By Dave White
The PGA’s vision and mission hasn’t really changed in recent years since Pete Bevacqua took over as the chief executive officer several years ago.
But the 28,000 member Professional Golfers’ Association certainly has refined how it wants to do business.
In past, critics have suggested the PGA’s direction has changed every couple of years to meet the changing requirements of different boards and presidents, that’s there’s been a disconnect between the PGA headquarters and its troops on the ground, who perpetually send in their annual dues.
And the feeling has persisted since Bevacqua’s appointment that, whether rightly or wrongly, he’s taken control as the organization’s power broker.
Although the PGA can be viewed as a changing organization, Bevacqua isn’t necessarily onside with that power broker assessment.
“I’m not sure I agree with this,“ Bevacqua related in a recent interview. “I never let a day go by that I don’t report to the board and our officers. It’s absolutely critical…we’re a membership-based organization and the elected officers are the leaders as voted in by our members. I report to them.”
Undoubtedly what it has spawned is a more collaborative approach to the PGA’s governance.
“This has allowed us to become more effective and efficient, with a productive working relationship between staff, officers and board along with development of a long term strategic plan.
“I very much see the president as the head of the organization and me really as the lead staff person charged with implementing the operational direction that’s been set forth.
“We know our marching orders,” he exclaimed.
One of Bevacqua’s first moves as CEO was to seek change that comes through a long-range strategic plan. The organization looked for certain changes during Bevacqua’s first couple of years at the helm, followed by more substantial goals and objectives established through a three to five year strategic plan that followed.
The PGA vision for the future is, ‘Simply that the PGA Professional is at the heart of golf.’
“We’re really here as an organization for two primary reasons…to serve 28,000 members and grow the game. Every decision we make and action we undertake is tied into those fundamental principles.
“So, as part of our long term strategic plan, the eight core areas of focus are employment, education, properties, player development, PGA REACH, sections, championships and global. Overall our mandate is to serve the members and grow the game.
“The PGA pro is the tangible connection between the game and the people who play the game. It’s a PGA pro who connects you,” Bevacqua explained.
So has the PGA addressed concerns to make the organization more relevant for club professionals, including pros at private clubs?
“Absolutely,” Bevacqua insisted. “We want to make sure members know we are here for them. Our key priorities are a focus on education and on employment and we want to make sure there’s a dialogue between our PGA headquarters and our membership.
“Our discourse with members has increased, and our board and members are passionate about this approach.”
What does Bevacqua see as the role of a club professional, particularly those at private equity clubs?
“The role of PGA pro is to teach and play the game and certainly to have an expertise of the business of the game,” Bevacqua commented. “People are called upon to do different things at different clubs…and show value to their employers.
“A PGA facility with one or more professionals is the best approach and certainly focuses on introducing the game to as many people as possible. It also brings in diversity,” a factor stressed not only by the PGA, but many private clubs throughout the country.
“We’ve taken a disciplined approach,” the PGA CEO suggested. “Many are doing great things, but as a national organization, instead of creating a new approach each year, we are following through with programs that are very successful.
“For example, as part of the PGA’s theme of ‘Driving the Game Forward,’ Get Golf Ready offers five lessons for $99, and roughly 100,000 golfers participated last year, over 60 percent of whom were women.”
The PGA Junior League Golf is the “Little League” approach to the game.
“It’s co-ed youth based, scramble format, golf shirt with numbers, team-based approach and has seen incredible growth,” Bevacqua added.
Then there’s also the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship…a free nationwide youth golf development initiative open to boys and girls ages 7-15, competing in separate divisions in four age categories.
Local level qualifiers advance through sub-regional and regional qualifiers and the top 80 performers – 40 boys and 40 girls – will earn an invitation to the National Finals at Augusta National on Sunday, April 3, the eve of the 2016 Masters.
“You see a lot of resources and time being put into promoting these programs. We want to bring more women, diversity and kids and lapsed golfers into golf. We want to make the funnel as big as possible so people have an entry point into participation,” Bevacqua explained.
America’s private clubs also are a prime source of employment for many PGA pros, so how can these professionals be held accountable for enhancing a private club member experience?
“There’s no simple answer,” Bevacqua offered. “One key attribute of the professional is understanding the club dynamic. Each is different with different cultures. But in general, the objective should be making it an enjoyable experience for as many members of the family as possible.
“How do you bring the family into the game and make it easier to get all involved…really making it accessible and enjoyable?” he mused. That’s certainly a primary question for many private clubs that are seeking their niche today, including many that are basing their growth and future on family-centric notions.
“Golf is fun, but we face time issues. There is more demand on a club member’s time and one of the things we suggest to our professionals is to try different experiences. It doesn’t necessarily have to be playing nine holes, but it can be a 30 or 60-minute experience. For example, take a lesson, play 2-3 holes after work or hit the driving range. “It’s about creating flexibility and ingenuity to adapt to modern lifestyle allowing golf to fit into American lifestyle,” Bevacqua suggested.
“For us, there are different answers for different situations. Yes, our strategic plan places an emphasis on teaching, playing and the business of the game. But there’s no replacing the personal connections that the pro makes with members. That’s the best way to situate yourself within the club environment…know your customer base. People are busy and that can be more challenging at some clubs, but our professionals need to connect themselves to their membership.”
BoardRoom magazine during its 20 years of publication has become ‘required’ reading for many private club board members…the magazine’s target market. So should BoardRoom be ‘required’ reading for private club pros?
“Regardless of the profession, if you can gain knowledge of trends and best practices either at staff or board level from reading magazines like BoardRoom that can only result in being more prepared,” he suggested. “Why not use that kind of reading that’s at your disposal and continue to educate yourself? It’s critical.”
Bevacqua agreed with the notion the role of the PGA professional seems to be evolving more into the administration of clubs.
“That’s a correct assumption,” he offered. “Our professionals come in for different reasons and continue into different areas. They’re teachers, players, executives, and we want to make sure people who take the executive route have necessary tools.
“Our ultimate desire is that a PGA professional has ability and the experience needed to really take the road they choose. We don’t direct them. But there is a focus on continuing education, a focus on business, a new found focus on the technology of the game, resources, and business acumen to enhance a pro’s maturation, into their chosen area.”
Bevacqua also doesn’t view what the PGA is offering as being in conflict with what the Club Managers Association of America offers – extensive business management programs leading to club manager certification.
“It’s not in conflict,” he said. “Both education platforms are tremendously valuable. I’ve gotten to know Jeff Morgan (who took over last year as CMAA’s CEO), and he’ll bring passion and energy to the industry and I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Now as chair of the World Golf Foundation, Bevacqua feels this will enhance the opportunities for special initiatives
“A key proponent of long term strategic planning is a global development strategy. For our organization to be relevant and to increase our relevance we need a well thought out global footprint. That thought process is now underway,” he concluded.