PGA Training: Think you’ve got what it takes to become a pro?
On the range, a gaggle of students gather round a launch monitor as another shot is propelled into the sky.
In a classroom, others pore over financial statements and figures as they discuss a fictional club’s business plan. Down the corridor, a volunteer is stretching into some unnatural shapes as a ‘screening’ lesson helps him improve his game.
A set of shafts lies strewn across a bench as another class gets to work on reconstructing an iron. You thought your PGA professional simply gave lessons and sold you range balls.
But there is much more to being a paid-up member of the fraternity than you might think. It requires long hours, dedication and intensity and it begins – as a humble assistant – with a training programme that will stretch those who embark on it to the very limits.
Think of it as golf’s Open University. The Professional Golfers’ Association demand a certain standard before an aspiring club professional can apply for membership.
It’s a three-year course taking a look around every aspect of the golf industry and business – sports science, coaching, club fitting and retail, to name a few.
Every year, around 300 hopefuls pledge to undertake the hours of online study required every week and go through the rigours of an intense week-long residential stay at The Belfry and yearly exams.
I gatecrashed the four-time Ryder Cup-hosting venue to experience a day in the life of a group of third year students being put through their paces for the final time – their lives as PGA members tantalisingly close.
Not all are at the beginning of their golfing adventure. Lydia Hall, successfully turning out on the Ladies European Tour, is among the group. The starting criteria are relatively simple.
Have a handicap of 4 or less (6 and under for women) and be employed at a club.
“Everyone starts off wanting to be a player but they will recognise early on that it’s really, really tough,” says Simon Hubbard, who leads the programme.
“We run several different programmes. Some are studying part-time and working full-time. That’s probably the traditional assistant professional at a golf club that you will see in the pro shop, on the practice ground on in the driving range. The majority are doing that course.
“Our study recommendations are about nine hours a week, which is all online.
“That will be across the different subjects they are doing in that particular year. They’ve then got to work on top of that.
“They have got to do some coaching and teaching. They have got to play and practise to maintain their own game. They need to be dedicated to get through it.”
That doesn’t only apply to the students. Alfreton professional Nev Hallam, taking his group through a technical exercise looking at the way shaft flex affects contact and flight, had his own rite of passage to negotiate.
Introduced to the programme with a spot of marking, he then went through a physical assessment before successfully badgering Hubbard over a period of months to land a place as a tutor.