PGA apprentices learn business at Carrollwood center
TAMPA - When you think about the life of a golf professional, you think about dollar signs, the best hotels, the best perks, playing at some of the greatest resorts in the world, and a life of pampering and luxury. That’s the life of a PGA Tour professional. They are the ones you see on television every week. Being a PGA professional is nothing like that. A typical PGA professional spends years working in cart barns, washing golf carts, pampering club members, giving lessons, and rarely getting out on the golf course. There’s a huge difference between being a PGA professional and a PGA Tour professional – only a few million dollars. Shawn Van Patten and Jason Sprout are two local golfers who know they will never be on television making the big bucks. They want to be PGA professionals, working at golf clubs, giving lessons and making the members happy.Van Patten and Sprout are PGA apprentices, trying to qualify for certification to teach, run a pro shop, and do all of the other tasks that go on behind the scenes at a golf club. Earning that certification is almost like attending a college where the only classes are golf related. They go through three stages, which include online testing, playing performance evaluation, and constant studying of the rule books, as well as the needed business acumen that goes into running a golf club. It’s an expensive challenge just to get to the final level, just like college tuition. Van Patten and Sprout both work at Golfer’s Grail on Dale Mabry Highway, an indoor facility that simulates golf at some of the most well-known courses in the world. They are doing the dirty work, hoping for a shot at being a club professional one day. “It’s as close to earning a college degree as it gets,’’ Sprout said. “We learn about a lot more than just golf. We learn about budgets, turf management, how to handle cart repair. There are so many things that go into it that we don’t really get the chance to play golf.’’ Van Patten, 31, married with one child and another on the way, was working in construction when he decided to give golf another shot. He got his start in golf at the ripe old age – for golfers – of 20. “I always thought golf was for sissies,’’ Van Patten said. “I went to a driving range one day and as soon as I hit one really good I was hooked. I shot a 126 my first time on the course, but I knew this was what I wanted.’’ Van Patten is an assistant professional at Silverado Golf Club and doesn’t get to play nearly as much as he would like, but he is putting in the “credit hours’’ needed to earn his certification. Sprout, whose father, Jeff, owns Golfer’s Grail, went a different route. He’s played golf his whole life, but his passion was baseball. He had to make a choice when it was time to go to college, and he chose baseball. “I always thought I could play golf, but I loved baseball,’’ Sprout said. “I learned I can go further in golf and that got me going.’’ Being a golf professional doesn’t always mean simply giving lessons or putting together club events. “I’d like to run a place like (Golfer’s Grail) eventually,’’ Sprout said. “There are so many ways to make a career out of the apprentice program. (The PGA) takes care of you when you finally complete all the requirements.’’ Even after completing all of the requirements, that still isn’t enough for certification. A candidate has to go before a board for what amounts to a job interview. Once they get past the interview process, a vote is taken and a successful candidate is finally ready to practice as a club professional.