I love the discussion that springs from this recent article by Brandel Chamblee, but I don’t agree with his take. As a PGA Professional and the son of a retired junior high art teacher, I can say the long-running and ongoing debate in public schools to find the “good” teachers and get rid of the “bad” ones sounds like a similar argument to the one Chamblee is making in trying to identify the best golf instructors. And with no offense to the author or his fans, it’s a tired argument from someone not on the front lines of school teaching or grow-the-game golf instruction. It’s a debate that will never end because it’s a question that can’t be answered. There are too many variables in public schools to allow for one system to judge teachers, just like there are too many variables in teaching golf to allow for a quantitative analysis of golf pros. Below are a few examples that will always limit an attempt to quantify results in golf instruction:
1. Every golfer comes to a lesson with different goals. There’s the golfer who just got a new job and will be entertaining clients on the golf course a few times a year. She doesn’t need to be a single-digit handicap, but she would like to become proficient and confident. There’s the husband whose wife plays a lot of golf and he’d like to join her once in a while on the course without making a fool of himself. There’s the retired guy who played golf when he was younger, but then got a job, had kids, and hasn’t been on a golf course in 30 years. There’s the 10 year-old prodigy who has plans for college golf and beyond. There’s the 10-year-old quiet kid who doesn’t like team sports but wants to try golf this summer.
This list could go on forever, because no two golfers have the same outlook when they step on the lesson tee for the first time. To say one golf instructor is better because she had more 10-year-old prodigies get quantitatively better than the other instructor who had more 10-year-old wallflowers enjoy a summer of golf is a silly argument to make.
2. Every golfer comes to a lesson with different physical abilities. Again, let’s make the comparison between two teachers: one who spends his day offering group lessons to disabled veterans and one who spends her day teaching lessons to the high-achieving local golf team with a chance to win a state title. Who had the better day as a teacher? Which group of golfers progressed more? Good luck answering those questions.
3. Every golfer comes to a lesson with a different amount of money they can spend on lessons, and every golfer comes to a lesson with a different amount of time they can devote to practicing. I had a golfer start with lessons late in the season two years ago after a long layoff from the game. He hadn’t played much during his previous golf stint so his handicap started out in the mid-30s. In one season he took a handful of lessons and became the most avid golfer at our club, spending long hours all summer at the range and on the course. After a year, his handicap is trending into the mid-20s, he’s buying new equipment, and he loves golf more than anyone should. I like to think I helped with part of his progress. But there’s no way I was a better teacher for his series of lessons than I was for the husband and wife couple who bought a series of lessons that same season and still haven’t finished them because their kids’ activity schedules got too hectic to make the time.
I didn’t come here to bury Brandel Chamblee, because no one likes a page full of criticism without an alternative solution. In fact, I think he’s got a good point about popularity contests driving “Best Golf Instructor” awards when the voters are other golf instructors. And we certainly agree that the main goal of golf instructors should be to grow the game. And in that idea of growing the game is where Chamblee should have directed his quantitative analysis, not in the improvement of handicaps.
So how should we measure golf instructors? To answer that, let’s return to the school house and remember who our favorite teachers were. They might not have been the most decorated, with the highest levels of college degrees. They might not have been the most organized or had the best lesson plans. They might not have had the best test results from their students on the much-loved standardized tests given every year to track “progress.” What they did have was the ability to instill a love of learning. You walked into their class every day with a bit of wonder. They made you feel welcome and capable.
Likewise back at the golf course, to rank the best of the best, let’s find the golf instructors at public courses with big junior programs. And beyond that, let’s find the instructors with the best retention rates in those big programs, or the best retention rates regardless of program size, or regardless of participants’ ages. Let’s find the instructors with the highest Facebook or Google+ ratings because that’s a popularity contest that matters when the voters are the students. These are the PGA Professionals that we should be asking for advice in growing the game. And when you come up with a way to quantify all of the above, then you’ll find the best golf instructors in the country.
And to golfers across the country looking for a good teacher, find a PGA Professional who makes the game fun. Because no game, golf included, is too difficult when you’re having fun learning. And when you find that PGA Pro, you’ve found the best golf instructor in the country…for you.