Swing to success: FGCU’s golf program soon to be only in state
Florida Gulf Coast University is one of only 18 schools in the nation with a Pro Golf Management (PGM) program accredited by the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, according to program director Tara McKenna. Now that Florida State University is no longer accepting students into its PGM program, FGCU is the only school in the state offering this program to freshmen.
The main difference between PGA accreditation and a school that simply offers a golf program is that a PGA accredited school offers students a starting point for the PGA certification process to become a Class A member, or somebody who is considered a PGA professional. The only other way to become a Class A member is to attend an apprentice program in Port St. Lucie.
Marty Hall, the FGCU PGM internship director, further explained the difference.
“Our students can apply for membership immediately after they graduate as long as they’re full-time employed in the industry,” Hall said. “If you graduate from a non PGA accredited program, you probably have a minimum of another three years worth of course work from the PGA Education Center in Port St. Lucie, and the non-accredited universities don’t have the networking and connections that our students have.”
FGCU’s PGM program is a 4 1/2 year program. Students have to take various tests from the PGA, attend three different seminars, take 16 months worth of internships, and pass the Player Ability Test (PAT) in order to graduate with a degree in Pro Golf Management. The PAT is administered by the PGA and involvess 36 holes of golf played in one day that students have to pay for separately. The entire program, aside from tuition, costs students $4,300. Bright Futures and Florida Pre-Paid can go toward those fees at FGCU.
The program is a limited access program, which means students must have a handicap of 12 or less to be considered for the program. There are around 150 students enrolled in the program at FGCU. About 10 percent of the program consists of women; about 35 to 40 percent of the students are from out of state.
Tara McKenna, the director of FGCU’s PGM program, is expecting an increase in applicants to the program now that FSU has closed their doors to incoming students.
“I think it’s definitely going to increase our enrollment; I’m hoping it will,” McKenna said. “We compete realistically with about six or seven other schools, most of which being in the Carolinas. I think academically we’re a lot stronger than our main competitors now so it’s going to be more difficult to get into this university and we’re stressing that with all of our prospective students that we talk to.”
If FGCU does have an increase in enrollment, there is space for the students. The program is capped at 100 students per class by the PGA; all 18 universities have to follow that. The largest class in FGCU history was last year with 73 students.
Students who graduate from FGCU’s PGM program are very successful in finding jobs. In fact, students from FGCU’s program have almost a 100 percent job acceptance rate according to McKenna. Most students are hired before they even graduate and many students get their jobs from connections they made from their internships.
“We’re surrounded by approximately 150 golf courses and those are all predominately staffed by PGA of America members, so we have adjunct faculty out of that group. We have a formal mentor program out of that group,” Hall said. “They give our students the golf course access they need to work on their games, and they serve on our advisory council. “It fits with the mission of the university because we are in a resort and tourism area.”
Dave Hoyt, a first-year PGM major who came to FGCU with transfer credits, is looking forward to his internships and making those connections.
“I’m excited for the direct exposure to the work,” Hoyt said. “The opportunities available are almost limitless.”
Hoyt was a golfer in high school but when he graduated in the 1970s, there was nothing available for him at the university level to continue. Hoyt spent 31 years in the Navy, but he’s ready for the change.
“I would have done exactly the same thing as these guys who just graduated high school if I were in their shoes 30 years ago,” Hoyt said. “I’m looking forward to being a college student. I wanted the university experience, so it will be a nice transition from the Navy.”
The program also stresses professionalism. One of the ways they do this is with a dress code.
“They have to wear pants for a lot of their golf events. You won’t see them in basketball shorts and t-shirts and backwards hats,” McKenna said. “When they arrive here at FGCU, they hit the ground running in terms of professionalism right from day one. They are under a very large microscope in the golf community and we tell them that from day one. They’re the kid under 25 wearing pants playing golf somewhere and every golf place will go, ‘Oh, that’s a PGM student.’”
The student’s behavior is another way the program stresses professionalism.
“We have very strong standards and expectations of behavior,” McKenna said. “We’re limited access for a reason and that’s one of the things that we maintain and we enjoy that because our students have a high level of decorum.”
FGCU’s PGM program is offered through the Lutgert College of Business. Program offices, shop, and simulator and training room are located in Sugden Hall.