A New Leader For The PGA of America

The PGA of America named a new CEO last week. Look for Joe Sterenka to continue moving the Association in a positive direction for golfers in the U.S.

Bag DropThis week we’ll take a little Bag Drop field trip. Instead of talking about the equipment, we’ll look at the equipment business. Specifically, let’s take a look at the change in the leadership of the PGA of America.

Point of clarification: we’re talking about the PGA of America, not the PGA Tour. There’s a lot of confusion about the fact that these are two separate entities. The PGA was founded in 1916 as an association of the country’s club professionals – the pros who work at golf courses teaching lessons and managing the facilities. At the time, this designation also covered golfers who played for a living on what would become the PGA Tour. The Tour was run by the PGA of America until the late 1960s, when star players like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus – and IMG – decided they didn’t want to share the spotlight and the cash with the lowly club pros anymore, and they acrimoniously split. Thus, the PGA Tour was born.

Last fall, Jim Awtrey announced that he would be stepping down as CEO of the PGA of America after nearly two decades at the organization’s helm. Awtrey led the Association through a large renovation, growing the ranks from 16,000 to over 28,000. This growth is due in large part to a movement in the last few years to allow PGA members to work at off-course facilities. Previously, to be a Class A PGA member meant having to work at a golf course, at a practice range or learning center, or in a few other very narrowly defined areas. Now a PGA-educated golf professional can work as a clubfitter at a sporting goods store, or as a club designer at an equipment company.

This alone is a great benefit to golfers across the country. The PGA has also undertaken other great programs, like Play Golf America, that are good for business and for golfers. A major force behind the Play Golf America program and a good number of the other PGA programs of the last 15 years is Joe Sterenka, who was named last week as Awtrey’s replacement as CEO of the PGA. Sterenka has helped nurture the communications, marketing, and broadcasting branches of the PGA since 1988. He’ll take the helm of the PGA at the organization’s 89th annual meeting, which starts November 1 in Scottsdale, AZ.

“I really see the PGA of America as having a lot of unique resources that many other entities in golf do not have, and we need to do even more than we’ve done to date, and we’ve done an awful lot, in collaborating with the USGAs and the PGA Tours, and I think the LPGA is going to be in prime position to collaborate with, with what’s going to happen in women’s professional golf,” Sterenka said last week at a press gathering in New York. “That leadership takes many forms of collaboration with allieds and growing diversity in the game and looking at some environmental management and looking at a more global marketplace than we ever have before.”

In layman’s terms, what Sterenka is saying is that the PGA stands apart from the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, USGA, and R&A. The Tours have a focus on marketing their star players and selling a lot of corporate sponsorships and windbreakers at airport gift shops. The USGA and R&A are are concerned with limiting how big the next driver you buy is, and how far your golf ball flies, and about collecting handicap fees.

But who’s concerned about you, the guy or gal who goes out and actually plays golf? Well, I’d have to say the PGA is there for you. They educate and certify the people who run the golf courses, teach the lessons, conduct tournaments, handle your custom club-fitting sessions, and run programs for beginners and juniors. They’re the ones who are actually in touch with everyday golfers, well, every day.

So while every casual golf fan may know that Tim Finchem is commissioner of the PGA Tour, real golfers should be glad to know that Joe Sterenka is the new CEO of the PGA of America. Thanks to the programs his organization has, the game of golf is in good hands.

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