By Jack Falinsky
Capital News Service
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people had little else to do but stay home. But as restrictions slowly lifted towards the end of spring 2020, many people turned or reverted to a popular sport – golf – to occupy their time.
Since then, its popularity has grown.
Golf remained a staple recreational activity in 2021, with rounds played increasing 5.5% nationwide and 5.6% in Michigan, according to the National Golf Foundation.
But as the game increases, Mark Wilson, acting director of Ferris State University’s PGA golf management program, said he’s been struggling to recruit students.
“There’s been a 10-year trend in this industry of declining interest, and it’s really general, so it covers golf professionals, golf course superintendents and club managers,” said Wilson. “It started before the pandemic, and it kind of stabilized for us.
“It’s a tremendous time of opportunity in the golf industry.”
Seventeen American universities offer a PGA Golf Management program.
Wilson said seven years ago, the total enrollment for all those programs — including one at Clemson University in South Carolina — equaled about 2,650 students.
Since then, the Clemson program has been discontinued, and the total number of students enrolled last year among universities had fallen to around 1,450 students.
Only Ferris State offers the program in Michigan. Elsewhere in the Great Lakes region, only Penn State University has a program.
Ferris’ program has a secretary, assistant instructor, internship coordinator and himself, Wilson said.
Ten years ago, the first grade class had 77 students. Freshman classes for the past two years had only 27 students.
He said he hopes to bring more than 30 students for the upcoming fall semester.
What are these students doing?
“I often get this question: what do these students do for four and a half years?” said Wilson. “Actually, they’re very busy.”
To receive a bachelor’s degree, students complete a golf orientation course, three levels of instructional and facility management courses, and five semesters of internship. They can go on to become Head Golf Professionals, Golf Directors, General Managers and Golf Instructors.
To boost enrollment, Wilson said he encourages professionals, superintendents and golf club members to refer interested high school students to his program.
“If they see a youngster working in the bag room, on the golf course or in the dining room of an establishment, they might tap him on the shoulder – anyone who cares about the future of the industry – and point it in the right direction,” Wilson said. “Point them in the right direction, and we’ll take care of them.
Some golf professionals may be nearing retirement, according to Wilson. Young professionals can fill these positions.
If the disparity between growth in the game and declining enrollment in management programs continues, Wilson said he fears the future of some local and mid-level golf clubs could be at stake.
“One of the reasons I say there will be a lot of opportunities is that on top of those numbers that we talked about, around 53% of all PGA professionals are over 50,” said he declared. “This means there will be significant changes and retirements over the next 10 to 15 years, and therefore young people who may want to enter the industry will have great opportunities.”
Wilson said about 40% of PGA staff come from a four-year college program. The remaining 60%, he said, comes from an associates program offered directly by the PGA.
John Rogers III, director of Michigan State University’s golf course turf management program, said the reason there’s been a decline in the industry is because of low wages and hard working hours. ‘entry level.
“It’s not a very good way of life for a lot of young people,” Rogers said. “These jobs don’t pay very well out of school.
“A lot of these PGA programs require you to complete a four-year degree. There’s nothing wrong with a four-year degree, except when you’re paid $10 an hour for a four-year degree. So no one is excited about it.
Rogers said student enrollment is up in his turf program, a trend he attributes to golf professionals encouraging young people to apply.
“We haven’t changed the way we educate, and neither will we,” Rogers said. “What will change is the number of students as they become interested in it, but it’s not up to us to interest them.”
He said superintendents are in the best position to engage staff in furthering their education.
“I’ve graduated 1,500 students, and there are hundreds and hundreds of superintendents today, and every one of them got into this business working on a golf course,” he said. he adds. “You send them. We educate them. You collect them.
According to the Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association, superintendents, groundskeepers, equipment managers and trainees are needed at courses across the state, including Charlevoix, Ingham, Kent, Mackinac, Oakland and Ottawa counties. .
Wilson said he hopes for the best for the future of the golf industry.
“I’m really passionate about the future of the industry,” Wilson said. “I’m nearing the end of my career. I’ve spent a lot of time in the industry so I’m concerned about its future simply because I’ve had so much fun working.
“It was just fun. Every day I went to work, I had fun.