Post by Sam Kirk.
The assistant professional is a crucial part of a golf club life, helping the pro with the easing of his workload and being there to look after club members when he is away, out teaching or on holiday.
But is the role of assistant professional counterproductive to the golfing development someone in that position would expect to receive? When taking full time employment at a golf club it would be fair to think that that being around the club, course and its facilities for most of the week could only benefit your game in general. Surely it would mean being taken under the wing of the most knowledgeable person at the golf club whilst receiving unlimited advice and tuition into the deal as well? In theory, time outside working hours should be spent improving your game by practising hard to get the most out of the role. But for many youngsters off low single figure handicaps’, turning professional has a negative effect on their golf by causing the standard of their play to decrease, and quite often results in falling out of love with the game as well. Spending hours slaving in away in a shop, serving, re-gripping and fixing clubs, dealing with members and just being in attendance whilst seeing them coming and going from playing rounds of golf, can be a morale sapping experience.
I have friends who became assistant golf professionals and who initially started out absolutely full to the brim with enthusiasm, but over time became disillusioned with life and desperately started seeking a change in career path. The job can become overbearing and there is little emphasis on improving yourself and getting better at the game. After numerous tiring hours performing thankless tasks in the shop there is little or no energy left to find the motivation to go out to play and practise.
Another reason in turning people away from the profession is the money aspect that the job offers. Although it sounds like a glamorous job title ‘assistant golf professional’ pays a measly minimum wage and those that I have spoken to about it, say at times it feels much like slave labour. The role is often a shared one, and depending on the size of the club, the amount of teaching the head professional has and particular times of the season (amount of club competitions to help out with and work to be done) the workload can vary from an OK one to having to work quite unsociable hours. It will sometimes require a ridiculous o’clock in the morning start carrying on through to late in the evening especially on busy days assisting with all the duties a big club event brings, such as relaying information to scorers and manning the shop as huge amounts of people pass through buying refreshments and equipment.
The long term ambition of becoming an assistant professional is to become PGA qualified and ultimately progress in the world of golf by unlocking opportunities to earn more money by teaching, playing in PGA events and eventually applying for a lucrative position as head professional to a big club.
There are two ways into the PGA; one is the academic route, via the University of Birmingham and take a three year BA Hons Degree in Applied Golf Management Studies which could to lead directly into a more senior role in the world of golf. The second is the apprenticeship way as a registered assistant professional to a PGA recognised golf facility. But this is not always the easiest or best route to take as even on completion the process can leave you somewhat short of where you would like to be. The apprenticeship process involves working through study guides, assignments, and residential weeks at the PGA’s National Training Academy headquarters at the Belfry, taking exams and achieving coaching awards. Topics studied during this process are golf coaching, sports science, marketing, business management, equipment technology, golf rules and tournament administration.
Even when PGA qualification is achieved there are no guarantees that you will instantly begin to reap the rewards of the hard work undertaken. I have seen firsthand how assistant professionals find it extremely hard to ‘compete as a teacher’ with the head professional who has much more experience and has built up sound relations with his regular pupils at the club. Opportunities can be quite rare for the newly qualified assistant to be given a chance to show what he can do.
Several of the assistants I knew at one local club have moved on (some became PGA qualified and some didn’t) because there were simply better options in other walks of life. One of them now works at Toyota, another has joined the police force and another stayed in golf now working on the shop floor at a Golf Discount store. To me these three examples speak volumes about being an assistant professional. I will always remembered one of them saying to me ‘I would be better off stacking shelves for more money and less hours.’
Often the love for the game accompanied by lack of other career opportunities is the catalyst for many youngsters wanting to make a career out of the game of professional golf. Although it sounds harsh, maybe some even have the unrealistic thought that one day they can advance themselves onto playing on the mini tours and ultimately the main tours. Liam White, who played in the 1991 Walker Cup at Portmarnock and was said to be a better player than Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Lee Westwood, told me that once he left the amateur stage and played on tour it became a completely different game altogether. He said that he found it difficult going from winning regularly on the amateur scene to having what amounted as a good week on tour and finishing tied for 40th! He struggled to deal with being a small fish in a big pond rather than a big fish in a small pond. He was an extremely gifted player who failed to make a lengthy and profitable career out of the game, so surely someone with lesser ability playing off low singles figures (although not to be scoffed at), should really look elsewhere for a career path no matter how much love for golf they have.
I’m not trying to discourage anyone from going down this route and of course there are success stories of people who have started out as an assistant and gone on to do well, Ian Poulter is a prime example. Head professionals are often at their clubs for many years and it can be a long wait for these positions to become vacant. James Sharpe a PGA professional now working at Wentworth, went down the University of Birmingham route and immediately after finishing his degree went into an assistant professional job at The Royal Liverpool Golf Club. With a degree and qualifications behind him he was able to enter the golf job market at a higher level than someone who had simply worked in a professionals shop, showing that it is a good route to go down if you are really serious about a career in the game and are willing to put the hours into achieving a degree.
Perhaps there are more rewarding and beneficial routes to take in life than spending years locked away in a shop as an assistant professional with a path to nowhere, that hopefully will stop you from falling out of love with the game of golf.