PGA Professionals are a unique breed. As one, I've matriculated my way through a PGA Golf Management University, done all of the PGA coursework, and even spent a few years in the industry before I realized that long days and weekends weren't exactly my thing. One thing I've realized since I've been out of the industry is how little attention PGA Pros give to marketing.
Now, you must understand here, I believe that a well-rounded PGA Professional knows how to market, but more often than not they are charged with marketing their facility, or a brand they represent instead of marketing the most important part of being a professional: the professional himself. PGA Pros, far too often, ride the coat tales of their facility or the PGA Badge, and I think it's time for that to change.
The Problem with the Facility-Focused Professional
PGA Professionals are synonymous with their facility, forever intertwined and always moving in a delicate dance between self-branded individual and facility-minded employee. While a PGA Pro is inseparable from his or her facility, it doesn't mean that they can't create a personal, professional brand that doesn't step on the toes of the board of directors. As a matter of fact, as a career-minded PGA Professional, it only makes sense that you would desire to improve your recognition, highlight your career accomplishments, and generally showcase who you are and what you've done for the game of golf.
Take a look at the PGA Tour as an example. The Tour Pros, almost all of them, have a brand (a logo, identity, website, blog, merchandise, etc.) that set them apart from one another. Sure, golf is a game of characters, faces, and movements that are all unique to one another, but when it comes to battling for sponsorships, getting contracts, and paving an avenue towards advancing a career, Tour Pros are champions.
The problem with PGA Professionals who are exclusively focused on ROI for their facility, which is absolutely valuable and nothing to be taken lightly, is that they often fail to develop themselves as the focal point of the facility. I remember as a young intern and young professional that the names of PGA Professionals were synonymous with some of the biggest, greatest clubs in the country, but if I ever tried to Google or otherwise research those individuals, my searches would come up blank. I couldn't find anything about their accomplishments (aside what the PGA had published) nor could I track down their swing philosophy nor how they had given back to the game.
A great starting point for a PGA Professional looking to brand him or herself is to start with a logo, build a website, and start compiling all of their accomplishments in a digital format. Not only is this great for getting found by students, members, and sponsors, but it's a great place to point potential employers to say, "Hey, this is how I brand myself, just imagine what I can do for your facility."
The Influencer Movement is Here to Stay
One place where PGA Professionals can make an indelible mark on the internet is through influencing. Influencing is a relatively new marketing buzzword that tends to follow big names on social media such as Instagram and YouTube. Influencers have big followings, can command great sponsorships to generate more content, and are generally recognized throughout their fields as thought leaders.
A PGA Pro can, and very much should, be an influencer. Think about it. How many hundreds and thousands of golf lessons have you given? How many of those lessons have been virtually identical? How many times have you had to take a student, tear down their setup position, and rebuild that same position over the course of a series of lessons? Sure, lessons are revenue generating sources, so why not take your time to build a foundation with a student from both a physical and emotional stance. But what did you learn from all of those lessons, all of those tips, and all of those days in the blazing hot sun?
That's what we want to do as influencing PGA Professionals: build foundational content around the things that pain you as an instructor, as a merchandiser, or as a manager. Teach other professionals, other students, and other managers how to do the things that made you successful and build off of that. By doing so, you can expand into endless realms of revenue both for yourself and your facility. You can host management webinars, give virtual golf lessons, or even invite others looking to learn about your success to your facility. It's a win-win for both you and the facility as it gives both parties more recognition and a colossal brand boost.
The PGA Brand Doesn't Mean What You Think
As a PGA Professional, I don't want to bash the brand. It's something I'm proud of and it's a great accomplishment for any PGA Professional, but unless you're in the industry or have spent a lot of time around golf facilities, the PGA brand is largely useless. Now, before you start hitting stingers through my windows, give me a chance to make a stand.
PGA Pros are the experts in business and the game of golf, but I believe that far too many PGA Professionals hide behind the PGA Badge and use it as their sole way of branding themselves. Aside from paying your dues, getting continuing education, and getting career support, does the PGA really offer you everything you need to become an influencer or develop your own brand? I argue that it does not, and outside of the realm of golf professionals and the golf industry, most people don't have even the slightest idea what a PGA Professional is or does.
I played golf once at a course near my hometown with a couple of friends. I made the compulsory call to the pro shop to let them know I was coming and to see if we needed to set up a tee time. I didn't expect any special treatment, but I was always taught that no matter what facility you go to, you always call ahead, introduce yourself to the professional and just let them know you're headed their way. We arrived, our rounds got comped (which I thought strange), and we went off down the first tee. At some point during our round--around about the 6th or 7th hole--I noticed the guys in front of us were waiting. They weren't just playing slow, they were actually waiting for us.
I figured they were just waiting to let us play through, which was weird because we were a group of three (me plus two hacks) and they were only a twosome. I hit a great drive, stuck a wedge to about 10 feet, and just missed a birdie putt. All the while these two characters just sat in their cart near the green and watched us (me) play out the hole.
Once we walked off the green, one of the guys in the cart said to me, "So what's it like playing with Tiger?!"
The gal working the golf shop, who was most certainly not a professional, told these two fellas that I was a PGA Tour player. They seriously thought I was a Tour player, which is ridiculous if you've ever seen me play. This just gives further credence to my point that virtually no one outside of the industry really knows what a PGA Professional is. So, it's up to us as professionals to educate them, teach them, and let them learn not only what it is to be a PGA Pro but what a PGA Pro does by influencing, creating content, and branding.
All that to say, we can't leave branding ourselves up to the PGA of America. Their concern is generating revenues from memberships, providing services back to the members, and creating at atmosphere where PGA Professionals can shake hands, slap each other on the back, and talk shop every once and again. This is where, I believe, the PGA fails to help professionals truly differentiate themselves in the modern era of marketing and why I think it's even more paramount that a PGA Professional worth his or her mettle should branch out and create their own identity independent of the PGA.
Building a brand is a lot of work, I won't steer you astray. From logo design to website design to social media presence to content creation, you'll spend the better part of a year or more developing the foundational infrastructure of a brand before you see results. But one thing you have going for you is that I've built brands before and have experience working with small companies, small business owners, and professionals across different industries to develop the things you need to be successful.
I'd love for you to get in touch, so feel free to contact me. I'd also be interested in hearing your thoughts on the "brand" of a PGA Professional. Let me know your pain points, your struggles, and your successes so that I can better help other professionals avoid the growing pains of marketing and branding themselves.