An Open Letter On Behalf Of PGA Professionals

pgaDuring the summer of 2014, I was invited to broadcast from a wonderful course in a part of Michigan that rarely gets mentioned in the listing of great golf destinations in the state – the tip of the Thumb. (Michiganders always have a map of the state very close by.)

There is a nominal cost associated with our live onsite broadcasts, as we purchase the airtime on several stations across the state. In order to pull together the needed dollars to make the broadcast possible, the PGA Pro at the host course – we’ll call him “E” – launched a remarkably energetic effort to bring together numerous neighboring courses and businesses to kick in a few bucks and receive some airtime.

thumbIt’s not unusual for our program to include multiple businesses when we visit a community. In fact, I prefer to have a variety of voices on the air to help keep things fresh. But I had never seen an effort quite like E put forward. He blew me away with his determination and his pride in showcasing the course he had called home for 23 years.

On the Friday evening before the Saturday morning broadcast, E and I played his course. I had never been there before and was excited to tee it up on a perfect July afternoon. My expectations were quickly blown out the door. I thought I was going to play a decent course that was more highly thought of by its PGA Pro than it should have been. I was wrong. This place was, and is, wonderful! I didn’t want the round to end. I was wishing my camera crew had been along for the ride so we could capture the beauty of the layout in this mostly forgotten (for golf) part of the world.

The axiom that a round of golf reveals great insight into the character of those playing, is true. During our few hours together, I came to appreciate E as someone who doesn’t play game, is very much dedicated to the game and the course he calls home. The pride in his voice came shining through every time he described a feature or some historical nugget about the hole we were playing.

15-MGL-LOGO---fullOver the course of a season, I play a lot of golf. Michigan Golf Live is on the road every weekend for 25 weeks, broadcasting from a different destination each Saturday. I do not lack for rounds. By the time we hit the midway point of summer, I can sometimes get numb to the wonders of the game. Details become fuzzy, holes blur together, and road trips get less appealing. This one woke me up and stoked the fires of my love for the game. It was THAT special.

It’s now a few days before Christmas, and the images and memories of my time at E’s course are still fresh. A few weeks ago, he called to ask if I could make the drive back to the course and share some ideas with some folks from the community on how to more effectively market the town as a destination. We were also hoping to generate enthusiasm for producing a TV program that would shine a High Definition spotlight on this hidden gem in the Thumb.

I drove nearly two hours through the first sizable winter storm to hit the region. It was a tad slippery, but for some reason I was glad to do it. There is a bizarre trigger in me that truly appreciates actual – not faux – passion for ideas. E has that passion.

I went, visited, presented ideas, and headed back home confident in the knowledge that good things were going to unfold at E’s course. A couple weeks later, I emailed him to see what sort of feedback had come from the meeting.

I received this reply:

Hi Bill, I just wanted to let you know that the Board of Directors has made a decision not to renew my contract for 2015. I was informed that my position as I know it is being eliminated, as is the bar manager position, citing financial difficulties.

 They are forming a new position called that will manage the bar and golf operations-as they need to save money by forming this new concept.

 They told me I was welcome to re-apply, as they are going to post the job for other candidates, but there was no guarantee of re-hire. 

 So, at this time, I only know that I am no longer employed with (Course Name) after 23 years of service. I’m not certain what result the new process will hold for me.

 This is a change they felt was necessary going forward and there was nothing I did (or didn’t) do professionally to create this, but I was shocked (and disappointed) about the news.

 I am writing this to you because, if this doesn’t work out for me, then you know the situation first hand and not through the grapevine or second hand.

 Take care, and have a safe and Merry Christmas, It’s been a pleasure to work with you.

 We’ll see what happens going forward.

 E

 

And just like that, my fuse was lit.

 

To: All Involved In Leadership Roles At Public And Private Golf Clubs And Courses

From: A Disgusted Observer

Re: Shortsighted Stupidity

I may never fully grasp the “wisdom” that envelopes a group of people who find themselves in charge of a golf property. Whether the course is public, private, or combination of the two, it seems that most of my friends who work tirelessly as PGA Professionals spend most of their time ducking for cover from those who sit in authority over them.

For 15 years, I have traversed this state in an effort to grow and promote the game. I have had the honor of working alongside some wonderful men and women who consistently showcase the very best that the game has to offer – dignity, diligence, energy, excellence, sincerity, and commitment.

Why do you insist on treating your PGA Pro so poorly?

Every fall, my email Inbox receives far too many notes from excellent professionals asking for a reference because they’ve just been let go. Most often, they’ve been blamed for a dip in revenues, as if they are in charge of both weather and marketing efforts. In only the rarest of occasions is there a clearly legitimate cause behind the firing.

The problem isn’t (usually) your PGA Pro. The problem is you, the leadership. You can’t clearly define what you want to be, how to reach a consensus on the direction you want to take the club, or a strategy on how to get there. Instead of hammering out those answers, it’s much easier to blame the Pro, fire him/her, complain far and wide about how you’ve finally fixed your major stumbling point, and begin the search for a replacement.

In the case of E, the membership of this semi-private/mostly public course was divided. Some wanted to grow the number of rounds played, knowing that would increase revenue. Many wanted to keep the place to themselves, somehow arriving at the conclusion that a course in financial trouble would magically escape that trouble by replicating its model year after year while expecting better results.

That, my friends, is what Einstein accurately defined as “insanity.”

I strongly encourage the leadership at clubs across America to try a new approach. What if, instead of the revolving door of PGA Pros, you changed YOUR mindset along these lines:

Set a firm definition for the personality of your club. Are you public, private, or both? If it’s both, stop kidding yourselves and start marketing to the public.

Take in the opinions of your PGA Pro. No one better knows the membership and most frequent players more than the person they see every day. They have shared things with your Pro that no survey will ever reveal.

Understand that you are dealing with actual people with real lives. Just because you have reached a position of leadership doesn’t entitle you to forget the reality that families are impacted by your decisions. In fact, true leadership will honor that knowledge.

 Prepare an actual marketing strategy. If you still solely rely on print ads in your local paper, have never heard of social media, and your website was last updated in the early 90’s, stop embarrassing yourselves. It doesn’t matter if your PGA Pro is Davis Love – if you don’t market effectively, no one will find you.

Inspire people to come and play, but also inspire your staff to stay. Do something encouraging instead of the opposite.

Deliver a quality product on and off the course. Invest wisely. Lean on insight from your PGA Pro, instead of reflexively blaming him/her for everything you don’t like. There is a concept in psychology called “projection.” The premise behind the term is to blame someone else for your own shortcomings. Stop it.

To my friend E and all the other PGA Pros I’ve had the honor of meeting over the last 15 years, I want to say thank you. Keep up the good fight. This game needs you.

To those involved in the leadership of courses, thank you as well. I have made many friends in the world of course ownership. Most are outstanding in their vision, energy, and treatment of their staff. Some are not. This game needs you as well.

In no way do I believe all decisions involving personnel are simple and clear cut. Owning and operating any business brings with it a variety of challenges that can often lead to difficult, undesirable decisions.

Please know that the vast majority of course owners do care, do have a clue, and deeply invest in the game. I know it’s not easy to balance the business side and the personal issues involved.

But in no case should what happened to E ever take place. A logical removal/change is one thing. What happened to E is entirely a different matter.

My encouragement and admonition is to be sure those decisions which result in good people being turned loose are not caused by a lack of true, clear, defined leadership.

Bill Hobson
Executive Producer
Michigan Golf Live TV/Radio

 

26 Responses to “An Open Letter On Behalf Of PGA Professionals”

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  1. Rob Elliott

    Bill, Thank you for such a strong and powerful article. I can not speak for all of the 28,000 PGA Members but as a group we all work very hard to make sure the “experience” you and all of our guests and members have is a great one. It is very unfortunate what happened to E but he will land on his feet and make his new home a great destination for all to travel to. Again, thank you for the great article!!
    Have a great day. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
    Rob Elliott, PGA
    Head Golf Professional
    Western Lakes Golf Club
    Pewaukee, WI 53072

    Reply
  2. Josh Szedlak

    Bill,

    I am a graduate of the PGM Program from Ferris State University (2002). I was also a recipient of the Dr. Lowell LeClair award for PGM Involvement that year. Although I left the business at the end of the 2002 season to pursue a different career path, I want to say thank you for bringing this issue up.

    All to often, throughout my career in the golf industry (which expanded from when I was 16 until I left the business at 22), I would hear from fellow PGA Professionals (those who Iooked to as mentors) that we were looked at as “Glorified Clubhouse Attendants” by those in leadership. To me that meant expendable, which ended up being the main reason for me leaving the industry. This case with “E” proves that this mindset with some owners/leadership is still present 12 seasons after my departure…furthermore showing that there is still a gap between what owners perceive of their managers and what the schools perceive they are providing as a product.

    Thank you again for a great article.

    Reply
    • Bill Hobson

      Thanks for your comments. My hope is that PGA Pros and course owners both come to understand the value they possess when it comes to growing the business and the game. It seems like there is too often a disconnection that harms both parties.

      Reply
  3. Art Arduin

    Please come to the THUMB and play our course – Huron Shores – Pt. Sanilac. I have to agree with most of the above.. it is easy to point fingers when things go south. We could use your help and insight ! We had a rough year in 2014 and probably will have the same in 2015. If you could feature some of the fine courses in our area it might help…. Take care and hope to see you in the “THUMB”. Art Arduin Vice President – Huron Shores Golf Club

    Reply
    • Bill Hobson

      Scott – you and I don’t know each other, so I haven’t the slightest idea what you mean with your comment.

      I wasn’t asked to write the letter, nor do I have any axe to grind with any club, EXCEPT when good people are treated poorly. That’s what clearly happened in the case of E.

      There is never “another side” to treating people poorly.

      I’m not launching a boycott of the course, discouraging people from playing there, or wishing anytbing negative for the members of the club. It’s a wonderful course that I wish many more people knew about.

      Oddly, it appears the membership prefers otherwise.

      I happen to think some incredibly misguided thinking has led to a very poor decision. Judging by the responses the letter is receiving from across the nation, it appears to be all too common.

      Reply
      • Derek Scrowther

        Seconded and I would say your letter is impacting around the World. I am reading your message in Oslo, Norway.

        Reply
        • Bill Hobson

          Thanks for checking in from Norway! I’m amazed at how far the letter has traveled. Hopefully it will result in positive changes in the relationships between Pro and Boss(es)!

          Reply
  4. john damour

    Hi Bob,

    I’ve enjoyed your show and this article. Being friends with a few of the pros of Michigan courses I can echo your feelings on how they are treated. An example? I’ve frequently found one of the top tier playing pros in the state sitting in an empty winter teaching shed with 3 bays and a simulator due to a mismanaged marketing strategy. If you’re committed to getting better at the game and have the financial means to do so, you’d most likely would like to know that a 6 time player-of-the-year and proven teacher is nearby. It was always a mystery to me why that resort/course wouldn’t promote one of their resources they possess over others – that is until I met their GM.

    Reply
    • Bill Hobson

      Thanks for sharing your comments and observations. There are a lot of excellent teachers who could benefit from better exposure, that’s for sure.

      Reply
  5. Barry

    Hi Bill,

    Thank you for writing this, unfortunately it’s not a problem isolated to the USA, I’m a South African PGA professional who has also recently left the golf club industry. Unfortunately it is a thankless task where members and administrators will squeeze the pro to breaking point instead of involving the pro in coming up with a strategy for future success. I hope for all my colleagues that this will change at some point.

    Reply
    • Bill Hobson

      Thanks for checking in from South Africa, and for sharing your experience. Here’s hoping for an improved partnership between the Pro and the bosses!

      Reply
  6. Doc Manning

    Hi Bill,

    I am an avid golfer from Indiana. After reading your letter, I hope upper management / owners take heed To what you’re saying. I have seen a lot of pros come and go over the years. And honestly, from my perspective, it was upper managements fault for their departure. I guess I am a little bias because they became close friends. But golf is ALL about friends. I’m going to make the thumb one of my golf destinations this year. Thank you for a great article!!!

    Reply
  7. Amanda Sears

    Mr. Hobson,

    Thank you for saying what needed to be said. Though I am not a PGA Professional, I have been married to a one for 28+ years.

    It still astounds me that management (owners/boards of directors/municipalities) will, on one hand cry the need for more income to cover operating expenses but turn around and hire someone off the street that knows no specifics about the golf business.

    I have seen, firsthand, a downward spiral for the PGA and PGA Professionals. From the “Heyday” of the 1980’s and 1990’s when members and clients almost demanded a PGA Professional on staff to now, when they have counter girls/guys running the Pro Shop, relatives/friends getting the jobs or harried General Managers with general business degrees trying to handle all departments on their own.

    Even Dick’s Sporting Goods made a statement (whether intended or not) that having a PGA Professional on staff was not important for their customers when across the country, they let them all go on July 22, 2014.

    It seems it’s WHO you know instead of WHAT you know that gets you a job in the golf course pro shop these days — if there is a job at all. It’s so very sad to see lifetime members of the PGA being managers at gas stations, selling insurance or working some other job outside their area of expertise because golf courses/club management do not give weight to their experience and training — only the bottom dollar.

    Yes, when a business is not doing well, some cuts are needed but to cut the one person that could help in that endeavor seems Stupid (to use your acronym).
    Golf is a very niche and personal business to the customers/members. No one understands this more than the PGA Professional that works with and sees them everyday. Niche marketing, generating more rounds played and growing their local game is what they are trained to do.

    The PGA trains their Professionals in marketing, food and beverage, merchandising, accounting/budgeting, cart fleet maintenance, lessons/clinics, club fitting, etc… Working together to fix the bottom dollar would seem the logical choice rather than cutting loose your main asset. My old, military dad would call that “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Any business major will tell you it’s a quick fix that probably won’t work. It’s not addressing the source of the problem.
    I do not assume all PGA Professionals are created equally nor are all owners/boards of directors. This has been my personal observation in the geographic areas my husband has worked in the past.

    Sorry for hijacking the comments section. I thought I had moved past this but your article struck a nerve. Thank you again, truly!

    Reply
    • Bill Hobson

      Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. I hope this letter begins the process of improving the exact scenarios you’re describing. I hope your husband has found a good working relationship and is still part of this great game!

      Reply
  8. Geoff Mangum

    Basic inescapable facts: 25 million Golfers in the 1970s in a USA population of 200 million (12.5%) — 24 million Golfers in 2014 in a USA population of 310 million (7.7%).

    The PGA of America has failed for over four decades to grow the game, which today should have 39 million Golfers (12.5%), and that growth should have happened without ANY positive effort but simply the natural accretion from general population increase.

    The tail pins on the PGA of America failure over 40+ years, not this or that course owner.

    Reply
    • Bill Hobson

      I appreciate your taking the time to add comments to the letter. I fail to see, however, the logic behind blaming you should organization for the treatment of a specific local professional.

      I have never claimed the PGA of America to be a perfect organization. But in the case of the letter I wrote, they really did not play a role.

      Reply
    • Jordan Caron

      I am with you here Geoff. Unfortunetly for our HP in this story, he’s getting the blame. The way I see PGA members these days, they have to be marketers and attract or retain golfers. I have no idea how much marketing is taught in PGM programs. But it should be the biggest focus moving forward.

      Only until the last couple of years has the PGA, not only in America but up here in Canada, finally started to realize that the game is losing players and have started implementing new programs. It’s a case of too little to late it seems. But I think they need to focus on two key demographics.

      I’m 32, a former professional who has played the game since I was 8. One of the biggest issues I see is the amount of junior golfers who have given up the game for various reasons. Disposable income, time consumption, family commitments and careers are a few.

      The biggest reason usually comes down to cost. I’m going to paint a fairly broad picture here but I think it’s reflective of what it actually looks like for millenials.

      Junior golf is so cheap. When you turn 19, some clubs has decent rates for intermediate memberships. But if you don’t want to commit to a membership, you’re paying full green fees. A rude awakening and a welcome to the real world for sure. A 19-24 year old isn’t going to be dropping $50 on a green fee and more for equipment as mom and dad aren’t paying. All in all, going to school to get and education and hanging out with friends become more important for this age group.

      Over the course of this 5 years, their interest in the game decreases. They find other hobbies that don’t cost as much. I took up squash and it costs me $700 a year to play. That’s for a membership and equipment. Not a bad deal considering $700 is two months of golf at my club and 3 at others for young adults. But you get the point, they find other things to do and spend their and money on.

      When they turn 25, they finish school with some healthy student loans and then start looking for marriage and kids. They buy a car, maybe get a house and start a family. By the time they’re 30, they have too many bills and a entry level job making $50 K a year if they are lucky. Now you might be able to play a few rounds a month on that at most. But joining a club? Good luck.

      It’s now been 10+ years since their junior days. Their interest has really dropped and the chances of brining this person back into the game where they play and contribute more to the industry are slim.

      What I am saying is there needs to be more tiers for green fees and membership dues for the 19 – 35 crowd. Make it cheap so that they do stick around and when the kids are a little older, the house is almost paid off and they have a well paying job, it’s then they have time for golf. But only if they have still managed to play a fair bit because of the tired rates that have kept then interested.

      Any business person knows that’s it’s a hell of a lot of easier to retain clients than attract new ones.

      As of the other demographic, it’s women. And Ted Bishop really showed how much interest the PGA had in this group. If it had been talked about that they needed to get women in the game for the last 5 years, he would have women focused mindset and not called Poulter “a little girl”.

      Reply
  9. ResponsiveDesign

    Thank’s a lot for taking the time to share your great experience. I hope so this article stat the process of improving the exact scenarios as you said . I wish you a happy and healthy life…

    Reply
  10. USAGolfMarketing.com

    I just found this! Great letter Bill! I played some junior golf tournaments at E’s course and years later did some consulting work for him. He was definitely above and beyond the business savvy of most golf professionals. Do you know they percentage of PGA professionals who have actually read a marketing book. E was one of the few who have. I see they replaced him with another PGA professional. Perhaps one straight out of college who is willing to work for $10/hour? I do not know. Will be interesting to see a followup of what transpires with the facility a few years from now.

    Reply

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