So You Want to be a Golf Pro?: Tee up your dream career by attending the Golf Academy of America
For some, golf is a leisurely pastime, for others an obsession. If you’re the type that eats, drinks and sleeps golf, or prefers spikes and khakis to Oxfords and ties, the Golf Academy of America may just have an application with your name on it.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2014, the Golf Academy of America (GAA) is the longest-running golf college in the world, with campuses in golf-friendly locales such as Dallas, Myrtle Beach, Orlando, Phoenix and San Diego.
The enthusiasm and high-spirited energy of the students at the San Diego campus is apparent walking through the door. Gentlemen, sporting collared shirts and backpacks, mingle in the sprawling main room, some practicing their swings in the hitting bays, others looking pensive on the putting greens, and many chatting and socializing between classes in the lounge area. The student population here spans from recent high school grads to retired military embarking on a second career in their 50s, who come from across the country and globe.
“Our curriculum is designed to give students an understanding of the entire golf industry,” explains GAA’s Academic Dean Steve Kaese. “They take classes in golf management, rules, golf fundamentals and club repair, as well as general education classes like accounting and sports psychology.”
Students are taught all aspects of golf and graduate with the big picture in a short amount of time, as it takes only one-and-a-half years (four semesters) to get an Associate Degree. While 220 people attend per semester on average, class size is limited to 40 students. Of the 60 credits needed to graduate, 54 are required courses while the other six are electives.
“Our goal is to give them a foundation of everything and then they can specialize more with the electives like Methods of Teaching, Golf Course Design or Golf Club Fitting,” Kaese adds.
So what makes GAA unique as a place of learning? According to Kaese, it’s because everyone at GAA loves what they are doing. “It’s not a liberal arts college where students are trying to figure out what to major in,” he says. “Everyone wants to be in the golf industry and has the same internal drive. A love for golf is a common bond here and people build strong relationships that carry on after graduation. There’s such great camaraderie.”
Beyond the books and power point presentations, there’s a golf lab where students participate in hands-on workshops, such as one that teaches how to build a complete set of clubs. Old sets are transformed into junior clubs that are then donated to schools and young players.
Mondays are tournament days, where the third and fourth semester students plan competitive events at local golf courses for the student population. Another perk of GAA is access to some of San Diego’s finest golf courses including Del Mar Country Club, Maderas, The Grand Golf Club, The Crossings, Aviara Golf Club and more. Green fees are included with tuition and tee times are arranged by the front desk on campus.
There are also eight PGA professionals on campus who teach classes and deliver one-on-one instruction. “Students love the golf, the lessons, the access to driving ranges for practice and the daily interaction with PGA professionals,” says Campus Director Rich Iorio. “Our goal in hiring PGA professionals is to find people who are experts in different areas. We have club fitting experts, rules experts, teaching experts, etc. Our professionals have won numerous awards at both the Chapter and Section PGA level and give nearly 3,000 lessons each year to our student body. Each of our instructors are experts in technology. We utilize Trackman, K-Vest, TOMI, V1 video, Foresight, as well as fitting carts from Titleist, TaylorMade, Mizuno, Cobra and Coutour for lessons and club fitting.”
Third semester student Mitchell McCaughan, a former Marine who played golf for the University of Nevada, can’t say enough about the PGA staff. “Honestly, what amazes me most about this program is the access to the incredible teachers,” he says. “I researched several professional golf academies and what impressed me most about GAA was the quality of the PGA staff. It’s unlike anything I have ever seen. It‘s such a unique experience to have hands-on experience and dedicated time with all of them. At minimum you can have 30 minutes with each person a few times a week.” And this is coming from someone who sports a +2.2 handicap and is clearly en route to becoming a successful head golf professional.
But not everyone at the academy is a scratch golfer or destined to be a director of golf.
“Ninety percent of the kids walk through the door thinking they want to be a golf pro, but I always tell them to have an open mind,” says William “Buzz” Gill, GAA’s director of career services. “There are 104 golf positions and many options that most students are not even aware of in the beginning. You never know what course just might hit you between the eyes.”
GAA’s stellar reputation is reinforced by its, on average, 75 percent job placement success occurring out of the San Diego facility. Iorio firmly believes that, “Employers are looking for an employee who is both a player and business professional. We teach our students to be both. Our students average an almost 40 percent index improvement during their time and graduate with an AA degree. This is why employers keep coming back semester after semester for our graduates.”
One of the many practical ways GAA provides the right tools for students to land a great job after graduating is a class for fourth semester students that teaches them how to perfect their resumes and write a brilliant cover letter. They also attend a Capstone course in the final semester — a culmination of everything they have been taught. They are given a fictitious project: A country club is in dire straits, and the students act as a management company hired to fix the problem. They present a verbal pitch and then a written business plan as the final hurrah before donning their blue blazers at graduation.
Manufacturers and club pros serve as guest speakers in classes, so students have access to the very people who just might hire them. During two designated career days, the students sport suits and ties and meet recruiters from across the country.
“I’ve been watching fourth semester students getting job offers left and right,” says third semester student McCaughan. “People end up in incredible places like Riviera, Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes and Omni La Costa Resort. The opportunity is definitely there if you want it.”
Local San Diego pros and PGA members such as Shawn Cox, director of golf at Grand Del Mar, have served on GAA’s advisory board. Cox speaks highly of the program, saying, “We have a great relationship with the Golf Academy. We have four or five former Academy people here. They have worked out quite well. I can trust who they recommend as they really prepare people.”
With all it has going for it, what’s missing at the Golf Academy? Women. Females make up only five to 10 percent of student population and most of them end up in sales. “The golf industry is crying for women as it’s the juniors and women who need to grow the game,” says Gill. “I wish we had more women at GAA as I could get every one of them a great job.”
And while for some the (approximately) $35,000 tuition may seem steep, the good news is that financial aid is readily available and the staff will deftly guide students through the process. A perfect example is Riley Michaelis, 20, who started playing golf at age six and competed through high school. When he ran short on funds for his community college tuition, he had to pull out of school. He re-shifted his focus and discovered the Golf Academy, astounded by how much financial aid he was able to qualify for.
“I couldn’t believe how thorough and involved the school was with helping me get financial aid,” he says. “They worked closely with me to make sure I got what I needed. It was a fluid and easy process. In college, you’re just a number and an application. Here, they know you by name. We were speaking every day in the last couple of weeks of my application process. The staff is truly excellent—they already know who you are when you walk through the door.”
Michaelis worked closely with Enrollment Specialist Jonathan Standiford, a former student and present-day, passionate staff member. Standiford stresses another key point that people should know about GAA. “You do not have to have a single-digit handicap to find success here. Some of our students arrive struggling to break 100. Some of our most successful people in the industry were not necessarily the best golfers coming in. Drive, passion, and commitment is what gets you there.”
For more information: golfacademy.edu; 800-342-7342