For many avid golfers, the job of a golf professional seems a dream career. But there is a lot of hard work needed to qualify as a professional, plus a good deal of talent. Only the most gifted players are able to make a living on the PGA Tour or one of the mini-tours. But far more professional golfers find careers as teachers and golf course managers, but only after years of study and preparation.
The Professional Golfers Association (PGA) is the governing body for golf teaching professionals in the United States. According to the PGA, a candidate for membership must complete a playing aptitude test to prove he has the skills to teach the game. PGA instructors must be high school graduates and complete a two-to-three-year program as an assistant at a PGA facility along with a study and training program in which the candidate learns about teaching the game, managing a pro shop and operating a golf course.
Nearly all PGA professionals who work at golf courses are certified to teach the game. But some specialize and derive most of their income by offering lessons and helping others improve their skills. PGA professionals develop their teaching methods through the association's apprenticeships, and some enroll in college programs designed specifically for golf professionals. According to the PGA, professional teachers are also expected to enroll in continuing-education programs, including courses in management, marketing and golf course ownership.
Just as the PGA professional spends most of his days teaching the game or managing a facility, a PGA Tour member plays the game for a living. Players have several ways to qualify to play on Tour. They can finish in the top 25 at the annual qualifying tournament, win a PGA Tour event, finish in the top 150 players on the annual money list or finish in the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour, the PGA's official mini-tour. However, the range of income is quite wide. Top players can win once on the PGA Tour and earn a healthy living for the rest of their playing days, but a player low on the ranking list is continually at risk of losing Tour status unless he begins to improve.
Teaching Pro Lifestyle
The teaching professional works long hours, many times on the weekends, at a driving range or golf course. PGA members who manage facilities also can work more than 40 hours a week and at least some of the those hours on the weekends. In addition to teaching responsibilities, PGA professionals also work in the industry as retail managers and sales representatives for equipment companies, which often requires travel. The world's top teaching professionals can make seven-figure salaries, but according to several career websites, salaries for golf professionals at local courses range from $25,000 to $150,000 a year.
Tour Pro Lifestyle
The Tour player is a professional athlete and spends a good deal of time practicing and playing in tournaments. This usually means a heavy travel schedule and time spent working with coaches and trainers, including weight training, running and even flexibility and mental training through disciplines such as yoga. Top Tour professionals can make millions of dollars annually through play, endorsements and work as a product spokesperson. However, according to the Tour's earnings list, players at the bottom of the rankings can make as little as $6,000 annually.
Many PGA teaching professionals start their careers as assistants or apprentices at golf facilities. Later, they can advance to management positions at golf facilities. Some move into golf course equipment sales or marketing. Others continue on the teaching path, creating businesses of their own, running individual and group lesson programs.