Pilgrim’s progress – From Yorkshire to Houston!

Pilgrim’s progress – From Yorkshire to Houston!


PGA Advanced Professional Stewart Pilgrim charts his journey from YTS trainee assistant at Teeside Golf Club in Yorkshire to his current role as Head PGA Professional at The Clubs of Kingwood in Houston, Texas, where he oversees a staff of 60 and four 18-hole courses.

How I got into golf and my early career….

I grew up in Stockton-on Tees in the Northeast of England and started to play competitive golf at the age of 10 after my father got me into the game. I joined Dinsdale Spa Golf Club with my older brother Michael Pilgrim – who is also a PGA Member.  

I finished secondary school in 1998 and started working at Middlesbrough Municipal Golf Course as an assistant under the guidance of PGA Member Alan Hope. I started on a Youth Training Scheme to achieve an NVQ qualification in retail. Back then, I remember taking three buses and walking half-a-mile to get to work each day, which took an hour and 20 minutes each way. Luckily, I passed my driving test just before my 18th birthday, and I was able to drive to work after that!

Alan took me on full-time when I turned 18, and I started the PGA Foundation degree shortly after that. I turned professional in 2004, aged 21, and graduated to become a fully qualified PGA Member in 2007. Not long after that the head professional’s job was advertised at Teesside Golf Club, which I applied for and was offered the role. I spent the next 16 years at Teesside and built a successful and reputable coaching, custom fitting, and retail business. I coached all ages and all levels of ability, and I was asked to be one of the Teesside Union Boys’ squad coaches – the other was my brother – by team manager Lee Norman.

Among my proudest moments in my career was in 2019, when Tom Flowers, Secretary of the NE/NW PGA, asked me to be vice-captain of the county PGA. It was a huge honour to be selected by my peers and to be asked by Tom, and I’m extremely proud to have captained such a strong PGA County association from 2020-2022.     

During 2019, I also decided to further my career and train in golf management. I enrolled into the Director of Golf qualification through The PGA and during my studies I was mentored by PGA Master Professional John Mulgrew. The course confirmed that golf management was a path I was very interested in following and it was 2021, when I completed the course, that I started to look to see where my new-found knowledge and experience could take me next.

What first attracted you to working abroad?

Even when I first started my PGA training, my aim was to teach somewhere where golf can be played all year round. When I was growing up, we were lucky enough to go on a couple of family holidays to America, and I have played a lot of golf over there, particularly in Florida, so the United States was always high up on list as a career destination, and where there seemed almost unlimited potential to take your career further.

How did you hear about the role at Kingwood and what was the interview process?

After long discussions with my wife, we decided that it was the right time for me to really explore where my PGA experience and training could take me. Having some friends in Houston, and some familiarity with the area, I chose to focus my search in this part of the US for potential jobs. I set up an account through the PGA of America website which allowed me access to the Jobs Board, and it was there where I saw the advert for the role of first assistant professional at Clubs of Kingwood. I reached out via email to the club’s Director of Golf, Dick Smith Jr, who set up Zoom call meetings for me to be interviewed. I had a second interview – still on Zoom – with the General Manager, Patrick Petitt, who offered me the position in June last year. I’ve recently been promoted to Head Professional.

What is the remit of your role and what does a typical working day involve?

I’m involved in multiple sides of the business due to my experience, assisting the Director of Golf with golf events, financial forecasts, and payroll budgets. I’m responsible for recruiting/training and the customer service of all the golf operation employees, which includes the starters and marshals, outside services, golf shop staff and assistants.

The Clubs of Kingwood is a five-golf course facility – four courses at one site and a few miles down the road is our premier venue, Deerwood. I’m based at the Kingwood site. I also still deliver coaching sessions and custom fit members in our first-class fitting studio.

What areas of the club’s operations are you looking to enhance and what plans does the club have?

While keeping on top of the golf operations team with training and development, I recently took over the custom fitting service we offer. I’m currently making contacts with equipment manufacturer reps, scheduling fitting days and promoting our state-of-the-art fitting centre to members.  

What do you see as being the most challenging parts of your role?

Most golf  clubs in the UK are 18-hole walking facilities, so to come and work at a 72-hole country club with 2,700 members, 290 golf carts, and being responsible for the management of over 60 members of staff, was a big challenge to get right, but one I’ve loved. I’ve developed a good team, and it’s great to be a part of that.  

How easy has it been to settle into life in the States?

Before the move, my wife and I spent a lot of time researching everything we could about the area we were going to be living, the financial challenges we may come across, housing, schooling for our children, things like that. The couple of things that I found most difficult were ones we didn’t know about until we got here. It takes around four weeks to get a social security number and you can’t do anything without it. Also, whatever credit history you’ve built up in the UK doesn’t transfer to the US.  

What has made it easier is the help from friends, colleagues and members at Kingwood, who have all offered advice on anything from the American schooling system to tax information. All of which has been invaluable. All in all, we’ve settled in well into the Texas way of life.    

You were awarded PGA Advanced status in March this year. What was the process like and how rewarding has it been to have achieve it?

The new PGA Excel programme has been a great update to the APAL system – it’s very easy to use and members can do all the work in their own time. I would highly recommend every Member to take the time to reflect on their own career. I think we all get wrapped up in our everyday role and time flies by.

As part of my application for my working O1 visa into the USA, I needed to collect lots of evidence to show what I had achieved in my career to date. It was really nice to have the opportunity to pull this information together, to reflect on where I started and remember experiences and achievements that helped me get to the position I am in today. It’s so easy to forget and I’m sure fellow members will be the same. Being re-ranked with a PGA award will only help with salary or applying for jobs moving forward.  

How important has your PGA training been in developing your career and how do you feel that qualification is respected when applying for jobs overseas?

Without the PGA training I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve been able to achieve and be in the position I’m in today. The subjects you study, such as business, coaching, equipment technology, sports science and rules, are the backbone to a true PGA Professional.

You need to wear many hats in this career and have wide knowledge to provide excellent service in all departments. I’m currently studying to become a member of the PGA of America, and one of the first tests I completed covered the history of professional golf and how the UK PGA was the first professional golf association in the world and created the blueprint to club professional training.       

Without the PGA training I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve been able to achieve and be in the position I’m in today.

- Stewart Pilgrim - PGA Professional

Have you had any mentors during your career or people who you have been able to lean on for advice? If so, who and what have you learned from them?

Alan Hope gave me my start and put me on my path to become a PGA Professional, he got me ready for my own role as a head professional with financial management training, dealing with companies, setting up with buying groups and general business management advice.

My brother Michael has also always been there for me. We always talk when travelling to events about the industry and share advice on how to handle different situations, or different coaching methods. While I studied for Director of Golf qualification, PGA master Professional John Mulgrew’s advice and experience was a massive help. He couldn’t do enough as a mentor and to have someone like John to lean on played a massive part in my career development.

Currently I’m learning a massive amount from PGA of America member Dick Smith Jr on the difference between the UK and USA business models and size of the industry here in the USA. Even with 25 years of experience you never stop learning.

What do you know now that you wish you’d had known when you first started out?

Continuing with personal development is vital. The PGA offers many options to keep up to date, such as PGA I-learn, PGA Excel and other qualifications. Keep a record of any achievements and stay on top of your golf game – members love to see their pro play and compete.

What advice would you pass on to other PGA Members who may be interested in working abroad generally?

Do your research into your legal representation. My immigration lawyer was fantastic, but I’ve also heard horror stories from others, and when the process is extremely time sensitive and stressful it’s important to have the right people in place.


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