"Devil's Advocate" with Augusta National Golf Club

by Brian Dobak
December 26, 2013

PIFG is about bringing to the forefront real issues, different perspectives, and educational opinions to help assistant professionals think critically about their situations. This article represents a "devil's advocate" perspective that is solely meant to offer another angle for an assistant to think about and consider as he or she navigates through this tough yet rewarding business. This article is not for the very few assistant professionals who get the privilege of working at places like Augusta National Golf Club. Rather it is for the many assistant professionals who will never get the opportunity, and think that they can't make it in the club professional business if they never work at a place like ANGC. In my decade of experience in the golf business as a club professional, I always took a keen interest in training and mentoring. With that said, I have sometimes wondered where a place like Augusta National Golf Club stacks in terms of the ability to train assistant golf professionals.

Augusta National has Head Professionals (two great ones out of the Penn State PGM Program I might add), and I commend them for the effort I know they're putting in to trying to prepare their assistants for the long haul. But it makes you think, how can a club that doesn't have a junior program, not much of a women's program, a small tournament program, and no legitimate cart fleet provide the all-encompassing training needed to push assistants along? To my knowledge (which is limited), ANGC doesn't have a computer handicap system to learn and operate. You can count the number of member tournaments they have on one hand. They have two women in their women's program. To my limited knowledge, there is no member bag storage to manage and no significant cart fleet to keep. Their outside services operation is more of a valet service to and from their designated airport. If these things are true, realistically operations like this are not representative of the kind of HP job that 99.9% of aspiring HP's will attain. It's unrealistic to think that an operation like this, on it's own, could fully and comprehensively prepare an assistant for the rigors of an HP job, although that doesn't mean it's not possible.

Let's talk about everything ANGC does have going for itself. Naturally ANGC does have a strong caddie program, as well as a strong merchandising program. To my knowledge (which is limited), they also have a good instruction program with Trackman, that suits the needs of their particular membership. There are many base level skills that can also be learned there like staffing, multi-tasking, time management, vendor relations, and other components. Additionally, "service" is everywhere, so credit should be given to the ANGC operation for that as well. A golf operation trying to provide world-class service to that kind of clientele must be a great opportunity for learning. And then there is the aspect of learning from two great HP's and their personal experiences. So there are many operational components to learn there, however in the overall grand scheme of golf operations, can an assistant can get the full smorgasbord of training required to push forward in the club professional business? The professional staff at Augusta National can certainly stage many seminars, but seminars aren't going to give professionals the work experience they need. Seminars are a good supplement to work experience. But for a program to be a "supplement" there has to be the "work experience" that needs to be supplemented. What's the point in having a junior instruction seminar if there is no junior program to take what you wrote on your yellow note pad and actually put what you wrote to use?

Generally speaking, what's an assistant professional at ANGC going to do when he gets a HP job at a club that requires a cart fleet of 120? Will he have solid cart fleet financing experience to fall back on? Will he have the experience to make intuitive decisions about cart fleet recruitment and financing? Sure, he can call on some mentors, but even that may not help when the rubber meets the road.

Putting myself in the shoes of a hiring committee member, and we badly need to bolster our women's program, can an assistant out of Augusta National realistically be a good fit? If we are itching for revenue and we are in dire need of a stronger corporate outing schedule, can an assistant out of Augusta National realistically be a good fit? If I am looking for a HP that can handle the traffic frequency and diversity of my clubs 800 to 1,000 members, can an assistant out of Augusta National realistically be a good fit? Even the grounds department wouldn't seem to be exempt. If I am at a club with a small grounds budget, can a superintendent coming out from under the umbrella of a virtually unlimited budget like I'm sure exists at Augusta National, realistically be a good fit? Aren't these fair questions? 

Take XYZ Country Club, it's not a Top-100 facility, however it is a great facility with first-class golf. It enlists about 700 golf members. It employs one of the better caddie programs in it's region. It exhibits a vibrant and dynamic instruction program and a very strong and active merchandising program. It hosts a very lucrative corporate outing schedule. It provides an expansive men's program, a thriving women's program, and a solid junior program. From the outside looking in, Augusta National seems like a great "launching pad". A place like XYZ Country Club, for lack of a better term, seems like a "battleground" to me. There are many clubs like XYZ Country Club, and seasoned assistants that have spent 3 to 5 years of uninterrupted time at those clubs would be just as great of an option, if not better. From a place like XYZ Country Club, a club can pluck a seasoned, ready, able, and willing assistant professional and also know with certainty that they're getting a professional that is tried, tested, and true under the MOST opportune conditions. 

Now I know most ANGC assistants during their off-season (May to September) go north or south for more dynamic jobs. It is these jaunts elsewhere where they get the meat of their work experience. This is how ANGC makes it work. By strategically partnering with other facilities around the country and sending their professionals to these facilities to continue to round out their abilities. I think it is a great system of intentionality. But if we're playing "devil's advocate", the downside to this situation is they don't present longevity at a club. Many hiring committees like to see longevity in a candidates situation, not years of zip code-hopping and road-tripping (something I myself did for a few years). Don't get me wrong, an assistant can be nicely groomed under these circumstances, so it's not out of the realm of possibility. ANGC has a track record of moving assistant professionals along, some of them to some pretty high-up Head Professional positions, so they're making it happen.

I would never recommend that an assistant professional not consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work at ANGC. In fact, I would say go for it. If you have that chance, then you are "one in a million". ANGC will get you where you want to go, probably further. ANGC is unique and it seems to me that they are doing pretty well with what they have to work with in the realm of staff training. Every club is unique in their own way and much can be learned in their respective environments, including Augusta National. But the point of this article is this: There are thousands of other assistants that will never lick an 
opportunity to work at ANGC or a club like it. If you're one of those assistant professionals reading this, and your wrestling with trying to find some sort of purpose in where you are right now and where it all fits in the grand scheme of your career, try to understand more about what you do have in front of you and stop imagining what you could have at Augusta National or a place like it. XYZ Country Club can get you where you want to go too, maybe further than you ever imagined. What you need for your career could be right under your nose. Working for the "best in the business" isn't always the best situation for you. Where you are right now could be your best situation. Just keep working hard, enjoy yourself, educate yourself, receive and consider  opportunities as they come, strive to be the best person and professional you can be, and see where the cards fall.