So you want to become a golf professional…

[features_box_yellow width=”75%” + border=”2px”]Disclaimer: This is not really a post about those looking to play golf professionally. It’s more for those looking at a traineeship and becoming a teaching or club professional. There’s going to be no instruction in this post, so you may find it a bit boring and might want to skip it if this isn’t your thing. Also, this is my opinion about becoming a club pro here in Australia and I base my thoughts and ideas on what I experienced here in Oz. I’m not up to speed with all of the differences of every country, so you will need to check for yourself. Some will be better, but then other will be worse. One last thing: I worked as a trainee golf pro in 2000 and 2001 – so it has been a while and I’m happy to accept that some things may have changed. With all that in mind, here’s my thoughts on playing golf professionally …[/features_box_yellow]

If you think you’re a pretty hot player, then my advice is to head to a tour school somewhere and test your game right away. There’s no point stuffing around and waiting in my opinion (unless you’re really young), your best bet is to get out there as soon as you can. The sooner you’re able to get out there, the sooner you can test your game under the pressure of professional competition and the sooner you can make a name for yourself.

If you can’t get past tour school at least you know you’re not good enough – you can work on your game and come back later or go find another career. I think too many guys wait too long before they dip their toe in the water. It seems they are waiting for the perfect time or hoping their game will come good at the right time. Let me make this point very clear,

There is no perfect time. If you’re waiting for the right moment to turn pro then you most likely need an attitude adjustment. And don’t think your game will magically come good when you tee it up. It won’t. You’ll feel pressure like you’ve never felt before and it’s not easy. I personally think that the guys who know they belong already know. There are plenty of pretenders who have nothing better to do. If you’re a serious player this is good news for you because half your competition are most likely not going to fire any shots. They all get found out. So in a way, it’s easier for you if you have game.

The only exception to turning pro would be if you’re an elite amateur and you get semi-sponsored by your state or national body. I think this is a bit of a grey area with the amateur rules of golf, essentially these guys are semi-professional. They don’t get paid to play, but get looked after in every other way. They also get plenty of experience playing in big events, so you might as well learn the ropes on someone else’s dime rather than your own. And, if you’re that good, you may play your way onto a main tour by winning one of the big amateur events – it’s definitely worth a shot.

That’s pretty much it for those that want to go play for a living. Get out there and have a go!

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For all those guys and girls who know they’re not good enough to play professionally but who want a career as a golf professional, then the rest of the post is for you. Your only way to become a pro is to turn trainee and do a kind of apprenticeship with a fully qualified golf professional.

My strongest recommendation is don’t do it. If you really love golf and can’t think of anything else you’d rather do, then please think very seriously about your decision. Why am I qualified to make that choice?

Because I’ve been you. I turned trainee and thought it was going to be my dream job and was actually pretty pumped about it. But for reasons I’ll point out, it wasn’t a great decision. I don’t regret many of my decisions, but if I had my time over I definitely wouldn’t have turned pro through the trainee system. I really didn’t learn that much and for the most part had my enthusiasm and passion dented at every turn.

5 reasons why you shouldn’t turn pro

1. You love the game and you enjoy playing the game

If you seriously love the game then this is exactly why you shouldn’t turn pro. Becoming a professional will turn your love into your #1 hate. Trainees don’t have the time to play golf. You spend most of your working time hanging around the pro-shop, doing all the dirty jobs (like cleaning clubs, cleaning the floor, stocking the fridge and listening to all the golfers whine about their score), selling chocolate bars and collecting green fees. It’s a terrible job and typically the more prestigious the club, the worse the job is.

The members are terrible. They treat you like a second class citizen and really only care about themselves. When I turned pro I worked at one of Australia’s most famous clubs. I was a member beforehand and the club made me resign because they had some antiquated rule about professionals not being members. When I mentioned that other pros were members they changed their tune to say staff members couldn’t be a member of the club. Whatever! One member, who happily caddied for me and shared my joy after a Club Championship victory, went behind my back and told my boss I couldn’t call him by his first name any longer, it had to be Mr. He didn’t even have the guts to tell me to my face.

This elitist attitude wears you down. The good members are great and treat you properly, ask about your progress and genuinely care about how you’re getting on. The really snobby ones are some of the worst people I’ve met in my life and don’t really care about golf. They are members of these famous clubs for all the wrong reasons – they’re there because their daddies were members and the social status it gives them. And after a while it will get the better of you and you’ll start resenting being around them.

When I finished up, the club graciously allowed me to rejoin. I had to attend a luncheon and the guy running the day made a small speech. It was all very tacky and he basically said, “we’re glad you’re on this side of the counter now”. I have never forgotten how they made me feel and how shallow these people were.

Even if you manage to find a club with great people, you still have to do a lot of things you’ll hate doing. When people come to the golf course they want to play golf and enjoy themselves, and even if they’re your friends, they’ll at times demand things from you that will push the friendship. It could be they need their spikes changed, their clubs cleaned or a lift out to the 1st tee. But you’ll have moments that will cause you to resent them. I know this is being part of the big bad world, but you don’t need to have your enthusiasm and passion messed with if you have a choice.

If you really love playing golf and everything about it, join a club as a member and play often. Enjoy the facilitates, but don’t go work there. It will be the worst thing you do.

2. You want to get an education and learn how to run a business

Are you serious? If you’re looking for the trainee system to teach you anything about business then you’ve been terribly misled. This was the one thing that I was most disappointed in – I thought if nothing else I’d learn some useful things that I could apply later in life. But it wasn’t that way at all. For starters, anything you are taught is not recognised outside the system. So if you go through three years of a traineeship and realise you want to go do something else, those three-years are a complete waste of time. No future employer is going to look at your qualification and go, “wow, you’re a golf professional, we’ll definitely hire you”. If you’re lucky, someone in the golf industry might, but even then I suspect they have woken up. Your ability as a fine player may open a few doors for you, maybe the boss would like lessons, but you don’t need to spend three-years behind a counter to get good at swinging the sticks.

Second: you learn squat. You’ll learn more by reading a basic business book that you can get from the library. That doesn’t cost you anything and you don’t need to feel like a slave, earning something like $7 per hour while you learn. You can go get a real job and study in your spare time. You’ll earn more money and develop skills that can be used in the real world. If you want to learn about business here’s what I suggest:

Become chummy with a successful businessman at your club and go offer to work for him. He’ll teach you all you need to know and I can guarantee you’ll be miles ahead of any other trainee in a month or two. If you can’t find anyone, go run your own business. There’s nothing like jumping in the deep end to learn how to run a business – and the potential payoff is far greater too.

On a slightly different note: When I was working with a mate of mine selling fitness products, the business started flying. We went from a kitchen table to a fancy showroom and a bunch of employees very quickly. One day we were playing with a young lawyer from our club and this kid was envious. We didn’t have the long hours (at least they weren’t forced upon us, we worked hard because we wanted), we didn’t have the pressure and we had a freedom that he didn’t. He said law wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and he wished he had done something like we had.

3. You don’t know what else to do

If you don’t know what to do that’s fine. It’s a hard decision and often parents and teachers are pulling you in all sorts of directions. But don’t jump in and turn pro because you think it’s your only option. Go work in a proshop to see what it’s like. I’m pretty sure you’ll hate it and thank me for it, but if you do decide it’s for you then you’ve lost nothing, maybe a month or two of your life. And if this does happen, you’ll go into with a better understanding of what to expect. You’ll be ahead of the curve.

Keep in mind that when you finish your time there are hardly any good jobs available. All the so called plumb jobs are locked in by crusty old pros who have no intention of leaving. So your best bet will be to become the assistant professional somewhere and this is only marginally better than being a trainee.

Moreover, the pay is lousy and the opportunity to set yourself up is getting harder and harder. Back in the old days, the pro had full control over the proshop – he actually owned the stock and could make a tidy profit by selling goods to the members. Not any more Bucko. All clubs now own their shop and run it like a business (they have woken up). This means that the pro is employed by the club to work for a salary – this is incredibly limiting both for your income and growth. Even when you give a golf lesson, you will have to give a percentage back to the club. This is great for the club, but not so good for you. You’ll spend a fair chunk of your time resenting the club and trying to improve your deal – it’s not great NOT being in control.

The hours are terrible. Most shops are open from dawn to dusk. Some days you may have to be there the entire day (14 hours +) – this would be bearable if you had something to show for it, but at $7 per hour, you can have that.

So my strong advice is don’t jump in because you’re not sure what to do. We all have self-doubt, fear and concern when it comes to choosing a career. It’s normal. Sleep on your decision and go try a number of other things before diving in. You’re most likely smarter than you think.

4. You’ll use a traineeship as a back door to becoming a tour player

Not likely. If you want to play go play. Tee it up everyday possible and play your heart out. But please don’t turn trainee thinking you’ll become a better player. You won’t. I can’t think of anyone that has successfully done this. I know there will be a few cases, but it is extremely rare. While you’re cleaning shoes and watching other golfers hit off, your future competition will be out practicing or competing somewhere. How can you possibly beat that? You can’t. You’re wasting your time selling Mars Bars if you want to play for a living.

If there was some reward at the end of your time, like a meangingful degree or job, then it would be worth the chance. But there is nothing good at all about wasting three-years in a proshop. Don’t.

And please don’t think the trainee tournaments are going to be good for your game. They are definitely not. Here’s the usual drill.

You’ve worked your arse off all week. You’ve pulled two double shifts over the weekend because your boss decided to take the wife and kids to the beach. So you’re completely knackered and have to tee it up on Monday morning at a course you haven’t played for fifteen years. You had to get up early to do some washing, so by the time you arrive at the course you’re hopelessly late. You run to the tee to avoid getting a fine and then realise you lent your putter to a member who forgot to give it back.

Now you’re screwed. Not only haven’t you touched a club since last week, you haven’t warmed up and you don’t have a putter. To make matters worse, the local greenkeeper woke up on the wrong side of bed and his only thought when he got to the course was, “I’m going to show these pros”. So you’re playing off the tips and the pins all look like they’re in the bunkers. He has double cut the greens but hasn’t touched the rough for a couple of weeks. When you look down the fairway you think you’re at the US Open. Welcome to life as a trainee. Do you reckon this is going to help your golf?

You’re much better going to get a job stacking shelves in a supermarket at night. You’ll learn just as much, maybe more, but at least you’ll be able to spend your days hitting balls and working on your game. In the grand scheme of things, a few years working at nights is not going to ruin your life. But if you waste three-years having your head screwed with it just might.

Here’s the other thing I noticed about the trainee system. Everyone hates and bitches about it. The guys are all mostly great blokes, but it does start to get to you. It’s unfair and even if you go into it for the right reasons, you’ll find yourself whinging and whining. You complain about the members, the lack of practice time, the early tee times or the condition of the courses. It’s tough to have a good attitude when it’s so unfair. This is not a good environment if you want to go play.

And it’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Golf is stuck in tradition and does stuff because, well, it’s always been done like this. It’s all a little backward if you ask me.

5. You want to be a golf coach and help other people enjoy golf.

I don’t think it’s gunna happen. This is my main reason why I joined the pro ranks. I started to get a taste of coaching and was making some inroads with my development. I was lucky to have a mentor who guided me through some difficult times and he helped me realise my passion. Turning pro, with the goal of becoming a shit hot coach seemed like a good idea. Boy was I wrong.

In my induction meeting I was asked what the PGA stood for. I thought I answered it pretty well.

“Help all golfers of all levels enjoy the game of golf” or something like that.

WRONG! Nope, the PGA is about the PGA. And that came from the state director. I couldn’t believe it. So if you’re going into this thing in the hope of helping other people enjoy golf, then you’re going to be on your own.

On the first day, my boss took me aside and threw the book at me. He didn’t want me teaching any of that “special learning stuff”. He caught the backend of a presentation I gave the pennant team a year earlier. He was an ignoramus that had absolutely no passion for the game or golfers, but didn’t want me making a name for myself. So he cut me down and pretty much made my life hell for the 15 months I managed to stay with him.

Unless you’re prepared to teach “by the book” you’ve got no chance of getting through. If you’re happy following a set structure for lessons, creating zero relationship with people and not really caring if you help them or not you’ll probably do fine. Just be warned – this will become very boring and you’ll probably have to give 60 lessons per week to make ends meet. If this sounds like your dream job then go for it. You’ll also most likely be stuck at a driving range and I can’t think of a more stale and uninspiring place than a commercial driving range. They’re horrible.

If you love coaching but aren’t sure if the PGA system is for you then your options may seem to be limited. My advice is to go into something specialised like, psychology, inner game or fitness. My mate and personal coach, Scott Barrow, doesn’t know one end of a golf club from another, but he’d make an excellent golf coach if that’s what he wanted to do. So there are backdoor options if you’re prepared to look around. It comes down to following your gut and passion and not being afraid of doing things your way.

There are other options when it comes to getting “qualified” to coach golf. I have never really looked into them or had anything to do with them so won’t comment here. But there is no law to say you have to be qualified to teach golf – it’s not like we’re messing with people’s lives or performing surgery. If you like coaching, then jump online and do as much research as you can. Speak to good coaches, look at science and coach as much as you can. Coach kids, your friends and family. If you like doing something you should definitely do it.

There really are a heap of options and there has never been an easier time to go out on your own. The Internet is your best friend, and with a tidy site you have the option to do all sorts of things to tell your story and attract clients. It’s not easy, but if you are prepared to do the work you should do just fine.

Summary

This all might seem a little harsh and if you’re already in the system or have gone through it, you might be a bit pissed. I have met lots of golf pros over the journey and almost all of them have some gripes about life as a club pro and the system to get there. I suspect they won’t like hearing this from an outsider. But I have just put my point of view across and everyone else is free to share theirs.

If you’re thinking about turning professional then make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and be sure to do enough research because things aren’t always what they are cracked up to be. There is a lot of stuff that’s left off the glossy brochure (and the same could be said of becoming a teacher, doctor or lawyer). If Australia wants to get itself back on the golfing map and pull golf out of this recession, I think one of the best starting points would be a revamp of the training process.

Thanks for reading.

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3 Comments

  • Lukey

    Reply Reply March 26, 2013

    I think the general thing with the teachers we have here is they like to teach a pretty swing where as the Yanks are more interested in how to get it in the hole as quick as you can.I don’t know whether I’m right or not but it sure looks that way.
    Cheers Lukey

  • Mick M

    Reply Reply March 26, 2013

    Hi Cam, so many aspiring pros should read this. I once had a dream of becoming a golf pro but then changed my mind after doing some work experience in the pro shop..boring! And some advice I read somewhere… If you can’t beat the amateurs, how can you beat the pros. That cured me of being a golf pro! I just enjoy playing now!

  • Grayden Provis

    Reply Reply March 27, 2013

    This sure helps explain the typical pro shop culture. They’re all depressed! Change is clearly needed. Maybe this article will plant a seed somewhere.

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