PGA Tees Up Training with Certification Customized to Career Paths

New development program bridges generational gap

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek October 18, 2017
PGA Tees Up Training with Certification Customized to Career Paths

There's more to being a golf pro than helping golfers work on their swing. The many roles of a Professional Golfers Association (PGA) of America member ultimately are geared at generating revenue.

A PGA member manages the pro shop and the salespeople who run it, works with groundskeepers and maintenance staff, produces daily reports on sales and course use, teaches people to play the game, and oversees tournaments and other events.

Each of the more than 28,000 male and female professionals who make up the self-described "world's largest working sports organization" is required to maintain a full-time job in one of four PGA career paths and to keep current in professional development requirements.

The PGA of America has long offered certification and career paths, and it has partnered with universities since 1975 to offer an accredited golf management program. Through the university program, students earn degrees in marketing, business administration, hospitality administration, recreation and park management.

However, a drop in the number of people who golf prompted the PGA of America recently to design "an action plan for growth," according to a Skillsoft case study of the PGA of America.

Skillsoft, based in Nashua, N.H., is an educational technology company that produces learning management system software and content.

"The glaring challenge standing in the way of delivering a training initiative was a very real generational gap," Skillsoft noted. "New members are roughly 30 years old when they join, with an average member age of 45 years. This means there is about a 50/50 split in membership, with half being more 'tradition' oriented and the other half being more digitally-focused."

With employees from four generations in the workplace, 14,000 of whom are under age 50, "We've had to be pretty clever in how to keep them [all] engaged," said Dawes Marlatt, senior director of education and employment at the PGA of America.

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The 101-year-old organization wanted training that engaged the younger generations it sought to attract. It also needed to get its older members to share their institutional knowledge and experience in a way that did not cause them to fear they would lose their jobs to younger colleagues.

Skillsoft worked with PGA of America to create a learning and development program—Certified Professional Program (CPP) 2.0—whose content is customized to different career paths and delivered through interactive online courses. Veteran members and a "who's who" of industry professionals validated the content and are championing the training.

CPP 2.0 includes e-learning; PGA Connect, an online platform for members to ask each other questions and seek advice; research analytics to track learning metrics, and computer-based testing, according to Skillsoft.

There are 17 custom courses for apprentice training—although the PGA of America is moving away from the term "apprentice"—and 26 courses for member training. Serving as a registered apprentice and completing the PGA Professional Golf Management Program are the first steps to becoming a PGA member. 


CPP 2.0, introduced in 2016, ties its courses to four different certifications: 

  • Golf operations.
  • General management.
  • Player development.
  • Teaching and coaching. 
Certifications are less broad than ones the PGA of America awarded in the past and have been consolidated around the four career paths of executive management, golf operations, teaching and coaching, and player development.

Player development certification, for example, explores consumer behavior, sales skills and techniques for building a better overall golf business—including engaging the lapsed golfer. Online course elements might include a video of a customer interaction and asking the participant to evaluate how to handle the scenario.

Certification program participants complete assigned reading and course work and write a paper that summarizes how the particular training and development impacted the employee's job performance. Participants also must complete a project on what they learned in their chosen certification path that has real-world implications—for example, creating a plan to hire, train and supervise seasonal employees.

Program participants may call someone in the PGA of America education department with questions or to seek guidance on a project, said Mike Aldrich, PGA of America player development regional manager for Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., at the time of his interview with SHRM Online. "This isn't some [artificial intelligence] algorithm that's figuring out [how you're doing]. Right from the beginning, you're introduced to who's going to support you through the [learning] process," he said.

Tom Morton, director of player development for the PGA of America, said that furthering his education through the certified professional program and the master professional program—the highest designation—has been one of the best moves of his career.

"It has solidified my beliefs about successful ways to do business, forced me to look at those practices I needed to change, and created an incredible platform for me to spend valuable time with other amazing [PGA] professionals," he told SHRM Online in an e-mail. "This has had a positive effect on my life and business."

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