If you’re already a skilled golfer, we can’t say we blame you for researching how to become a golf pro.
There’s no better time to join the industry, with the number of golfers in the UK booming since the pandemic and the 2023 golf rule changes demonstrating how much the game is evolving to include players of all backgrounds.
But what defines a ‘golf pro’? The term can be confusing, as it refers to both professional golfers and those who work within the business side of golf.
We cover how to become a golf professional, alongside how to take steps towards becoming a professional golfer if this is your goal.
Table of contents:
- What is a golf pro?
- Types of golf professionals
- How to become a golf professional
- How to become a professional golfer
- Salaries in golf
What is a golf pro?
There’s some confusion around who qualifies as a ‘golf professional’, as anyone who is a golf expert and involved in either teaching or playing golf at a professional level could be considered a ‘golf pro’.
However, it’s widely accepted that there is a difference between golf professionals and professional golfers.
Golf professionals typically work in the business or management side of golf or teach or coach amateur or professional golfers.
Many pro golfers follow the route of becoming a golf professional beforehand, as they have a strong involvement with their club growing up and decide to get certified.
But equally, many start as amateurs and rely on their talent to get noticed.
We’ve covered all pathways in this guide on how to become a golf pro, so you can weigh up your options and take actionable steps to progress your career.
Related: Golf pro vs pro golfer: explained
Types of golf professionals
Hoping to work in the business side of golf? If so, it makes sense to get an overview of the roles available if you gain employment at a golf club and decide to become a PGM Associate.
To give you an idea of the different types of golf professionals, the PGA’s research suggests that those who complete their qualifications fulfil one or more of the following roles:
- a qualified teacher or coach
- a knowledgeable retailer
- a customer advisor
- a specialist club fitter
- a manager of services, products, facilities, and people
- a tournament organiser
- a good player
Hopefully, this gives you a good overview of your career prospects.
Regarding job titles, the highest level you
can reach at a club is typically known as a Head Professional,
followed by Associate Professional
usually manage the club and other employees who work there.
The alternative route is becoming a Teaching Professional, which is a more practical role overall and mainly involves coaching clients.
Head Professional and Teaching Professional roles can sometimes interlink depending on the club, but there is room to specialise in one area over the other.
How to become a golf professional
The path to becoming a golf professional isn’t complicated. Still, it requires a high level of skill and dedication to your development as a player, even if you decide to work business side.
Professional golfing is certainly on the cards for those who go down this route, as long as they’re equipped with the skills to compete at an elite level.
Here’s a quick overview of the path to becoming a golf professional in the UK.
1. Complete the PGM Associate Program
Every golf club has a Head Professional running their operations, including managing the course and other employees who work there.
This role carries a large responsibility and is the most advanced path you can reach when learning how to become a golf pro outside of competing in tournaments.
Suppose you want to eventually become a Head Professional through the PGA. In that case, you’ll need to complete their PGM Associate Program and become an Associate Professional before you can climb through the ranks. This involves:
- a background check
- passing a qualifying test
- gaining employment as an Associate Professional
- completing the player ability test (PAT)
This could be helpful if you want to become a pro golfer, as the PAT test is a great way to prove your skill in the sport.
However, as mentioned earlier, you don’t technically require this to enter tournaments and get noticed.
2. Complete a golf-related bachelor’s degree
Gaining a PGA qualification is a popular route to becoming a golf professional in the UK, as their degree programmes are the most respected golf qualifications in the world.
If you’re hoping to work business side and want to climb the ranks once you graduate, this could be the best route for you.
A foundation degree in Golf Studies (FdSc) is available at the University of Birmingham and can be converted into a BSc (Hons) in Professional Golf Studies.
The University of the Highlands and Islands also runs a Diploma in Higher Education Golf Studies (DipHE), which can be converted into a BA in Professional Golf, with an option to continue to Hons.
You can also study a BSc in Applied Golf Management Studies taught in partnership with the University of Birmingham, which grants you membership as a PGA Professional subject to status and application.
3. Progress through PGA titles
There is the opportunity for development once you’ve qualified as a PGA Member through gaining more experience, education, achievements, and accreditations.
The first option is to move from ‘Class A’ to ‘Class AA’ status, which involves gaining 100 CPD points within three years through suggested professional development.
However, if you reach the age of 55 and haven’t progressed from Class AA status, you will remain at this level for life.
Aside from these initial titles, you can also apply for any of the following:
- PGA advanced professional—meets relevant criteria and has been qualified for a minimum of three years
- PGA fellow professional—meets the relevant criteria and has been qualified for a minimum of eight years
- PGA advanced fellow professional—meets the relevant criteria and has been qualified for a minimum of ten years
- PGA master professional—meets the relevant criteria and has been qualified for a minimum of fifteen years
As you’ve probably gathered, many professional golf players will hold a PGA qualification, so the two pathways often interlink.
But not all skilled players who qualify will go on to become professional golfers, and you also don’t need to qualify to become one, either.
How to become a professional golfer
If you’re a highly skilled player dedicated to your growth in the sport, then there’s a chance you could become a pro golfer if you set your mind to it.
Since the PGA Tour is the world’s largest professional golf tournament organiser, it makes sense for us to discuss how to reach this level of competition—entering these tournaments is the most popular end goal for aspiring golfers.
The steps themselves are quite simple. It’s what’s involved in the process that makes it easier said than done.
You need to be great at what you do, extremely driven, and prepared to put the rest of your life on hold if you want to make it. Here are the next steps if you think you’ve got what it takes.
1. Get up to professional standard
Most players fall at the first hurdle, as this is certainly one part that’s easier said than done. But if you can overcome the challenge of mastering golf, you’re already halfway there.
Recruiting a coach is a good idea if you can afford the investment. With their guidance, you can establish a solid training programme for perfecting your technique and improving faster than working alone.
The game is massively competitive, especially since many golfers start young. But if you’ve got the grit and determination to consistently work on every element of your game, you’ll overtake those who give up too soon.
2. Take a swing at amateur events
Once you’ve achieved a high standard and proven your skill in a few friendly competitions at your local club, it’s time to progress to more formal events.
Wondering where to start? Using the Golf Empire search tool, you can browse over 10,000 amateur open golf tournaments at more than 1,500 golf clubs in the UK.
You can also check out amateur golf tours and series for when you feel you’re good enough to enter.
You can usually enter as many or as few events as you wish, meaning you can get a taste of what is expected at these events without committing to the full thing.
It’s easier said than done, but a huge part of learning how to become a professional golfer is dominating amateur competitions.
Progressing through the ranks will get you noticed and potentially lead to you being invited to or qualifying for a more prestigious event—this is how many golfers go professional.
3. Commit to going professional
If you reach the point where you’re consistently performing well in amateur competitions and you’re determined enough to take your career further, this is where you can take things to the next level.
Only you can decide whether or not you’re ready to go pro, as golf differs from other sports where you’re signed up to a team. You essentially decide to compete in professional events instead of their amateur counterparts.
You should be at the best level you can be before registering for professional events, however, as they are usually very expensive to enter and highly competitive.
In the UK, the easiest transition into professional events is becoming a PGA member and entering the PGA Open series, most of which have a £100 registration fee and a £20,000 prize fund.
Taking this leap of faith is a big step, but it’s worth a shot if you know you have what it takes and can afford to do so.
Don’t let age be a hurdle if you’re a great golfer, as there have been many late bloomers before. It’s a matter of dedication and skill above all else.
Take U.S. golfer Allen Doyle, for example—he turned pro at 46, proving it’s never too late to chase your dreams if you stay focused.
4. Sign up for Q-school
This process involves competing over four months to finish in one of the top 25 spots, which earns you an unconditional place on the Korn Ferry Tour. However, you can still get a conditional place if you finish in the 26-50 range.
If you compete well enough to finish in the top five of final stage Q-school, you can gain your PGA Tour card this way instead of competing in the Korn Ferry Tour.
5. Compete in the Korn Ferry Tour
If you’ve come this far, you’ve already become a professional golfer, but there’s much more to achieve if you keep pushing on.
The Korn Ferry Tour sits just beneath the PGA Tour, and making it to the finals and finishing in the top 25 guarantees you a spot. Finishing in the 26-50 range gives you conditional status, and you’ll still have a chance to make your debut.
6. Reach PGA Tour player status
This is likely one of the most important stages of your career.
If you finish in the top 25 at the Korn Ferry Tour or secure your card through a conditional status, you’ll get a chance to compete amongst the world’s most elite golf players.
This will be no mean feat. But now you know the steps involved, you can devise a step-by-step plan for achieving this level. SMART goals are a great way to ensure progress.
7. Keep your spot on the PGA Tour
While you’ve likely achieved your wildest dreams at this stage, now is not the time to get complacent.
To make your hard work pay off, you should do everything it takes to ensure you keep your spot as one of the 125 best players in the sport.
You’ll be standing on golf’s world stage, and you may never make it back if you let your game slip.
Avoid injuries at all costs, maintain your confidence, and never underestimate the importance of keeping up to speed through practice.
If you win the Players Championship, you receive a five-year exemption, a three-year invite to the Masters, and a three-year exemption for the Open and the PGA Championship.
Related: The 9 best golf GPS watches
Salaries in golf
If you’re considering a career in golf, it’s natural to want to know exactly how much you could earn.
Leaning towards the golf professional route? According to Glassdoor:
- an Assistant Golf Professional earns £27k per year on average and up to £48k per year with experience
- a Head Golf Professional earns £34k per year on average and up to £73k per year with experience
If your end goal is becoming a professional golfer, the amount you’ll earn is understandably difficult to pin down.
The average salary for professional golfers is $2m per year, according to Back 2 Basics. Golf Monthly report that exempt PGA Tour players earn a base income of $500,000 per year.
Tiger Woods has the highest career earnings on the PGA Tour at $120,954,766, to give you an idea of how lucrative this career path can be.