If you go to the Internet and search for “USGTF” and “PGA,” you inevitably will come across some discussion boards and blogs debating the pros and cons of each organization.  And, also inevitably, some of these opinions are rendered by PGA professionals, who, of course, tout their organization as the superior one when it comes to teaching.

Does perception meet fact?  Well, let’s look at the facts and see what they are.

The PGA has been around since 1916, with no competition whatsoever and the USGTF’s position has always been that the PGA is a fine organization.  Their members do a great job running the nation’s pro shops and serving the public.  They also promote themselves as teachers of the game.  But, it might surprise you to know that, prior to 1994, PGA professionals had NO REQUIREMENTS to learn anything about teaching, or even give a lesson, to become a Class A member.  That changed in 1994 when the PGA introduced the Golf Professional Training Program (GPTP), in direct response to what the USGTF was doing. Isn’t competition great! For the first time, PGA apprentices were required to learn something about teaching the game before acquiring Class A status.

The problem back then, and remaining to this day, is that the process the PGA goes through in “training” its teachers is woefully lacking. They give “apprentices” who pay a small fortune just to try and enter the golf business, a book written in the 1970s, give them a written test on it, and require them to present one lesson given on video for critique…and that’s it.  I’ve read the book.  While it does give adequate information, it is presented in such a scattershot way that it woefully lacks a coherent curriculum for learning how to teach.  Only experienced teachers can hope to glean any benefit from this book.

Another thing the PGA doesn’t make well-known is that apprentices are sent out to the lesson tee under the title “PGA apprentice” without, in many cases, having learned one thing about teaching golf!  And, when was the last time you saw a PGA professional on the lesson tee with his or her apprentice charge, observing the lesson?  Personally, I’ve seen it only once, and I’ve been around courses and driving ranges for a very long time.

PGA professionals will tell you that you can’t learn to teach golf in a week, that you have to have at least a couple of years of experience on the lesson tee before you can be considered “good.”  With their inadequate teacher training program being their only point of reference, it’s understandable that they would say that.  Combine that with the fact that almost no PGA apprentices are full-time teachers but give only a few lessons a week at the most, it’s no wonder that it takes most PGA pros several years before they can be considered competent to give a good lesson.

The fact of the matter is that no other sport besides golf (and more specifically, no other organization besides the PGA) requires its teachers to spend years doing other things besides teaching (such as running a pro shop) in order to gain full membership if all you want to do is teach.  Look at sports such as skiing, tennis, and swimming and diving, for example.  All of those sports certify teachers in one-week seminars, and no one is saying that’s inadequate.  Candidates are expected to bring a certain knowledge base and competency before they attend the certification seminars – much like the USGTF requires.

As founder and president of the USGTF, I have direct knowledge on this subject.  I was previously a ski teaching professional, certified through the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance, as well as the Professional Ski Instructors Association of America and they produce some of the best ski teachers on the planet.  As owner of The Florida Golf School back in the 1980s (which evolved into America’s Favorite Golf Schools) and looking to hire qualified, personable instructors, I experienced first-hand how many PGA professionals were simply not good teachers.  In fact, about half the teachers I hired were not from the PGA, because at the time the PGA wasn’t producing enough competent members who were qualified to be full-time instructors.  I figured there had to be a better way.

I realized that if you learned to teach under the old system, it was possible to become a good teacher, but only after years of doing it. This explains the perception from PGA pros that this is the only way to become competent.  But, after you do become competent, you realize it shouldn’t have to take nearly that long.  You see teaching concepts that repeat themselves over and over, and these concepts can be taught in a short time frame, as long as there is a structured learning environment. We provide that.  Unfortunately, according to many of my PGA professional friends, the PGA to this day still doesn’t.

Fully-certified USGTF professionals have to go through 22 hours of academic training, 8 hours of playing tests, and 3 hours of academic testing in order to earn their status.  Our PGA detractors make it sound like you can just show up and we’ll give you certification, but that’s far from the case.

Our PGA detractors will also tell you that the USGTF credential is not credible in the field.  That would be news to the thousands of USGTF professionals who not only are working as head professionals at golf courses and driving ranges all across the country, but also in various other venues.  And, these same detractors may be surprised to find that not only are many PGA professionals sending their assistants to us every year to learn about teaching but Class A PGA professionals also attend our classes every year, too!  Of course, some of our members later enter the PGA program, but many of them retain their USGTF membership, giving us a fair amount of those with duel USGTF-PGA memberships.  I’m sure that surprises the detractors.  And, when you ask these detractors exactly what they know about the USGTF’s program in detail, they admit they don’t know anything about it specifically. They just feel threatened.

We at the USGTF are not so blind as we don’t see the many PGA professionals who are fine teachers in their own right.  We just happen to believe that our way of training those who simply want to teach the game to be a better, more efficient and more thorough way of doing it.

If the detractors were even only half-right, we wouldn’t still be here, but the fact that we are thriving shows they are wrong.  In 2013 we will celebrate 24 years of existence, and we show no signs of slowing down. That’s a credit, not only to those who work for the USGTF, but those who make the USGTF the fine organization that it is:  our members.
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