Golf pros in it for love of the game

Days on the links not all fun and games for those who make a living in golf business
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Shawn Kelly is living the dream, and so is aspiring PGA-pro Jerry Rogers.
At least the dreams of many golf enthusiasts, who fantasize about spending their days on the links, come retirement.
As the head golf professional at The Ridge Golf Course in Auburn, Kelly spends his 9-5’s teaching lessons, promoting the golf course and managing employees. That includes helping Rogers, who has started the lengthy process to become PGA-certified.
Becoming a golf professional takes a lot more than a passion for golf though. Aspiring pros need a PGA golf management certification, tempered with a healthy dose of business-savvy. Kelly said that while he doesn’t spend all day golfing he does find his job rewarding.
“It’s a very satisfying job,” Kelly said. “I love teaching someone and they come back and say hi. I can be outdoors a lot.”
Assistant golf professional at The Ridge, Jerry Rogers and his brother Jason, are in the midst of the PGA certification program now. Rogers started at The Ridge in outside service and has worked his way up to tournament and marketing director.
He was able to learn the business from the ground up. Rogers, 31, said former head golf professional at The Ridge, Greg French was one mentor who taught him the ins and outs of the golf industry.
“I don’t think in the beginning Jerry had a desire to be a golf professional,” French said. “He has a good knack of picking things up and learning.”
French started at Sierra View Country Club in Roseville in 1974, working 60-70 hours per week.
“I didn’t get into the golf business to make money,” French said. “I very much enjoyed being around people and helping people learn how to play. I still have those friends I made at Sierra View in the 70’s.”
There are two routes to earning a PGA certification. The first is to attend one of the 20 accredited universities with a PGA golf program. These programs generally take four and a half to five years. Graduates earn a bachelor’s degree, along with PGA membership.
The second, which Rogers has opted for, is an apprenticeship program. This includes self-directed courses, along with serving under a golf professional. In both paths, students must pass written exams, along with a player’s ability test. Kelly said players need a minimum 6 or 7 handicap to pass, which is about 10 strokes over the course rating. Rogers has a 3 handicap. He said while he didn’t originally plan on being a golf professional, a few things attracted him to it.
“It was just a great place to work. The view is spectacular,” Rogers said. “I meet a lot of people and get to help people have successful tournaments.”
After graduating from UC Davis with a degree in Economics, Rogers took his post planning tournaments and balancing the Ridge’s budget. He also teaches lessons and helps in the pro shop, while simultaneously working toward his certification. Courses include etiquette, how to teach a golf lesson and career enhancement. Rogers said only 1 percent of golfers actually play at the professional-level, but becoming a pro at a golf course is more accessible. His time in the industry has even enabled him to meet some of the best.
“I did meet Phil Mickelson by accident in Monterey,” Rogers said. “I was star-struck. I have met a lot of LPGA players because they played a tournament here a couple of years ago.”
DarkHorse Golf Club director of golf, Geno Ivaldi went to PGA school with Kelly. He said being a golf professional comes with its share of challenges.
“Wearing many hats that are different is the toughest part, running tournaments and putting out fires” Ivaldi said. “It all seems to happen when you can’t afford it to. The people are probably the best part.”
When newbies come through the ranks he makes sure they understand that as assistants they will often put in long hours, with low pay, until they earn certification. Ivaldi said the process takes an average of three years. Between trips to Florida for testing and materials, costs can range up to $10,000. Many golf courses will subsidize part of those costs.
Ivaldi said when all is said and done, it’s worth it. Free golf is just one of the perks of being a golf professional.
“It’s a small fraternity of guys and gals,” Ivaldi said. “A lot of the perks are going to play other courses. Usually there is a PGA rate or they give you a comp round.”
While not everyone is interested in becoming a golf professional, Rogers has a few recommendations for those looking to give golf a try.
“Get a private or group lesson with a couple of friends who are on the same level,” Jerry said. “Don’t buy clubs until after your first or second lesson to see if you really like it. I wouldn’t buy an expensive set, but get fitted. If it’s not fitted, it won’t work really well.”
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