On Grand Strand Golf: CCU golf teams, PGM program get technological upgrade

ablondin@thesunnews.comDecember 3, 2012 

A building housing a pair of indoor/outdoor hitting bays on the driving range at the Hackler Course at Coastal Carolina University is the latest enhancement to a Professional Golf Management Program at CCU that has grown to be the third largest in the nation.

The technology-rich bays will benefit the CCU men’s and women’s golf teams as well as the 260 students in its PGM Program.

Hackler Course general manager and PGM director Charlie Thrash said the program’s student population is third behind only Ferris State in Michigan and Methodist College in Fayetteville, N.C.

Enrolled students represent 28 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Spain and Mexico, and Thrash believes the program will soon hit its self-imposed cap of about 300 students.

The bays will likely help the school hit its ceiling.

One bay is for use by the PGM students and the other by the men’s and women’s golf teams, which also play and practice at the TPC of Myrtle Beach. “It’ll help both the PGM program and golf teams in recruiting,” said Thrash, who became director in the spring of 2002. “It’s kind of the last piece of the puzzle we’ll have to support the students and golf programs on the campus.”

The bays cost more than $150,000 to build, and in January they will include V1 swing analysis systems, Flight Scope launch monitors, “and all the latest technology to help our students in the PGM program not only improve their golf game, but also expose them to that technology so when they leave the campus they’ll be better prepared in the teaching and instruction phase of their professional careers,” Thrash said. “The golf teams of course will use it primarily for game improvement.”

In addition to the bays, the Hackler Course has received several improvements in the past couple years. Mini-Verde ultradwarf Bermudagrass was installed on greens during a renovation project last summer, a new short-game practice area was built, a short course with three greens playing up to 50 yards in front of the clubhouse was created, and the pro shop was renovated.

The PGM program started in the mid-1990s without PGA of America affiliation and became an accredited PGM program in 1999. It is headquartered in the Wall business building and has a classroom dedicated to club building and repair, as well as offices that were renovated for the PGM staff.

The program requires 41/2 years for graduation and includes 16 months of full-time paid employment through three summer internships and a seven-month internship following a student’s final semester. Students receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and also qualify for PGA Class A golf professional status upon graduation.

This past summer, 77 students were on internships in 29 states and a pair of international countries. One student from Ohio interned at famed Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, where CCU grad Ryan Brandeburg is the head pro, and a CCU student interned at the K Club in Ireland during the 2010 Ryder Cup.

Next summer, the number of internships is projected to swell to 180 or more.

“Golf professionals are slowly becoming more and more aware of these programs out there and they seek us out,” said PGM internship director Gil Feagin. “In the Northeast they need a lot of seasonal help.”

Meredith Loosse of Independence Golf Club in Virginia was on campus Thursday interviewing to fill four positions in the Robins Junior Programs, which served more than 3,000 junior golfers last year. CCU fills four of the program’s 12 summer internships.

“[Internships] are really the heart of the program,” Thrash said. “The kids get some wonderful experiences. The graduates from this program are the best prepared graduates leaving the Coastal campus. They’ve gone through that internship process, they’ve done a minimum of four job interviews, networking starts very early and they end up in some great locations.”

Students in the program have few or no electives. The curriculum includes business classes and classes in the PGA of America’s three apprentice levels. Students must pass standardized tests administered online by the PGA on each class subject, and they also have to pass a player ability test, therefore, only students with handicaps of 8 or less are accepted into the program.

Use of the Hackler Course has allowed the PGM Program to grow. The school began leasing the course – then named Quail Creek Golf Club – in 2005 and purchased it in 2010.

In 2005, the program had 125 students and four staff members. It now has eight staff members in addition to the 260 students.

Before they began operating the Hackler Course, program administrators had to rely on Strand courses to give their students places to play and practice. “We were sending them all over the community,” Thrash said. “Because we couldn’t guarantee all the students access to play, that’s why we kept the program at a relatively small level.”

Thrash knew the program could quickly expand because in ’05 it accepted only about half of its applicants.

The PGM staff consists of Thrash, Feagin, player development director and past PGA of America president Will Mann, director of student support Paige Cribb, academic advisor Don Brook, administrative assistant Pris Howell, and Hackler course pros Chuck Johns and Matt Roberts – who are both program graduates.

Area courses are still supportive of the PGM program either through the hiring of interns or allowing students to play and use the facilities either inexpensively or complimentary.

The program will continue to progress and strengthen as it amasses more graduates.

“As we’re maturing and our graduates are becoming head pros, they’re taking on our internships at their courses,” Thrash said. “In the next decade it will feed off itself.”

Graduates are head pros at courses including the TPC Sawgrass and Sage Valley Country Club, and an assistant at Pebble Beach Golf Links was one of the many students who have been hired at a course at the conclusion of an internship.

Head pros on the Grand Strand who are graduates include Matt Biddington at Legends Golf Resort and Ricky Lyons at Farmstead Golf Links and Meadowlands Golf Club. Grad Michael Abraham was recently the head pro at Pine Lakes Country Club.

Academy collects clubs

Golf Academy of America’s campus in Myrtle Beach is collecting donations of unwanted sets of golf clubs so they can be refurbished at the two-year school’s club fitting and repair facility and donated to the Lorena Ochoa Foundation during the holidays.

The campus will accept sets for the “Clubs Fore Christmas” campaign through Monday, Dec.17. In exchange, each person who donates a set of used or unwanted clubs will receive a complimentary 30-minute golf lesson. People can drop off clubs at the campus located at 3268 Waccamaw Blvd. in Myrtle Beach or call 843-236-0481.

The GAA has also landed Brad Redding. The Golf Magazine “Top 100” instructor, who is a member of the Golf Academy of America’s advisory board, will be giving lessons to students at the school on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons. Redding is headquartered at the Members Club at Grande Dunes.

Quail tickets on sale

Tickets are on sale for the 11th annual Wells Fargo Championship, being played May 2-5, 2013 at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C.

A weekly ticket book is $140, single-day tickets are $40 and $50, and a practice pack for Monday through Wednesday attendance is $25. The tournament also offers several hospitality and premium ticket options starting at $895.

Patrons can purchase tickets and research ticket options by visiting wellsfargochampionship.com or by calling 1-800-945-0777. Children 12 and under are free with a paid adult admission (one child per paying adult). Parking and shuttle service from tournament lots are free.

During the past 10 years, Quail Hollow Club has welcomed all of the world’s top 25 players. The tournament was awarded unprecedented back-to-back “Best in Class” Awards in 2009 and 2010 by the PGA Tour.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284. To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page visit myrtlebeachonline.com.

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