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June 2021

A PGA Professional on the Horizon


By Jay Karen, CEO, NGCOA

"Why?” That’s the first question I get from friends inside and outside the golf industry, when I tell them I’m on the journey to becoming a member of the PGA of America.

I can feel laced in the question the assumption that someone my age (nearly fifty) with a busy job, busy family and busy volunteer responsibilities wouldn’t have time to pursue something that might seem more appropriate for a person starting the climb on the career ladder. And don’t PGA pros work at golf courses? So, why is it I am stepping onto the pathway? Three reasons: I’m a joiner, I have always loved testing myself, and it will be an insightful experience I can take to the job.

I’m an association executive by profession - through and through. I joined “my” association (the American Society of Association Executives) around the age of 25, and achieved the prestigious Certified Association Executive badge when I was 29, and haven’t stopped contributing, teaching, speaking and leading ever since. It’s pretty typical of me. In high school and college, I joined every club and organization possible. As much as I gave over the years to any organization, I have always received more. When I learned there is a “golf administrator” membership category in the PGA, my “joiner” instincts were poked. That one of their educational tracks is in executive management, the deal was sealed.

For a few years now, I threatened my colleagues and friends at the PGA that I might join. But I said I would only do so in the spirit of helpfulness. I could be the eyes and ears for the course owners I represent as I go through the process and curriculum. I could share compliments or constructive criticism about the experience. But more importantly, I could offer my notes and observations on how the curriculum and content align with today’s needs of owners and operators, and what ways it could possibly align better. The PGA may be the most prolific educator of those who work at golf courses in our industry (through the national office and sections); we have a responsibility to work together.

Some NGCOA members in the past have made it clear they are quite proud to NOT have a PGA professional at their course. Having witnessed this perspective since my early days at NGCOA in the late-90s, it seems to stem from an assumption that the PGA is for private club professionals (a hint of elitism?), or that PGA professionals are more expensive to employ than those who are not, and their non-PGA golf professionals are just as good or better. I can certainly understand where those feelings came from. But from the many PGA professionals I’ve worked with in this industry, I can say those three letters don’t make the man or the woman. The men and women, conversely, make the PGA what it is, and some of the best people I’ve met in this industry wear the badge. I would rather take the opportunity to learn from - and assist and shape in my own way - an impactful organization in our industry, than not. Maybe this goes back to being a joiner - I’d rather help and improve by getting in the arena.

Lastly, as someone who played a little competitive golf thirty years ago, and who carries a single-digit handicap, I’ve always wondered if I could be good enough to be among those who call themselves golf professionals. Thus, I will soon be taking the Playing Ability Test (PAT), and I’m hard at work on ensuring my game is up to the task. I’m quickly learning that an aspirational objective is causing me to spend a lot more money on golf. Something for me to ponder for the business side of this.

Thanks to my friend and past President of the PGA of America, Gary Schaal (and this magazine’s first cover model), for always encouraging alignment and collaboration between NGCOA and PGA.

I look forward to seeing where this journey takes me.



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June 2021 Issue


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