What makes a successful golf management university program?

By Matthew Walker, Ph.D.
Texas A&M University

Training the next generation of employees, managers, and future leaders is an essential and necessary practice for any industry. This practice is especially important for industries pro-golf-imagewhere economic conditions, coupled with waning consumer interest, has reduced the aggregate value and revenue generating potential of the service. This is the case for the Golf Industry in the United States, where approximately 5.9 million golfers left the sport between 2003 and 2014, and approximately 160 courses closed in 2013, marking the eighth straight year for this latter trend (NGF, 2014). In light of these and other data showing fluctuations in key industry metrics (e.g., rounds per year and consumer spending), it is imperative to assess whether employment/training programs are equipped to deal with shifting industry challenges.

The PGA of America is well-aware of these and others challenges facing the Golf Industry in the United States. One tactic the PGA is taking to reverse this trend is to focus on their educational programming. Their aim is to ensure new leaders in the field are highly qualified, motivated, and well-prepared to exceed stakeholder expectations. This concern was the catalyst for sponsoring a recent research project intended to evaluate the delivery and impact of golf management university (GMU) programs around the nation.

The GMU landscape has a long history, stretching back to the mid-1970s, when the first program at Ferris State University was initially established. Since that time, the PGA of America has officially accredited 21 programs, with 18 active programs currently delivering golf management content to hundreds of students nationwide. The 4-5 year programs are designed for aspiring PGA Professionals and are intended to be skill acquisition-based with a heavy emphasis on field experiences and experiential learning. Combined with campus instruction, primarily housed in business schools around the country, the students are exposed to courses ranging from introduction to teaching golf, food and beverage management, and merchandising, among others. The programs provide students the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the golf industry and collectively boast an impressive 100% job placement rate upon graduation.

These elements make for a degree path that is especially enticing for students interested in a golf management career. However, new student enrollment has waned in recent years, and the programs are plagued by high rates of student attrition, low graduation rates, and waning demand for the degree. Combined with a slowing market for recreational golf in the US, the PGA of America was keenly interested in better understanding the influence and impact of the GMU programs to help plot a course for their future direction.

hlkn_stacked-sportmanagementA team of sport management faculty from Texas A&M University comprised of Drs. Matthew Walker, Steven Salaga, George Cunningham, Paul Keiper, and Paul Batista were awarded nearly $200,000 from the PGA of America to evaluate the GMU landscape and formally identify and compare the characteristics of high and low performing GMU Programs. To this end, the research team engaged in a multi-step, iterative research process, which included: (1) qualitative and quantitative data collection aimed at understanding the attributes and perceptions of PGA GMU Programs; (2) estimates of the strength of relationships between program data, individual student characteristics, and economic factors; and (3) a market analysis to assess high school golfer awareness of and intentions to pursue a PGA GMU degree. Multiple data collection methods and analysis procedures were employed to ensure substantive conclusions could be most confidently derived by triangulating across measures and methods with non-overlapping strengths and weaknesses.

Based on the performance evaluation, the results showed the highest performing programs separated themselves from their peers through programmatic features, student engagement, connections with the industry, and attention to assessment and evaluation. The majority of these areas were closely tied to program delivery, student quality and commitment, and quality cohort management. In the aggregate, the programs are struggling with producing industry leaders with the acumen necessary to deal with various managerial challenges. Among the recommendations delivered to the PGA of America were: a renewed focus on innovation, a more committed stance for increasing diversity, a more robust standards and expectations evaluation for the member programs, and strategies designed to bolster new student recruitment and existing student retention.

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