October 3, 2023

Being a PGA Coach is Much More than Giving a Golf Lesson

By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA

Any PGA coach and teacher will tell you that there’s much more to the instructor-student relationship than the 45 minutes shared on the lesson tee. To be an effective PGA coach, you must have skills that go beyond the swing plane and smash factor. These are skills of time management, organization, communication, education, drive and enthusiasm.

At Moss Creek Golf Club in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, PGA Director of Instruction AJ Gerlach understands that the impact he has on his students is great and is contingent upon him being a well-rounded PGA Professional golf coach.

For instance, how are you getting students to know who you are? In Gerlach’s case, he’s at a private facility with 1,100 members, 700 of whom are registered in their GHIN system. Although his services are available to guests vacationing in Hilton Head, as well, marketing in his situation is vastly different from that of a public course or driving range teacher.

“Once I have my available work hours, I split the time up between my private lessons, group coaching and time with my juniors,” Gerlach explains. “From there, I create fun events and share them with my students. Word of mouth is always the best, but for events and classes that do not sell out quickly, I’ll create flyers and disseminate that information among my students.”

These lessons don’t happen in a vacuum of course. They take planning that is based on the audience and goals for the session. There’s some probing to do and questions to ask to determine their needs, available time and long-term goals. This planning and the overall scheduling process is extra important to Gerlach, who has a family at home. To him, work-life balance is vital to his effectiveness as a teacher, husband and father.

“When building out my monthly coaching calendar, I ensure there is harmony between work and home so I can be my best for my students and my family,” he says. “Some days I may go in early – while others days I’ll stay late. I’ll switch those shifts from week to week so everyone, regardless of their work or time constraints, has an opportunity to work with me.”

Gerlach says that lesson preparation starts with researching the student(s), and then preparing a learning and coaching environment for that individual or group. This could be a quick phone call to discuss what they are looking for or a glance at their GHIN index trends for the last few months. After that, he confirms that the area of the facility in which he wants to coach them is available.

Once the lesson is over, it’s important to ensure the student understands what you discussed and is aware of the next steps he or she must take to further reinforce the instruction within their own golf swing or on-course game.

“I realized a long time ago that just because I remember what I talked about with a student in a lesson, that doesn’t mean they do,” Gerlach states. “I spend the second half of a lesson confirming that the student understands the concepts and the feel we are trying to accomplish, along with how to practice in between lessons. I will film the student with their phone at the end of each session, speaking on their new “feels” and “how to practice” so they have a record of their homework in their own words. I will also send them recap videos via the CoachNow app.”

As a private club pro, Gerlach understands that members will surely seek him out between lessons. They’ll find him after their round and share their successes and failures. It could be as simple as a missed three-footer or as memorable as their first birdie or eagle.

“Whether their story provides an opportunity for me to congratulate them or share encouraging words, I am always more curious to hear about their practice to drive their continued improvement,” Gerlach adds. “If by chance they don’t find me first, I will seek them out on the range or via email to check on their progress. Regardless of daily performance, getting a player to buy in on the growth mindset is always the key. Better is possible and results will be accomplished.”

He requests that his students use the SwingU strokes gained app when they play to log detailed shot data. These statistics allow him and his students to see on-course stats and more efficiently plan future lessons.

Of course, it’s important to diversify your player development offerings so there’s something to influence all demographics and skill levels within your membership or customer base. For instance, private lessons and group clinics are the staples of any game improvement program. However, have you considered a multi-day golf school or long-term coaching program? Gerlach says it’s important to offer the ability to set a goal and work on it for 8-12 weeks to attain the desired results.

“My long-term coaching program is yielding very positive results, as I can take a more holistic approach to a player’s entire game and then get hyper-focused on what is truly holding them back,” he says. “During this 2-3-month period, we will practice together, play together, compete together and hone the skills that actually matter for them to achieve their goals.”

As a PGA Professional, Gerlach knows it is important for him to keep getting better as a coach. He is thankful to have a growing network of excellent coaches around him and appreciates their mentorship. In addition to working with peers, he finds great value in completing online coaching courses and certifications to continually broaden his knowledge. Over the past year alone, Gerlach earned additional certifications with TPI & U.S. Kids Golf.