Karyn Dallas remains one of Scotland’s most valued and respected PGA Professionals. The 57-year-old has enjoyed a rich and fulfilling career, but it could’ve all been very different.
After failing to gain a strong foothold on the Ladies European Tour, Dallas was set to turn her back on golf and take up a post as a medical secretary instead.
Timing counts for a lot in this game, however, and the opportunity to join Gleneagles in the early 1990s and embark on The PGA training programme galvanised her sporting life. Here in 2023, Dallas remains a staunch advocate of The PGA qualification and the prestige and wide-ranging benefits that it brings.
How did your PGA journey begin?
I hadn’t thought about being a club professional. I wanted to be a touring pro but it didn’t go to plan. I was on the Ladies European Tour for a couple of years from 1989 but, mentally, I found it tough. It was getting to me. I didn’t have the know how I have now, but we all say that in hindsight. I thought you always had to be perfect to be a success on the tour. Now I know you don’t. You just had to be practical, persistent and positive. I probably didn’t have those attributes at the time. I was very hard on myself and as a result I didn’t enjoy being on tour. I came off for my own wellbeing to be honest.
I thought I was done with golf. I was already a qualified medical secretary and I was going to get a job in a hospital until I got a letter from the Gleneagles Hotel. It arrived out of the blue. They were looking for a female professional to join their team and they asked me for an interview. And that was it. Within six months I began my PGA training and loved every minute of it. I had played to a high standard but some of the things I was taught on the course were a real eye-opener. I loved the club repair side of things, for instance. I’m showing my age but doing stuff like re-whipping wooden-headed clubs was something I really enjoyed.
I always remember in my first year, there was a PGA dinner but it was only for male golfers. I was told if I won assistant of the year or something I would get an invitation. It was more tongue in cheek than anything but I took that quite literally. I became the first woman to win the Stewart Thom Award for the top assistant in Scotland … and I got my invitation to the dinner.
The PGA qualification will have changed a bit since you enrolled on it?
It has evolved and expanded with the times and the different demands and it’s now a very high-level University degree. I’m not saying the standard wasn’t high in my day but it’s now a wonderfully diverse qualification. And the degree really puts the trainees through their paces.
I do a lot of mentoring with trainees on the course. I’ve had some pupils who had already completed a Sports Science degree before they started The PGA qualification. When they do the Sports Science part of The PGA degree they have told me they found it even more in-depth than the one they had done as an actual degree. That shows how comprehensive it is. It gives them a really solid base and a broad knowledge so that they can go down a variety of paths. They are not just limited to coaching or retail. That qualification makes people more interested in speaking to you or potentially offering a position that, without that PGA logo to your name, you perhaps wouldn’t get. It was certainly hugely beneficial to my career.
I now get asked by youngsters that I teach about The PGA programme and I always encourage them to look into it while providing links and information for them. If you want a career in golf, then this is the ideal route. It equips you with all sorts of skills and opens the door to a great number of opportunities.
Becoming only the second female club professional in Scotland must have been a significant moment?
It was very male dominated in my day. But to be honest I didn’t think about that too much. I would just get my sleeves rolled up and get on with it. The majority of the guys I dealt with were very supportive. Yes, you got the odd bad experience but you would just bin that, get on with the job and learn. You fought for your own cause. I think it made me tougher and it fostered a resilience that drove me on to see how far I could go in a very male-dominated world. There are a lot more females involved now. It’s much more open. There’s still a long way to go but it’s moving in the right direction.
What, in your view, are the skills that make a good PGA pro?
I think being an open book is important. You need an open mind, you have to listen, you must always be willing to learn and you need to be a good communicator. For me, everyone is individual. You can’t teach the same thing to everyone. Everybody is different, they feel things differently, they move their body differently or they absorb information differently. There’s no one-size-fits-all model.
What have been some of your most rewarding moments as a PGA pro?
There have been so many. I’ve done SwingZones at Open Championships which allows you to meet all walks of golfing life. My mentoring role is very satisfying and I’m also a level one PGA tutor which sees me training volunteers who want to put something back into their club. That work at the grassroots gives me great satisfaction when I see that there are plenty of people who want to help others get into the game.
In particular, though, I love to see my juniors coming through. I reflect on getting lessons as a youngster and I still look fondly on the people who taught me. If people in 40 years’ time say ‘it was great fun getting taught by Karyn’ then great. I may be long gone but hopefully I’ll have had a lasting impact and that thought makes me happy. I do this to get people to enjoy golf and to help them get as much out of it as possible. I’m 57 now and I’m still learning. If you can’t learn something every day then you’re not looking hard enough. Or not listening hard enough. Seeing the faces of people light up when they hit a good shot, or finally grasp something you are telling them to do, never loses its magic. That’s when you feel your job is done.
Do you ever think of what life would’ve been like had you not gone down The PGA training route?
Nothing against the medical profession but my working life would not have been anywhere near as fulfilling. The skills of a medical secretary have come in handy, mind you. I have spreadsheets and coaching diaries to sort and being a secretary has helped with my admin. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. In my social media posts, I always end with a hashtag saying, ‘I love my job’. And I do. I’ve enjoyed a wonderful career as a PGA pro…even if I did stumble into it.