smarter you are, the more opportunities you'll get. There is no denying that. With that said, how can we "buy" opportunities? As PGA Professionals, our currency is our education. With that said, how can we package our education so we can "buy" opportunities? Education is critical and the PGA recognizes that. It is why they are enhancing their education programs to better prepare us for the landscape that exists out there in our industry.

In Summation

Despite what many golf professionals may think (I have at times been one of them), the apprentices and members of the PGA are actually in very good hands. The PGA is not perfect, in fact nobody is. At the conference, the PGA leadership were even humble enough to admit shortcomings they have had in the past. With regard to the national officers, at the end of the day they are regular golf professionals just like us. When they depart from their high profile conferences, they are going home to a family and a club professional job that are not any different than ours. With that said, their decisions and their motives effect them just as they effect us.

The golf business has evolved greatly in the past 30 years. Some of it for the good and some of it probably for the bad as well, but change and evolution are a certainty. Fiscal responsibility will always be up for debate in any organization as large as the PGA. But what became loud and clear to me was that the PGA of America is embracing it's leadership role in the golf industry just like they did in 1916.

By the end of the conference, I had met up with a group of my sections golf professionals and one of them made a very interesting comment during our discussion that hit home with me. Leo DeGisi said, "You learn from listening, not talking". I realized that listening was exactly what I did during the conference and what I had hoped to do. I met many great golf professionals and did more networking than I could have imagined doing. But listening with an open mind was the key ingredient. It should be for any experience in our lives.