ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — The students bring golf clubs to class.
They're wearing golf shirts and slacks. In their hands, pitching wedges, and on their backs, bookbags.
It's just another day at the Golf Academy of America.
"Most people who want to come here ask themselves, 'Can I make a living doing what I love doing?' " said Brad Turner, campus director of the Orlando branch. "There are no degree requirements to get into golf, but it's a business, nonetheless. So it needs business people who want to be in golf."
The Golf Academy of America is, believe it or not, a real college. Students take a 15- to 16-hour course load per semester to earn an accredited two-year degree in golf complex, operations and management. The school has a campus, classrooms, professors, grades, homework, even a graduation ceremony.
The program offers a degree in golf for those who want to learn business management, the golf industry, modern teaching techniques, club repair and human relations skills.
Most who enroll end up as an instructor or a course's PGA pro. There are many branches to explore, however, such as managing a golf store, sales for a golf brand, working at a golf resort or for the Golf Channel, even public relations for a tournament.
No matter the job, golf is involved.
"I wasn't aware this even existed and that I could do something with learning golf at a more vocational level," said student Eric Busto, 27, who is going to be a golf pro assistant in New York. "There are a lot of (courses with a pro) who is some yahoo that is a scratch golfer and has just worked his way up to being in charge at the course. I never knew there could be education behind it."
Turner is, essentially, the dean at the Orlando campus, which includes classrooms named after famous courses, six PGA professionals (aka, professors) on staff, a training room with a putting and chipping green, equipment to analyze tee shots and even a student lounge.
It's a golf-specific school, as Turner likes to put it, and has classes such as management of course maintenance, club design and repair, course design, history of golf 1 and 2, short game 1 and 2, tournament golf, even calligraphy (to write leaderboards for tournaments). There also are general education classes, though these include golf as well.
"There are so many different avenues of golf you can turn to," Busto said.
"You can work for Nike or Titleist. I get a kick out it that you're taking an accounting class or (learning) business law and there's a set of golf clubs sitting next to you. You're surrounded by golf, and everything is tied to golf somehow."
Many go to college not only to get an education but to experience a diverse environment. The student body at the academy doesn't necessarily provide that. The average student is a man in his mid 20s — according to Turner, 3 percent are women at his branch — but does include international students. Only 8 percent of the students are four-year university grads, but 75 percent are from out-of-state.
Diversity could be lacking, especially because students live and breathe golf for two years.
"I wanted to work in something I loved, so I said, 'Why not golf?' " said recent grad Ersnt Nitzsche, 37. "We all love golf. That's why they're here. They all go to different areas: course pros, groundskeepers or build and fix clubs. Anything they can do with golf.
"It's really wowed me, but (the professors) also have contacts they've picked up through the years. If there's something specific you want to do, they can find someone they know that gets you on your way."
The academy feels more like a small college, a small enrollment (182 in Orlando) in which the dean knows everyone's name.
Thing is here, Turner probably knows their handicap, too.
"I feel like a dean," he said. "I do counsel some guys, either about their game or their girlfriends — anything. We care about our students, perhaps like a smaller college. We're that thorough. We know our guys and want them to do well in golf."
Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 544-1771.