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UW-Stout News Story

Golf enterprise alumni take education to the pro shop

August 6, 2012

Paul Speltz and Derek Holmes will be paying close attention this week to the PGA Championship, which is Thursday through Sunday at The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, S.C.

It’s the last major tournament of the pro golf season, but it's the most significant one for them. They are dues-paying members of the PGA — the Professional Golfers' Association of America.

In the near future the two University of Wisconsin-Stout alumni expect to become certified PGA Class A professionals, able to teach and promote the game at the highest levels — and maybe someday even qualify for the PGA Championship as club pros.

Speltz and Holmes are charting a different course, so to speak, than most alumni from the golf enterprise management undergraduate program at UW-Stout. Only about 10 percent of GEM graduates choose the playing-teaching career path. As the program website explains, GEM “is not about playing the game of golf but rather about the business of golf.”

Speltz, Holmes, however, have taken dead aim at both worlds — becoming head golf pros with the business acumen fit for general managers.

UW-Stout’s GEM program is not affiliated with the PGA, as are some undergraduate programs in the U.S. Those schools would have prepared Speltz and Holmes for PGA membership — but not other aspects of running a golf facility.

Going through UW-Stout’s program means they’ve had to become apprentice pros after graduation and work for several years gaining Class A PGA status, but they see advantages to the route they’ve chosen.

“It’s a longer process, but I like having both (the management degree and PGA certification),” said Speltz. “It gives me a leg up. I like having more of a business background.”

Speltz, a Winona, Minn., native, graduated from UW-Stout in 2009 and joined the apprentice program in 2010. He expects to have his Class A card by the end of this year, having just completed his third and final level of testing and seminars in Florida.

He worked at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, Minn., for three years and this year became head pro at Diablo Grande Resort, a 36-hole public facility in Patterson, Calif., about 1½ hours southeast of San Francisco. Both facilities are managed by Troon Golf.

Holmes, an Anoka, Minn., native who graduated from UW-Stout in 2010, has about two years left in the PGA apprentice program. He is an assistant pro at River Oaks, an 18-hole municipal course in Cottage Grove, Minn.

“The GEM program teaches you the whole business side, not just golf. You can assist members and guests better,” Holmes said. “I won’t just have a Class A membership but a four-year degree in business. In the end that could help a ton.”

Speltz and Holmes are skilled at playing golf; becoming a PGA professional requires passing a playing ability test. Both were on the UW-Stout men’s team and have continued to compete in PGA apprentice and other tournaments. Holmes, a two-time All-American at UW-Stout and recently named to the WIAC all-time team, was 11th in this year’s Minnesota Open.

They give lessons at their courses, in addition to various other duties, such as overseeing tournaments, personnel and merchandising in their pro shops.

“Overall I love it. There are ups and downs. I enjoy the people I work with. I wouldn’t want to sit behind a desk everyday,” Holmes said.

Both men credited UW-Stout GEM instructor Howie Samb, a Class A PGA pro and the UW-Stout women’s golf coach, for mentoring them.

“Both of them have done a really great job moving their careers forward,” Samb said.

Samb also cited Kitty Nicastro, of Mondovi, who graduated from the GEM program in December. A standout Blue Devil women’s golf team member, she has passed her PGA playing test and is an apprentice pro at the prestigious Milwaukee Country Club.

“To even be considered for a head golf professional position today the applicant has to not only have the traditional skills needed, but they need to be educated in marketing, yield management, customer service skills, food and beverage management, event planning, accounting, finance, insurance, business law, turf management and be able to use ever-changing technology to enhance their facility,” Samb said.

“Our program prepares the student in all those areas, as well as the more traditional golf areas such as teaching, club fitting and repair,” Samb said.

For more information on the GEM program, go to the website.

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