The American golf industry has struggled in recent years, in part because of the down economy, so the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's PGA Golf Management Program is redoubling its student recruitment efforts and has a tee planted in an expanding market in China.
UNL's PGM program, which began in 2004, is one of just 19 at U.S. universities. Eighty-eight students have graduated so far, and they're getting good jobs, said Alan Baquet, director of the program. Those jobs include: head professional at the Canyon Forest Highlands Golf Club; teaching professional and owner of Golf Tec; sales rep for TaylorMade Golf; and a club fitter for Titleist, who goes on the road from course to course modifying and fitting clubs for touring professionals.
About 120 students are enrolled in the PGA-accredited program now. New recruitment goals aim to boost enrollment to 200.
Baquet said the program, like the rest of UNL, is committed to meeting Chancellor Harvey Perlman's ambitious goals for enrollment growth.
One key: The program, as expected when it began, has succeeded in bringing in students from outside Nebraska. About 45 percent come from other states, with Iowa and Minnesota contributing the most.
Getting a professional golf management degree is more than hanging out on the links, Baquet said. The curriculum is rigorous, including business, hospitality management, plant and insect science and turfgrass management courses. Graduates receive a bachelor of science degree in PGA Golf Management with a minor in Business. Of course, there's plenty of golf to be played, too, much of it at Wilderness Ridge Golf Club in Lincoln, which is the program's home course.
The program's simulation lab is a huge draw, Baquet added. The technology allows students to simulate play on 50 championship courses. Bored with Pebble Beach? A couple of clicks will take you 5,112 miles away to St. Andrews.
The lab's centerpiece is its high-speed camera, capable of recording in HD Wide Screen format up to 2,200 frames per second or, in other formats, 300,000 frames per second. Duffers may be frightened at the thought of seeing what their swing looks like in that detail, but for students, it's critical. The state-of the-art equipment not only helps the students improve their own skills, it also exposes them to the tools they will use as teaching professionals.
As the industry has declined a bit in America, Baquet said, it's picked up internationally, especially in Asia. China got its first course in the mid-1980s; it has 500 now.
"They are very interested in expanding the golf industry in China," he added. That's partly driven by the fact that golf will become an Olympic sport in 2016.
Baquet was invited to speak last November at the International Golf Forum in Shenzhen, China. The theme was educating the next generation of golf course professionals.
"Being invited to speak was a great recognition of the quality of our program," said Baquet, who's been invited to be a columnist for a Chinese golf publication.
Baquet added that he'd love to get four or five students a year from Asia into UNL's program, for starters.
For more information: pgm.unl.edu or on Facebook.