By Ian Guerin
The clothing, hats and bags around the classroom were from all over.
College gear from Kent State and the University of Alabama, Ohio State and Utica College. Even an old shirt from the New York state high school golf championships. A few years back, many of the students now sitting in Paige Cribb’s Level 2 Facility Management session inside Coastal Carolina’s Wall College of Business knew little about the school they were now attending, and their previous fandom and affiliations showed why. Former Chanticleer Dustin Johnson’s rise up the world rankings helped spread the word about Coastal, but it was still little more than a vague idea prior to their first visits.
After some research, they were convinced of one thing.
The university’s Professional Golf Management program would get them where they wanted to go.
“I have this burning passion for golf. I love it so much,” said Lewis Lambert, a rising junior from South Carolina’s Upstate. “I didn’t know what to major in. But in hospitality, I can get so many different choices. It’s so huge. There are just so many things you can do with it. It opens so many doors. It makes you want to put your head down and strive to be your best.”
Two decades after Coastal’s PGM program opened, evidence of the back-end payout has been firmly established. Past graduates have risen up the ranks of the Myrtle Beach golf scene, of course, but the success stories extend well outside the local and state lines. Others have gone on to lead some well-known courses around the Southeast or are with national companies in both the tech and marketing sectors.
The range of options after college is diverse. And like your underclassmen in another field, a number of the students in Cribb’s class will change their goals. Some will fall prey to natural attrition or decide golf isn’t for them, even if they do complete the program.
For everyone else, PGM is about focus and how to best maximize it.
The students are already more fine-tuned than your average college sophomore, if for no other reason that they have a pretty good idea of where the want to go.
“One of our big selling features is that they can major in accounting or economics, finance, management, marketing, hospitality/resort/tourism,” Cribb said. “That four-year degree stands on its own. But you’ve chosen our program, and you’ve chosen to accept what comes with that.”
As of spring 2019 there were 19 professional golf management programs accredited by the PGA of America. Each of them uses an identical curriculum (provided by the PGA), and all require students to follow a similar educational path.
At Coastal, the process – including outside work – has been streamlined to what amounts to nine semesters and summer requirements.
The task isn’t easy.
“They’ve got to pass the [playing ability test]. They’ve got to constantly work on their game. They’re taking all the courses in the Wall College of Business, too,” Coastal PGM Director Will Mann said. “Our kids have to have good time management skills. They have to take what they’re doing seriously. They have to understand that someone’s giving them a gift, and they have to respect that gift with their performance.”
The program was first launched and accredited by the PGA for the 1998-1999 academic year. As of the 2019-2020 academic cycle, some 240 students were under the PGM umbrella. They were technically enrolled in the Wall Business School, getting a degree in one of those areas Cribb mentioned above, while getting the PGM specialty notation on their diplomas.
The course load will fall into that bigger focus or deal with core requirements, with one class per semester directly related to the PGM curriculum.
It leads to a steady diet of golf.
“The academics and the side work they have to do, the work that has to be completed for the PGA of America, it is all a separator,” TPC Sawgrass Director of Golf Matt Borocz said. “They have to complete that education. It shows that they’ve mad a commitment. They’re dedicated to the profession.”
Borocz would know.
As one of the inaugural members of the Coastal Carolina PGM program, he took a gamble on himself by moving some 800 miles to South Carolina’s Grand Strand from northern Ohio. Nerves of relocating evaporated thanks to the school’s consistent presence in his home away from home.
CCU currently employs six individuals specifically tied to PGM. There’s Mann, a former PGA of America president. Donald Brook, a longtime Coastal vet, serves as the advisement coordinator. Cribb was the first woman to be named as president of the Carolinas Section of the PGA and serves as the PGM’s director of student support and lecturer. Gil Feagin has a history of working with younger players and now coordinates all the internships. Matt Roberts is the director of player development after previously graduating from the program. Tinesha Mableton keeps it all tied together running the first-floor office.
The roles each of them play pushes students throughout.
Borocz is a perfect example.
Just months after starting the program, he worked his way into a low-level spot at TPC Myrtle Beach corresponding to its opening in February 1999. By the time he graduated in December 2002, he had worked there and at Sawgrass for nearly three years total. He transitioned into a full-time job at Sawgrass, continuing to work his way up the food chain to his current spot.
Hundreds more have progressed in their own way. Already, Coastal grads have worked as head golf professionals and first assistants, developed equipment, served as PGA section board members and worked with the Ryder Cup. Mann believes that’s just the beginning.
“You’re eventually going to see a PGM graduate as the national director of the PGA,” he said.
A ROLE IN THE FUTURE
Mann is open about potential struggles that could develop over time.
Typically, like any issues around the game, it’s about numbers. We’ve seen that in the closure of the PGM program at Arizona State and other colleges having had some difficult discussions about their own long-term potential.
At Coastal, even when the next class is smaller, it is a minor dip and not cause for concern.
The potential decline in opportunities due to course closures or economic blips is now being eclipsed by other factors. It breeds confidence for the students themselves. Barring a catastrophic collapse of golf as a whole, there will always be a need for those running the show.
“As of right now, there is a lot to go around,” Lambert said. “A lot of these professionals are in their 50s and 60s. They’re going to be looking for people to leave it in good hands.”
Borocz, who has hired interns from Coastal and has two full-time staffers from there now, agreed.
“I truly feel it’s very important for the future,” he said. “We’re preparing the next generation of PGA professionals and need to prepare for the future. There are going to be the baby boomers who [move on]. We need leadership to fill those gaps. Coastal is playing a role in that.”
That takes us back to Cribb’s class, and some normal college stuff.
She has to remind a few of them to move out of the back row; all 31 students in the class that day are going to play a role in the discussion. She reminds them to stash their cell phones. Occasionally, she admits, a student will show a bit too much fatigue from the night before.
The demands of the program can add to it.
“If they haven’t been equipped with those skills to learn how to fail, sometimes they just kind of shut down,” Cribb said. “If you don’t show up to work, there are going to be a whole lot more repercussions than just the email you’re getting ready to get from me. It’s called accountability. I’m not gonna ask what you’re doing – unless you miss two in a row. So I’m going to go after a couple of them, with tough love.”
In her mind, anyone who doesn’t already understand why eventually will.
When earned opportunity knocks.