Golf Course Manager Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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A golf course manager's median salary is about $53,185. Is it worth the business education and training? Get the truth about job duties, career path options and the required skills to decide if becoming a golf course manager is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Golf Course Management

Golf course managers are responsible for making sure the fairways are kept in peak condition, as well as managing all business functions of the course, from finances to food and beverage. Check out the pros and cons of greens keeping to decide if it's the right course for you.

Pros of a Golf Course Management Career
Great earnings potential for education level*
Work mostly outdoors in an attractive environment**
Work in a variety of settings (exclusive private clubs, resorts, public and municipal courses)**
Many specialization options (course maintenance, golf instruction and retail operations)***

Cons of a Golf Course Management Career
Must balance demands of many constituencies (owners, officials, managers, board members, golfers)**
Starting salary can be low for experience level*
Must often work weekends and holidays when others are having fun***
Hours can be long with little time for playing golf***

Sources: *PayScale.com, **Golf Superintendents Association of America, ***Professional Golf Association of America.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

The general manager of a golf course oversees day-to-day operations, including course and facilities maintenance, pro shop administration, food and beverage service, customer relations and event management. At any given moment, you must answer to the demands of the course or club owner, members of the board of directors, golfers and their guests - even local government officials if you manage a city- or county-owned course. You will also have to direct other managers, which includes tasks like planning, scheduling and promoting events, enforcing the rules of the game, overseeing instruction programs and handling customer comments.

Whether you work at a public 18-hole course, municipal course, private golf club or resort will determine your daily responsibilities. Most municipal courses are run by local parks and recreation departments, which often have limited budgets. Municipal course general managers tend to wear many hats, from golf course superintendent to instructor to equipment and food service manager. On the other hand, in addition to a general manager, a private or resort course may employ both a golf course superintendent to oversee ground maintenance and golf professional to provide instruction.

Salary Info

According to PayScale.com in July 2015, golf course general manager salaries had a median of about $53,185 and ranged from $32,000-$102,000. Pay for golf course managers grows considerably with experience; entry level managers earned an average of $40,000 annually, whereas their seasoned counterparts with 10-20 years experience took home upwards of $69,000. The BLS reported that grounds maintenance workers, which includes greenskeepers, would grow 12%, or as-fast-as average, between 2012-2022.

Career Paths and Specializations

If you'd like a management career in golf, but not at a course, you could manage a corporate league or golf association, serve as a public or member relations manager for a golf club or manage a retail golf store. Other specialized management positions in a golf course environment - some of which overlap in responsibility - include director of golf (manages pro shop, driving range, equipment, etc.), head golf professional (supervises instruction) and golf course developer (owns or manages a company that design courses). You can focus on a specific area by choosing to study turfgrass or horticulture management and gain experience in groundskeeping or specializing in golf instruction.

What Are the Requirements?

A degree in golf course, business administration or hospitality management and, on average, five years of management experience in a service-oriented industry are generally the minimum requirements for becoming a golf course manager. Many positions require a bachelor's degree and golf course-specific management experience, either in maintenance, operations or both.

Some employers want candidates to be members of the Professional Golf Association (PGA) of America, which requires either an apprenticeship or degree from a university with a PGA Golf Management (PGM) program, internship and work experience and completion of the Playing Ability Test. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) offers superintendent certification as well as environmental management education programs.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Golf course managers must be business savvy. They need knowledge of finance and accounting principles for setting and maintaining budgets and properly handling revenues. They must be skilled in sales and marketing for promoting the course and the sport of golf and encouraging community involvement in events.

Human resources experience can be necessary for hiring, training, motivating and disciplining employees. Practice with public speaking can be required for communicating with owners and customers as well as presenting to civic groups. Internships and full-time experience as an assistant golf course manager can help candidates develop all of these skills and more.

Employers of golf course managers can range from local parks and recreation departments to exclusive, members-only clubs to luxurious golf resorts. Here are examples of postings for jobs open in April 2012:

  • A resort and casino complex in Miami, FL, is looking for a golf course general manager to oversee course management, maintenance and instruction. The job posting also notes that a broad knowledge of PGA rules and regulations is required.
  • A Native American tribe in California is seeking a golf general manager with five years of golf course management experience and accounting and finance knowledge to direct all operational aspects of the club, including building relationships with the tribal council and local community.
  • The state of New York is hiring golf course managers to supervise and direct maintenance and operations for a golf course as well as other activities like cross-country skiing and tennis. Candidates must pass a civil service exam and have either one year of internal (at a New York State golf course) or four years of external experience in golf course maintenance.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

The first step toward standing out among applicants for the top golf course management jobs is to earn a degree from one of 20 affiliated universities that offer a PGA Golf Management (PGM) program. These programs enable students to complete the requirements for a bachelor's degree, take golf-specific courses on campus from PGA-trained instructors, complete internships at PGA-recognized facilities and become eligible for membership in the PGA upon graduating. Working professionals who did not graduate from a PGM program may become PGA members through the PGA's apprenticeship program.

PGA members are certified golf instructors who have the business expertise necessary to manage all types of golf facilities. Along with the prestige that comes with membership, the PGA offers 100% job placement for members as well as continuing education and professional certification options.

Other Careers to Consider

If the lengthy list of responsibilities has you reconsidering becoming a golf course manager, there are other management-level positions in golf and hospitality that might interest you. Although they require similar training, these careers offer a more narrow focus.

Golf Course Superintendent

Golf course superintendents are responsible for maintaining the course and facilities, including turf planning, supervising grounds crew members and managing equipment. They typically have a degree in turfgrass management or a related field along with highly specialized knowledge of agronomy.

In some cases, the responsibilities of a golf course manager and superintendent overlap. When both a manager and superintendent are present, they may work together to plan course construction and renovation projects, with the superintendent reporting to the manager. According to the 2011 Golf Course Superintendents Association of America Compensation and Benefits Report, GCSAA- and Class A-certified golf course superintendents had an average base salary of around $84,000.

Golf Association Manager

You can also apply your business and golf expertise to working as a manager for a residential association, which, depending on its size can own more than one golf course plus swimming pools and other recreational or dining facilities. Rather than focus on the golf course itself, you'll work extensively with a homeowner's association to improve the experience of members and the general public. As of March 2012, PayScale.com reported community association managers had an average yearly salary of about $43,000.

Golf Tournament Director

Golf tournaments are a popular source of revenue for charity groups and nonprofits and friendly competition for golf clubs, businesses and community organizations. The PGA sponsors numerous local, regional and national qualifying and championship tournaments throughout the year. As a golf tournament director, you'll apply your knowledge of the sport, as well as PGA and U.S. Golf Association rules, to overseeing tournament operations before, during and after each event. You'll get to work in a variety of course settings during your frequent travels to regional and national tournaments. As of April 2012, PayScale.com reported that the average salary for general/operations managers of special events was about $48,000.

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