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PGM program closing in on two decades of success

STARKVILLE – Each year, more and more people are becoming fascinated with the game of golf, and, thus, more and more golfers are coming to realize just how much talent it takes to make it on the professional tour. For the vast majority of golfers, this talent requirement precludes being a Professional Golf Association (PGA) player. But is there another avenue that allows these golf enthusiasts to carve out a career with the PGA without actually traveling the Tour?

Yes, and that journey can begin at Mississippi State University`s (MSU`s) Professional Golf Management (PGM) program. Established two decades ago at MSU, the program cuts across discipline lines, offering students a wide range of skills and knowledge in every aspect of the game and graduates a chance to make golf a successful and fulfilling career.

“Our students come from all over the nation. About 90% are from out of state, and most are straight out of high school,” said Dr. Stephen Lemay, director of MSU`s PGM program who had been an MSU marketing professor since 1987 before moving over to the PGM program approximately a year ago. “Our graduates find work with the PGA in a number of capacities, while our target is golf course management.”

PGM is part of the PGA`s Golf Professional Training Program (GPTP), began at Ferris State University in Michigan in the mid-1970s. The goal of the program is to produce graduates with knowledge of the game from turf management and landscape architecture to food management.

Looking to expand the program in the South in the 1980s, the PGA selected MSU as a PGM facility after it reviewed such schools as the University of Alabama and Texas A&M University. What aided MSU in winning the selection was its Cooperative Education Program, as co-ops are an integral part of the PGM curriculum. In 1985, the PGA selected MSU, which became only the second school in the country to offer the PGM program. Today, there are 15 PGM programs across the country.

PGM students must meet the general admission requirements asked of all other MSU students, but more is required, including some golf-playing skills. Students not only have to have a handicap of eight or less, they must also take and pass the PGA Playing Ability Test.

The PGM is an interdisciplinary program. Besides requiring the usual core classes of English, algebra, history, etc., the program also affords instruction in plant biology, landscape architecture, turf management, design golf environment, human resource management, golf operations, foodservice management, golf merchandising management and business courses from banking and finance and ethics to retailing and legal environment.

Students must also complete a minimum of 20 months of cooperative work under the guidance of the MSU Cooperative Education Program. These work experiences are led by class A professionals throughout the U.S. Participants begin their co-op work during their freshman year, with each term specifying different seasons (summer, summer/fall, spring/summer). Thus, graduates gain experience in the nuances of golf management during all the seasons of the year.

The course work, which takes four and a half years to complete, leads to a bachelor`s of art degree in marketing. But, as Lemay pointed out, they have also gained 20 months of work experience. Graduates have also earned PGA membership standing at graduation, as opposed to the former PGM program that required alumni to earn level three status after graduating, which Lemay said takes another eight months.

In addition to the co-ops, students are also involved in the PGM Club. A student-run organization, the club takes on projects such as organizing student golf tournaments and putting on golfing seminars, which adds to the graduates’ skill set and experience.

To keep the student-teacher ratio low, and because the PGM curriculum is time-consuming, MSU limits enrollment to not more than 200 students.

MSU`s efforts to offer a quality curriculum have obviously paid off. A competition has been annually held between the PGM programs for the last three years. MSU students have won two of them.

But perhaps there is a truer measure of the program`s success, and that is post-graduate employment. Since MSU established its PGM program 20 years ago, 100% of graduates, approximately 420 students, have found work in the field.

“That really helps in recruiting, especially with the parents,” Lemay said. “We believe that if you’re going to have a discussion about golf management programs, you have to talk about the PGM.”

When MSU established its program in the 1980s, few competitors existed. According to Lemay, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., that is no longer the case. So, the MSU PGM program has embarked on new recruiting efforts including sending out flyers to high school golfers around the country and some advertising.

“Our goal is to improve the quality of the program and the quality of our graduates,” Lemay said. “We want our future students to outperform our alumni, which is a tall order. But we’re convinced that we have a program that produces graduates ready to meet the needs of the PGA both today and tomorrow.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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