Golf job opportunities take all kinds of pros

The final round of the legendary Masters tournament is under way at the Augusta National Golf Club. While it will inspire many young golfers to aim for the professional circuit, few will succeed.

“There are about 30 million golfers in the U.S., but only a few have what it takes to be a world-class player,” said Mike Paull, Georgia PGA Section executive director.

But you don’t have to be a Jack Nicklaus or an Arnold Palmer to have a career in golf.

Golf is a key industry in Georgia that offers multiple career opportunities.

“More than 850 PGA professionals are involved in operating about 275 [of the 401 total] golf courses, clubs and ranges throughout the state. They are good players, coaches and experts in running the business of golf,” said Paull.

Other golf career opportunities come from the subindustry of the research, growing and maintaining of turf grass, a large concern in South Georgia. Golf equipment is another sector that requires people with skills in business management, marketing, sales, accounting and human resources.

“About 98 percent of the world’s golf carts are made right here in the state at companies like Club Car, E-Z-GO, Yamaha and others,” said Paull. There is also a variety of positions related to golf tourism and golf real estate. Georgia has more than 110 communities with homes on the green.

Golf added a direct economic impact of $2.4 billion to Georgia’s economy and supported 57,000 jobs, according to the Georgia Golf Economy Report, prepared by SRI International.

Because of golf’s bearing on the state’s jobs, commerce, capital investments, economic development and tax revenue, the Georgia House and Senate have proclaimed 2011 as the “Year of Golf in Georgia.”

It’s been a busy year for Darin Stinson, head golf professional at the Atlanta Athletic Club, who manages more than 80 tournaments for the club’s 1,900 members as well as a pro shop that does $1 million in annual sales.

In August, his club will host the 93rd PGA Championship. It's only the sixth time in golf history that a state has hosted two of the four major PGA tournaments in the same year. It's likely that his next few months will be even busier, but Stinson wouldn't have it any other way. He says that becoming a PGA professional was the second-best decision (after marriage) of his life.

Stinson started playing golf at age 6 with his twin brother, David. He played and worked at golf courses as a teenager and in college.

"My brother rode the golf train all the way through college,” said Stinson. “He went through the PGA Golf Management University Program and became a PGA professional in 1994, but I had always wanted to be in the business world, so I decided to test those waters.”

Stinson got a business degree and worked as a corporate finance manager for six years. “But it seemed like every time I talked to my brother that he was having a lot more fun than me,” said Stinson. “I thought, hey, I can play golf just as good as he can, so I went the apprenticeship route and became a PGA member in 2002.”

While Stinson uses many of his business skills in the golf arena, he no longer has to meet business quotas.

“Instead I have the personal gratification of watching my members play better and progress, and I get to work around people who are happy to be where they are,” said Stinson. “You won’t move up the ladder as quickly in this business as you do the corporate ladder, but you’re constantly learning and it’s a really good career.”

Even in economic downturns, employment for PGA professionals has been fairly recession-proof, according to Phil Berry, PGA employment consultant for the Georgia, South and North Florida region.

“Even now, our unemployment is about half of the state’s unemployment rate,” he said. While PGA figures show that the total number of rounds played dropped by about 5 percent in 2010, and some courses are struggling, “people still want to have recreation, and Georgia is considered one of the most desirable places to play or work in golf. The industry is pretty healthy,” said Berry.

As a regional PGA employment consultant, Berry assists employers looking to hire PGA professionals so they create job descriptions that meet their skills and experience criteria. Through a jobs board and other career development services, he helps golf pros search for and apply for jobs. “We don’t recommend anyone. We serve the industry by providing both sides with good information and allowing the process to work,” he said.

For golfers interested in making the sport their career, there are two routes to become a PGA professional. They can undergo a four-to-six-year apprenticeship with a PGA member, or they can attend one of the 20 accredited universities that offer the PGA Golf Management University Program. Georgia has no college programs yet, but there are programs in adjoining states.

“Depending on the program, students earn a college degree in business or hospitality or recreation management, learn the basics of the golf business and complete three internships,” said Berry. For either route, PGA members must pass a playing test. “PGA professionals don’t play for a living, but they play at a pretty high level. It’s one of the requirements.”

Berry became a PGA member in 1992 and has worked as a golf professional and for a golf-course management company before becoming an employment consultant for the PGA. “For some players, becoming the head professional at a club is their life’s dream, and that’s where they want to stay,” said Berry. Others move into club manager or higher executive roles.

Golf professionals work long hours, weekends and holidays. It’s a service industry, and their job is to make sure that people enjoy their golf experience. “But if you’ve got a passion for the game, if you wake up in the morning and there’s no place you’d rather be than a golf course, this could be the career for a lifetime,” he said.

More information

To learn more about jobs in golf, visit, or the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America at