PGA Professional Jeff Getman Shares His International Experience

Jeff Getman had always wanted to work abroad, but ended up heading overseas earlier than anticipated when his girlfriend spotted a tempting opportunity in Panama City ...

Jeff Getman from Southern California has spent half his time working many miles southeast in Panama since qualifying as a PGA of America professional in 2012 at 32 years of age. So a bit of a latecomer to the PGA party?

“Not really,” Getman counters. “I didn’t necessarily join the program as soon as I got done in school, but I went through my full six years of apprenticeship. I was never in a hurry, and was never pushed by superiors, so I took the full six years to get my PGA card. But I was in the business from when I was 22 or 23.”

Getman’s U.S. resume makes for impressive reading – assistant at Bakerfield Country Club, a very private and affluent community and golf course in California; first assistant at the 54-hole Pauite Resort in Nevada; then lead assistant at TPC at Summerlin, also in Nevada.

With such good steady upward career progress in the States, why the move to Panama? It seems Getman’s long-term goal was always to work overseas, but things were expedited when Getman’s girlfriend spotted a job opportunity. “Yes, she’s the one who actually found the position,” Getman explains. “And it just brought things forward a little. I had been an assistant for over ten years, and at that point I felt that if I didn’t move up, I’d never move anywhere. So she brought that job to my attention and it looked like - and has proved to be - a great opportunity.”

So did that move spell the end of a beautiful relationship, as some might fear? Far from it! “We just got engaged a couple of weeks ago,” Getman beams, “and she is back and forth a lot. She’s actually here now,” he continues, before settling down to tell me more about his life as a PGA professional working at the Santa Maria Golf and Country Club in Panama City ...

So it was always your intention work overseas, then?
I think so. I went to an international boarding school where 60% of the kids were international. Seeing how they were able to assimilate themselves to the culture always fascinated me. I had grandparents who travelled a lot for their work. They would come back and tell me stories, and as a little kid I was just amazed. Most kids don’t grow up knowing that the world is a big, big place. So I always knew I would be going somewhere, especially being able to speak Spanish. I’m half Mexican, so having that language, particularly in Southern California, always helped.

Did you travel to Panama for the interview?
Yes, that was a good one! My girlfriend told me about the job at the end of September. I applied for it, got a call the next day, and was flown out three days later! I was here in Panama for 24 hours, then got a call two days later back home saying, ‘We would like you here in a month!’

Were you nervous or really up for it?
I was up for it, but anyone would have nerves. I had lived my whole life in the US. Yes, I had travelled, but that’s different. So of course I had nerves. We were in a movie theatre about a week before the move and I almost had to leave because I was kind of freaking out just a little. But if I hadn’t had nerves, I think I would have been worse off.

What were the key qualities you had that they were looking for?
[Laughs] Mainly that I spoke Spanish! No, my job history was very good. Yes I had moved a few times all to assistant’s positions, but if you look closer, it was always to an assistant’s position upwards. It was a private equity club, then a 54-hole Pete Dye resort course in Las Vegas, then a PGA Tour property. I have always been moving upwards, so my now boss knew I was ready for the next challenge.

What have been the biggest challenges in Panama?
Driving to work is an experience - I’ve never been anywhere where the driving is so awful! You just have to be so engaged. I’m exhausted after my 12-minute drive to work! But the biggest thing is coming to understand that mañana doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow! When you are in the US, and you ask somebody to do something, two hours later it’s done. Here, you ask for something and 15 minutes later you have to check it’s being done… and 15 minutes later you have to check it’s still being done. That’s just the way things are, and you come to learn that. One person is not going to change that culture - this is the way it has been done, the way it is done, and the way it’s going to continue to be done. So the challenge is patience for everything.

What about the benefits of working overseas?
Learning patience - not that I didn’t have it before - and figuring out how to do things differently. Here it’s… hey, I need your help with this… and speaking to people differently while trying to accomplish the same thing. That has been huge. Knowing that I can take that whenever I move back to the US - or if Troon wants me to move - and use it somewhere else is a great tool.

What is the most challenging role you have faced in Panama?
Trying to get everybody to work together. It’s a great country, I’ve enjoyed the whole experience, and the people are all very friendly. But when it comes to work, it’s a little different. In the US, you have a meeting with people you work with, figure out who is going to do whatever needs doing, and it’s fine - it gets done. It’s not like that here. You have to delegate everything to everyone, every time! You constantly have to tell them what they are doing, and who is going to do it. But that’s just how it is.

How long did it take to acclimatise so you felt confident and comfortable?
I’m still acclimatising! I’ve been here over a year and a half, and the first couple of months are a real honeymoon phase - you can’t believe how excited you are. Then after that second month you begin to realise, this is different! I probably felt comfortable once I was able to get a year under my belt, go through the motions with all the different tournaments I have to run, get to know the members a little better, and have them get to know me as well.

How do you think the move has helped you professionally?
I work for the golf course in Santa Maria, but I’m also a member of Troon Golf, and that has obviously helped, as they know I am willing to do this. Professionally it’s great for me in that if there is something that opens up anywhere in the world, I am now a good candidate.

How have you developed personally?
At every course I’ve worked at, I have kept in contact with a member or some of my co-workers, and the culture here for that is a little more engaging. They are warmer here than in the US… here they really want to know how you are and want you to be with them. I’ve been invited to openings and dinners, and it’s fantastic! They understand that I am not from here and are so warm and welcoming - that just makes you feel better. It makes you understand you are in a different culture, and you take that in and learn from them.

Have you developed more professionally and personally than if you had stayed in the States?
Yes! In the States, maybe you have a big tournament and you are busy with that, but unless you are really, really focussed on doing something, you just go through the motions - you don’t realise you are just doing the same things over and over again. But here, you can’t do the same things over and over, because it’s always different, it always changes. If I had stayed in the States, would I have developed professionally? Of course - but probably not as much. Professionally, I think I have developed immensely through being here. And personally, as I say, I went to an international school so I understood what some of the benefits might be - but it’s been incredible.

Do you think you would now be confident working anywhere in the world?
Almost! Obviously there are places where you’d rather not, but it’s been such a great experience I can’t imagine that moving somewhere else and living in a different culture would ever be a deterrent.

What is the best advice you could offer someone pondering a move overseas?
If they are pondering it, that means they are interested, and if they are interested… do it! A lot of people don’t have the courage to do it - perhaps they are scared. When I moved here, people said, ‘that is so great, but I could never do it,’ and I don’t understand why. If you are interested in doing it, just do it! No matter where you go, you are going to learn so much - not necessarily professionally, but more importantly, personally.

Do you have to be a particular type to work overseas?
There are openings for all kinds of personalities. I am lucky in that Troon Golf understand where I would do well, and maybe where I would not work so well. But no matter your personality, you are going to find somewhere that is going to fit. There is going to be someone you really like, and people who really like you. It’s great - this business is open for everybody.