Much in golf has changed in the last 20 years clubs have got easier to hit, the ball goes further, course conditions are better and suburban golf clubs and public courses are struggling for members and greenfees. True there are many factors to consider however I believe it’s no coincidence that over the same period clubs and councils have taken the Pro shops away from contracted Professionals. I believe the fate of the PGA professional and the industry are intertwined and very little though has gone into the viability of being a Pro as a result cracks are opening up fast. There is hope though and many facilities are starting to change their model in order to make it viable for PGA members to stay in the game long term.
The game of golf has become a competitive business administration and maintenance costs have sky rocketed as courses openly compete for a shrinking market. Unfortunately, clubs and councils looked at the money they saw the PGA member making and decided they could provide better service to the golfers for less. What wasn’t taken into account were the hours done by a professional running their own business and the vested interest they had in the golfers as a result of having $100,000 or more of their own money invested in stock. Pro shops have become another administration center where the staff have a long list of jobs to complete before closing up for the night, as such you will find staff with their heads buried in computers and engaging less with the golfer. Opportunities to find out why a golfer is frustrated and help them with equipment or a lesson are lost with comments like “better luck next time” as selling the clubs stock or a lesson doesn’t have a major impact on those employed. The skills a PGA member brings to a golf facility are highly valued by the golfer who puts them up with the curator as the most important person there. However, the salary’s and hourly rate don’t reflect that with an award rate of about $26 per hour for working in the shop. Many coaches who are working hard introducing new players to the game, helping existing ones improve their skills and enjoyment are expected to pay commissions of 20 to 35% to have access to the membership and facilities. The amount of highly skilled coaches selling real-estate, driving trains and putting out fires is proof enough the current industry structure can’t sustain the very people who can grow participation.
There is hope apart from the top clubs like Royal Melbourne who have always seen the value in a professional running their own business more facilities are starting to give PGA members the opportunity to thrive. My own current position is linked to the rounds of golf played at a little public course; the more rounds played the more I make. Its no coincidence that player numbers are growing in the first 6 months the business is up 50% and my budget is to get it from 17,000 rounds back the 40,000 it was doing 20 years ago when PGA members ran it. Every day I hear of courses and driving ranges putting their coaches on 100% of their lesson fee to attract and hold on to good coaches as they realize the business a good coach creates. I also feel it’s only a matter of time before more courses and clubs go back to a model of letting PGA members run the Pro-Shop as their own businesses within golf facilities for the same reason.
History is a great teacher and while I understand the structure, we had 20 years ago might need some tweaking we can learn a lot from it. By not addressing the financial issues faced by PGA members we will lose their essential skills from the industry and that very industry will continue the downward trend.
Some of my thoughts
PGA member since 1995