Is a HP Career Path Right for You?

by Brian Dobak
May 14, 2012

Our Philadelphia Section's Assistants Organization had a meeting and seminar and one of the panelists was Scott Nye, Head Golf Professional at Merion Golf Club. The topic of the seminar centered around the value of different career paths as a PGA Professional, and the value of our experience as a golf professional if we get out of the business entirely! Being a Head Professional is not for everyone and there is nothing wrong with that. In today's day and age, if you had any 100 assistants in a room, probably 10 or less will become Head Professionals. The process of attaining a Head Professional position is extremely competitive and you either have "it" or you don't, and the sooner we can identify whether or not we don't the better.

Towards the end of the seminar, Mr. Nye threw a number of questions at the audience of assistant professionals to get them to start thinking about their path and whether or not they are doing the things they need to be doing to advance into a Head Professional position one day. The following is a list of those questions and brief commentary on each one:

How well do the members know you?

Have you played with them? Have you done anything with them away from the club? Have you had dinner at their home or have you taken them to a sporting event? What is the nicest thing you have done for them? Sometimes the relationship between golf professionals and club members can get relatively personal. Members love getting to know their professional staff, that is the nature of our business. While the members are getting to know you, are you opening up to them a little and are you getting to know them. It is these relationships with your members that can be a key driver in you advancing into a Head Professional position in the future.

Who are the best assistant professionals in the section/country?

Who will the competition be when you compete for a HP position and how do you stack up against the best? What skill sets do you have that make you better? Are you a great teacher? Great player? Do you have a passion for tournament operations? Are you a great merchandiser? Are you well-rounded in all areas? With some networking and research, it's not very difficult to know who the best assistant professionals are and how you stack up against them. You need to have an edge that is going to get your resume higher in the pile than the others.

Who is going to help you get a job that you desire?

This is where the rubber meets the road. Nothing may be more important than your network. Have you evaluated all of the different avenues of help. Can your spouse or significant other help? Do they know somebody that knows somebody in their line of work? Are you and your HP or DoG on the same page? When you are prepared to pursue a HP position, is he/she going going to bat for you? Do you have any mentors outside of your current employment that will go to bat for your? Do you know anyone in other industries that are members at other clubs?

How do you identify a good job?

Do you identify a good job by word of mouth? Do you identify a good job by the clubs history and how many Head Professionals they have had in the last 20 years? Was the most recent professional fired or did he/she retire? Is a clubs reporting structure an indication of a good job? Do you prefer to have one person (GM) too report to, or 12 committee members too report to? Is the opportunity to make a difference an indication of a good job? Do you want to go to a club where the golf operation is already in great shape with little improvement needed, or do you want to go to a club where the golf operation is in need of some tender loving care?

What are your boundaries?

Are you willing to move to another part of the country? The smaller you make your window of opportunity, the harder it will be to attain a Head Professional position. Are you confining yourself to just your section or are you willing to move to another section? Have you ever worked in another part of the country? Hiring committees like to see this flexibility. It shows that you have stretched yourself and have given yourself broad experiences. Do you have any limitations? Does your spouse or significant other have a dream job that pays too well to leave?

As Scott said, pondering and answering these questions can do you a world of good when it comes to learning about yourself professionally and what your next steps should be. A Head Professional job is not for everyone. Also joining Scott that day on the panel were Geoff Surrette, Executive Director of The Philadelphia Section PGA, and Mark Anderson, an Instructor at The Philadelphia Cricket Club and Past President of the Philadelphia Section PGA. Geoff was once on track towards becoming a Head Professional, but decided it wasn't a good fit for him. Mark was once a Head Professional, but decided to follow his passion for teaching. At the end of the day, the Head Professional career path was not a good fit for them, and there is nothing wrong with that. They went in different directions as PGA Professionals, and they are achieving great success now.

As you progress as an assistant professional, always keep in mind what is best for you not only professionally, but also personally as well. There is nothing in the PGA Constitution that says, "If you are an assistant professional, then you must become a Head Professional". There are many great opportunities in different career paths as a PGA Professional. Your best opportunity might even be outside of the golf business entirely and there is nothing wrong with that.

If you're reading this and you're an assistant professional, hopefully you work for a Head Professional that is willing and able to support you no matter what your decision is. As you progress, pay close attention to the many doors that open, and have the discernment to know if any one direction is the direction you should be going. If there is an opening that is right for you and it is aligned with your goals, jump on it. If not, stay away, be patient, and see where the cards continue to fall. You'll figure it out.