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Professional Golf Management Provides ‘World-Class Education’ To Students

Penn State is home to many top-of-the-chart programs, but not many can compare to the Professional Golf Management program at University Park.

To picture what PGM is all about, it’s necessary to start with the environment students can surround themselves with. Located in the Ford Building, the offices were turned into mock clubhouses by directors and assistant teaching professors.

Instead of a traditional waiting lounge with offices in each corner, PGM leaders set up an area where students can unwind, connect with their leaders, and get a glimpse of what life in the golf management world will be like.

From left to right, Leo Lee, Burch Wilkes, Christi Conroy, and Dylan Skinner talk in the Penn State Professional Golf Management lounge in Ford Building.

Interactive learning is one of the main components of the Penn State PGM program. With office hours essentially 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the week, directors aim to push for a home where students can build a community.

Nationwide, there are 17 total golf management programs. Penn State is one of the 17 while being one of two Big Ten schools to offer the program. At Penn State, PGM is housed under the Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Management department.

“That’s a bit of a differentiating factor for our program versus what other programs offer,” assistant director Brian Soulé said.

The curriculum is another aspect that sets PGM apart from other major opportunities. The program pulls from four different colleges at Penn State, so each student has a well-rounded understanding of the industry. The Smeal College of Business, School of Hospitality Management, Turf Grass Management, and Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Management all make up the requirements of PGM.

“Our [Turf Grass Management] is the number one program in the world,” director Burch Wilkes said. “The goal is that students are completing a double major. They’re not only completing Penn State’s education requirements but also completing the PGA of America education requirements.”

Upon graduation, students can become Class A Professional Golf Association members after completing their time at Penn State. Once students graduate out from the PGM world, directors and students stay in contact with alumni, as there is a 100% job success rate within the program.

The PGM internship section of the degree is fully hands-on. Each student is required to complete at least five golf internships, which translates to 16 months of real-world experience. Luckily, every internship is paid, where students can experience golf management in areas of private golf clubs, golf teaching facilities, golf apparel manufacturers, and more.

“There’s nothing quite like it at Penn State,” Soulé said. “The PGA requires ‘PGA homework’ during the internships to bring what they learn on campus into their work life.”

Each year, around 50% of PGM students are working for Penn State PGA management alumni.

One unique opportunity PGM provides is a three-credit course that builds in a trip over spring break when students travel to notable destinations in the golf world, whether it’s around the U.S. or to different countries. In spring 2022, a group of students traveled to Scotland and learned about its history, heritage, and culture before seeing it with their own eyes.

In total, there are around 120 students enrolled in the program.

For students to easily transition to golf management positions, PGM students teach other Penn State students in golf health and wellness classes at University Park.

“We’ve created a class for our golf management students to begin to learn how to teach and coach golf,” assistant professor Eric Handley said. “We bring the students together to learn from each other.”

Another requirement to become a PGA professional is the ability to play at a high level and teach the game. The PGA of America has a Player Ability Test, which is accompanied by the PGM program, requiring the student to hit a 12-par handicap or below.

“The average pass rate for the national playing test is about 20%… The average age of passing this test across the country is 28. We have our students from 18 to 22,” Handley said. “Our combined pass rates for students is 81%.”

The PGM program has multiple students representing Penn State at events all around the country throughout the year. From annual university championships to tournaments, Penn State proves its ability event after event.

“We have our students in the classroom for all four years every semester. We build pretty deep relationships with our students because we see them so frequently,” Handley said. “We get a lot out of that and feel like it actually helps support their success and retention in the program.”

Students use one of the simulators in the Penn State Golf Teaching and Research Center in the Keller Building.

Here in State College at the Penn State golf courses, the PGM student society holds a weekly tournament series. Fifty to 60 students play in that and compete against each other. This is a self-contained competitive series.

Senior Navyug Rungta has completed nearly every requirement listed above, and currently interns for the The Suzy and Jim Broadhurst Golf Teaching and Research Center, which Handley also oversees. Rungta will receive an alumni mentor this semester that will guide him into finding a job after May 2023.

Rungta is also the vice president of the student society. He lived in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and spent his time there learning the game of golf. Since being a student at Penn State, he’s learned how outstanding the program has been at getting him recognized.

“Out of 40,000 people, there are over 100 in the program. You get very attached to your class,” Rungta said. “Being a part of this program is something entirely different.”

Eric Handley shows Ian Lee his results from the simulator in the Penn State Golf Teaching and Research Center in the Keller Building.

Located in the basement of the Keller Building, Penn State houses a golf simulator. In total, there are three bays that measure your swing, accuracy, movement, and more. These bays were created with different schools around Penn State to help collect research on the sport.

Even for fun, you can select different locations and golf courses to golf at.

For example, Nike has worked with the PGM program to observe golf data with different driver heads and even golf shoes. Another aspect of the simulator is students can wear body suits that virtually track the motion of their body to determine what happens at the beginning and end of a swing.

PGM students can stop down there throughout the day to practice, while also scheduling times to dissect patterns before big events. It’s another location students receive unconditional support.

“Students are going to earn a world-class education,” Wilkes said.

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About the Author

Larkin Richards

Larkin is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. The only words that leave her mouth are "yinz" and "dippy eggs." Luckily, her writing has much more substance than that. As a Steelers and Pirates fan, sports can become a hot debate. Share your thoughts on dogs (specifically Boston Terriers) with her at: [email protected]

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