The Changing Nature of the Golf Club Professional
I grew up in the 1950s and 60s in a small town called Rosemere, north of Montreal and just south of the Laurentian Mountains. We were fortunate to have a golf club in town, appropriately named Rosemere Golf Club. I realized around the age of ten that I could make some money at the club as a caddie. Many of those I caddied for were French Canadian, so in that environment and at that tender age I had memorized a bevy of foreign curse words, and of course, had no idea of their meaning. In order to impress my friends and anyone else who would listen, I remember rattling off in the French language all of these new-found words and phrases. It was quite an introduction to the game.
As time progressed, I became a junior member, and during the summer months seemed to spend every waking hour at the club playing golf with my buddies. I was hooked by the game, its surroundings, and the camaraderie that it offered. The big milestone in those days was breaking 50 for nine holes. There was a certain feeling of envy for those who first accomplished the feat. Among my group of a dozen or so friends, Donald Cluff was the first to do so, followed by Brian Robertson. Interestingly, both of these individuals eventually became club professionals.
The head pro at Rosemere Golf Club was a fellow by the name of Nelson Young, and his brother Bill assisted him. Nelson always had a tan, a great smile, dressed like one cool cat, drove a new Cadillac, and worked only six months of the year. Furthermore, he was well-respected by all, displayed a great talent for hitting a ball with a stick, always had a large roll of cash in his pocket, and spent the winters in Florida. For an impressionable kid growing up and hooked on golf, who would not want to emulate this person?
Nelson made his revenue by owning 100% of all pro shop sales, as well as 100% of golf cart revenue and member bag storage, giving golf lessons, and had an annual income from the club itself. The days of the golf club professional were in their infancy, and club pros throughout North America and I am sure other parts of the world, made a very comfortable living. At the time, owners truly felt that the club pro was an invaluable commodity at their facilities.
We all know, however, that in business, not all remains the same. Time can change everything. Nevada Bob’s, the first discount franchise golf store outside of golf course pro shops, was the first to think outside the box and had the audacity to sell discount golf equipment and clothing to the public. Club pros could no longer compete and eventually lost half of their income. And, although some manufacturers held off selling to these discount stores, claiming their loyalty was to the club pro, eventually they had no choice but to follow their competitors in order to survive.
Then, of course, corporations started purchasing golf courses. Companies like American Golf Corporation, Club Golf, and others became responsible for managing hundreds of golf courses. With this new paradigm came strict, no-nonsense cost-cutting policies. Golf club owners also soon realized that revenue from bag storage, cart rentals, pro shop sales, etc., should belong to those responsible for having to pay taxes and ensure the overall success of the golf club – namely, themselves. This left the club pro as basically an employee of the golf club, responsible for his particular area of expertise, and answerable to the owner himself or to the golf club manager.
In fact, over time, the golf club manager soon replaced the club pro in importance, because the owner now demanded an actual businessperson who was responsible to the club in the area of profi t and loss. Many facilities have now evolved to the point where there is no club professional. They realize they can save a substantial salary by simply hiring the services of a friendly pro shop counter staff and a competent, personable teaching professional working on commission to service the needs of their clients.
However, the need for golf instruction has not changed. Even with the advent of all the instruction on Golf Channel, YouTube videos and golf magazines, people still require competent instruction from a personable teaching professional on-site in order to truly improve. Thanks to the United States Golf Teachers Federation, the teaching professional is now a specialist in his field and no longer expected to wear many hats. He is more informed, better educated in his area of expertise, and as a result, better at what he does.
Golf club managers have taken the same route. Owners of golf courses still do the hiring and always will, but now with the advent of the United States Golf Managers Association, they have the opportunity to hire someone who has been specifically trained in the field of club management.
Evolution, therefore, has played an interesting role for the club professional, and golf club owners have come to realize that the specialization of golf’s essential elements, teaching and management, have proven the way of the future.
Oh, and one more thing that has not changed – golfers the world over still curse!