Wrestling with Augusta National Golf Club

I am by no means an expert in the golf business. The letters "PGA" don't literally mean in every case that one is an expert in the game, I'm proof, so let's get that cleared up from the get-go. In my more than a decade experience in the golf business as a club professional, seven of them as a PGA Professional (which isn't long by any stretch of the imagination), I always took a keen interest in training and mentoring. I've always found it interesting that for all the mystique that lies behind Augusta National Golf Club, I sometimes wonder where they stack in terms of the ability to train assistant golf professionals. Sure, ANGC has moved assistants on to Head Professional positions, but how do they do it? Don't get me wrong, I have known some former ANGC professionals, and they are hard working, class people that are good at what they do, but it still makes you think, doesn't it?

Even Augusta National has Head Professionals (two great ones out of the Penn State PGM Program I might add), and I commend them for the effort I know they're putting in to trying to prepare their assistants for the long haul. I'm sure the leadership at ANGC know the pinch they're in so this article shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. So it makes you think, how can a club that doesn't have a junior program, barely a women's program, a small tournament program, and no legitimate cart fleet provide the all-encompassing training needed to push assistants along? To my knowledge (which is limited), ANGC doesn't have a computer handicap system to learn and operate. You can count the number of member tournaments they have on one hand. They have two women in their women's program. There is no member bag storage to manage and no significant cart fleet to keep. Their outside services operation is more of a valet service to and from their designated airport. Realistically, operations like this are not representative of the kind of HP job that 99.9% of aspiring HP's will attain. It's unrealistic to think that an operation like this, on it's own, could fully and comprehensively prepare an assistant for the rigors of an HP job, although that doesn't mean it's not possible.

Naturally ANGC does have a strong caddie program, as well as a strong merchandising program. To my knowledge, they also have a good instruction program with Trackman, that suits the needs of their particular membership. There are many base level skills that can also be learned there like staffing, multi-tasking, time management, vendor relations, and other components. Additionally, "service" is everywhere, so credit should be given to the ANGC operation for that as well. A golf operation trying to provide world-class service to that kind of clientele must be a great opportunity for learning. And then there is the aspect of learning from two great HP's and their personal experiences. So there are operational components to learn there, however in the overall grand scheme of golf operations, I'm not convinced an assistant can get the full smorgasbord of training required to push forward in the club professional business. The professional staff at Augusta National can certainly stage many seminars, but seminars aren't going to give professionals the work experience they need. Seminars are a good supplement to work experience. But for a program to be a "supplement" there has to be the "work experience" that needs to be supplemented. What's the point in having a junior instruction seminar if there is no junior program to take what you wrote on your yellow note pad and actually put what you wrote to use?

Generally speaking, what's an assistant professional at ANGC going to do when he gets a HP job at a club that requires a cart fleet of 120? Will he have solid cart fleet financing experience to fall back on? Will he have the experience to make intuitive decisions about cart fleet recruitment and financing? Sure, he can call on some mentors, but even that may not help when the rubber meets the road. But maybe i'm wrong, after all, these are just musings, and my opinions aren't always correct. 

Now I know most ANGC assistants during their off-season (May to September) go north or south for more dynamic jobs. It is these jaunts elsewhere where they get their good work experience. However the downside to this situation is they don't present longevity at a club. In my humble opinion, if I'm on a hiring committee, I would like to see longevity in a candidates situation, not years of zip code-hopping and road-tripping (something I myself did for a few years). Again, don't get me wrong, an assistant can be nicely groomed under these circumstances, so it's not out of the realm of possibility.

The bottom line is, in my humble opinion, if I'm on a hiring committee at a club and we badly need to bolster our women's program, realistically I'm not convinced that hiring an assistant out of Augusta National is the best thing for us. If we are itching for revenue and we are in dire need of a stronger corporate outing schedule, I'm not convinced that hiring an assistant out of Augusta National is the best thing for us. If I am looking for a HP that can handle the diversity of my clubs 800 to 1,000 members, I'm not convinced that hiring someone out of Augusta National is the best thing for us. Even the grounds department wouldn't seem to be exempt. If I am at a club with a small grounds budget, is it really in my best interest to hire a superintendent coming out from under the umbrella of a virtually unlimited budget like I'm sure exists at Augusta National? 

Take XYZ Country Club, it's not a Top-100 facility, however it is a great facility with first-class golf. It enlists about 700 golf members. It employs one of the better caddie programs in it's region. It exhibits a vibrant and dynamic instruction program and a very strong and active merchandising program. It hosts a very lucrative corporate outing schedule. It provides an expansive men's program, a thriving women's program, and a solid junior program. Give me a ready, able, and willing assistant with longevity coming out of that training ground any day!

From the outside looking in, Augusta National seems like a "launching pad". A place like XYZ Country Club, for lack of a better term, seems like a "battle ground" to me. There are many clubs like XYZ Country Club, and seasoned assistants that have spent 3 to 5 years of uninterrupted time at those clubs would be just as great of an option, if not better. From a place like XYZ Country Club, a club can pluck a seasoned, ready, able, and willing assistant professional and also know with certainty that they're getting a professional that is tried, tested, and true under the MOST opportune conditions. From an outside opinion, the words "Augusta National" seem like a thick and attractive layer of icing on the cake. 

I would never recommend that an assistant professional not consider a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work at ANGC. ANGC is unique and it seems to me that they are
 doing pretty well with what they have to work with in the realm of staff training. Every club is unique in their own way and much can be learned in their respective environments, including Augusta National. But the point of this article is this: If you're an assistant professional reading this, and your wrestling with trying to find some sort of purpose in where you are right now and where it all fits in the grand scheme of your career, try to understand more about what you do have and stop imagining what you could have at Augusta National or a place like it. What you need for your career could be right under your nose. Working for the "best in the business" isn't always the best situation for you. Where you are right now could be your best situation, not necessarily Augusta National believe it or not.

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