Tara McKenna has a life many would envy – making a living playing and teaching a game she loves.
But for McKenna, an assistant professor and director of FGCU’s PGA Professional Golf Management program, it’s not just about teaching the love of playing golf; students come with that, along with the 12-or-less handicap required for acceptance into the program. McKenna helps students learn how to become the future guardians and growers of a $76 billion industry in which they’ll make their biggest impact behind the scenes.
“When they leave here, they’re qualified to become Class A professionals,” McKenna says.
That work is done in Sugden Hall, the building devoted to resort and hospitality education, which includes a golf shop and up-to-date laboratories.
“I think that’s the biggest improvement since I’ve been here, the development of our labs,” says McKenna, who became director of the PGA-accredited program, one of just 19 in the country, in 2010.
The rooms feature state-of-the-art equipment, including nets in which to tee off balls in front of video cameras for swing analysis and sophisticated machinery on which to build and adjust golf clubs. It’s here that students learn to manage the business side of the game, not to mention the art of the first impression.
“We have a strict dress code for our students,” McKenna says. “Clean-cut with appropriate attire. And we stress the social skills … this isn’t a career for the shy or withdrawn.”
McKenna got hooked on golf at a relatively late age.
“I didn’t really take it up until I was 13 or 14,” says McKenna, a native Californian who moved east as a child, first to upstate New York then to Massachusetts. “All the McKennas played golf, and I soon learned if I wanted to spend any time with my father on the weekends, it would have to be on the golf course.”
By the time she was 15, she was beating the other McKennas and was the women’s champion at her country club. She went on to a four-year golf scholarship and psychology degree at James Madison University before graduate school at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where she resurrected a discontinued women’s Division I golf program and coached it while earning a master’s in exercise and sports science with a concentration in sports psychology. She then worked at Massachusetts clubs before relocating to Florida.
McKenna is one of just 900 or so women certified as Class A professionals with the PGA of America and LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Division. She was recently appointed to the PGA’s national Committee for Diversity and Inclusion.
While there is no shortage of women players, female club professionals and qualified teachers still are uncommon. McKenna says women students who follow in her footsteps – there are 15 among the 145 students in FGCU’s program – “hold the golden ticket.”
“There are 15,000 golf clubs offering internships, and 12,000 of them would love to hire a female intern,” McKenna says.
- Learn more about FGCU’s golf management program