'The Pinnacle' of PGA Education: 13 Women Have Reached the PGA’s Lifelong Learning Summit as PGA Master Professionals
By Michael Abramowitz
PGA Honorary President Suzy Whaley became a PGA Master Professional in 2018.
Pinnacle. Summit. Mountain top.
It’s the rarest of PGA Member Education air to earn the title of PGA Master Professional.
The numbers are witnesses. Since the PGA Master Professional Program’s inception 52 years ago, just over 400 PGA Members--or approximately one-half of a percent of the PGA’s current Membership--have ascended to the Association’s highest educational designation.
There are many milestones along the PGA’s lifelong learning track, starting as a PGA Associate. On average, it takes four years and approximately 600 hours of training, both in the workplace and the classroom, as well as the passing of a Playing Ability Test to obtain PGA Membership. Currently, there are nearly 28,000 PGA Members and Associates.
Paving the way to advanced certification is the new PGA Specialist designation. After five years of employment in a dedicated career path, PGA Members can pursue Certified PGA Professional status. At least 10 years of PGA Membership is now required to become a PGA Master Professional.
Talk about dedication.
“When you’re introduced as a PGA Master Professional, PGA Members know what that means,” said Cathy Harbin, Owner of Pine Ridge Golf Course in Paris, Texas and Founder of OnCourse Operations, who used her Master Professional project to design a business plan for new golf facilities. “They know you put forth the effort to reach the pinnacle of your career, and you have earned their respect and admiration.”
The list of PGA Master Professionals features 13 trailblazing women: PGA Members Jane Broderick, Alison Curdt, Carol Farquhar, Le Ann Finger, Cathy Harbin, Lori Ludvigson Van Sickle, Lisa Miller, Linda Mulherin, Pam Phipps, Stephanie Reeves, Kellie Stenzel, Lisa Schwinden and PGA Honorary President Suzy Whaley.
In 1996, Farquhar became the first woman to earn the PGA Master Professional designation...By 2011, Curdt was the youngest ever at age 29...And Whaley, who completed her two-year term as the first woman to serve as PGA President last year, earned her Master Professional designation in 2018, when she was PGA Vice President.
Officially, the PGA Master Professional Program (MPP 2.0) was established to recognize PGA Members who have made a significant effort to improve as golf professionals and maintain the highest degree of excellence for themselves and their operations. It was designed to ensure PGA Professionals are prepared to meet the growing demands of the marketplace. The curriculum requires an extensive project based on the specific certification previously acquired by the PGA Member.
The program showcases a PGA Member’s expertise and experience in their specific career path through a proven track record of success and industry involvement.
It’s designed to quantify and promote more value to employers and elevate the image of the PGA Member through a progressive approach to lifelong learning guided by enhanced mentoring and coaching through one of three career paths that demonstrate the PGA Member’s body of work: Executive Management, Golf Operations or Teaching & Coaching.
“If you think about the most respected and experienced people in the field, it is their willingness to share their knowledge and shepherd others along that made them so great,” said PGA Master Professional Dawes Marlatt, Senior Director of PGA Education. “It speaks volumes about these women, and their commitment to their profession and to the PGA Member.”
The Moment Lasts
There are special reasons for pursuing the pathway to PGA Master Professional.
“As people move through their careers, you have a mindset of how do you differentiate yourself? How do you set yourself apart from your peers?” explained Broderick, Club Manager for PGA National Members Club, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. “People are crazy not to want to grow and learn. It’s like the saying, ‘If you’re green, you grow. If you’re ripe, you rot.’ You have to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.”
Arizona Golf Association PGA Director of Golf Le Ann Finger, who was the 375th PGA Member overall to become a PGA Master Professional, ranked the achievement up there with attending a Solheim Cup team dinner and the day she earned PGA Membership.
“It was definitely one of the top three moments in my golf career,” said Finger.
“This was personally motivating,” added Curdt, who also holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. “Education aligns with my core values and morals. It fills the brain, and its thirst to know more...but the credential does not mean I stopped learning.”
For Whaley, who became a Master Professional in Teaching & Coaching, it was about setting an example for the PGA’s next generation. After becoming a PGA Certified Professional, she spent two years working on her next goal.
“It was extremely important to me as an Officer to walk the walk,” said Whaley, PGA Director of Instruction for the Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens. “We all get extremely busy in our careers and with our family, and it’s important to stay relevant. I wanted to be a role model and showcase PGA Education.”
The culmination for all candidates is to present their Master Professional project to a group of peers and PGA Education Faculty Members.
“It felt like you finished a degree,” said Whaley. “It was nerve-wracking, but when I went to Port St. Lucie and presented my project, I knew the material well. It was a journey...And I’m proud to have become a PGA Master Professional.”
“It’s an opportunity, especially for women, where there are no barriers,” added Harbin. “All it takes is your own effort. You don’t have to be selected. You put your own effort into it, and you can achieve it.”
Among the rewards is an impressive addition to your resume, title and logo, as well as an annual special invite to the PGA Master Professional Luncheon at the PGA Merchandise Show, where innovative presentations are made and a unique bond is shared.
“It’s more than just a room of high achievers,” explained Harbin. “These people really want to help you further your career.”
After all, they scaled the peak of PGA Education, too.