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With an MBA degree in golf, the links are your office

St. Eugene Golf Resort in Cranbrook, B.C., is part of Canada’s $14.3-billion golf industry.

While many MBA graduates across Canada enjoy playing golf at corporate outings, graduates of a new MBA program at Wilfrid Laurier University will be making golf their career, not just their hobby.

In August, the Waterloo, Ont., university is launching a specialization in golf and resort management in partnership with the Golf Management Institute of Canada. The program offers students an opportunity to develop and apply management skills within the context of the global golf industry. In Canada alone, the industry accounts for about $14.3-billion of Canada's gross domestic product, according to a recent study completed by the National Allied Golf Association.

Grant Fraser, a Laurier alumnus and founder of GMIC, says he approached the university in 2004 with the idea for the program at the undergraduate level.

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"I've been working on this for almost 10 years," Mr. Fraser explains. "There are no golf management programs offered by a university in Canada – none that offer a degree in golf."

The GMIC has an existing partnership with Laurier for its own program, but the GMIC does not offer a formal degree. There are colleges across Canada, such as Georgian or Niagara in Ontario, that also offer professional golf management diplomas.

"Every year I go to the PGA Merchandise Show [in Orlando] and I see all these schools [exhibiting their programs] and I think: Why doesn't a Canadian university offer a degree program in golf?"

Mr. Fraser says the United States has 20 golf management programs offered at universities, including such giants as Penn State.

He finally received some positive feedback from Hugh Munro, the MBA director at Laurier, who thought the program might be a better fit at the MBA level.

The program was supposed to launch last January, but both Dr. Munro and Mr. Fraser realized they needed to tie up some loose ends before it was ready.

Prominent members of the golf industry – including Joe Murphy, the chief executive officer of St. George's Golf and Country Club in Toronto; Scott Simmons, the CEO of Golf Canada; and John Stacey, the president of equipment maker Mizuno Canada – are on a board of advisers for the program.

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According to Dr. Munro, golf industry representatives have expressed a need for this kind of program because of the "complex challenges" the industry is facing, such as declining participation, stagnating equipment sales and an overall battle against the economic downturn. The type of talent required to deal with those challenges is unique.

"Our goal is to develop managerial talent to enhance the performance of those firms operating in this challenging global industry, and to provide exciting career opportunities for our graduates," he explains.

Just because the program is focused on golf management – and not a typical MBA target such as finance or marketing – doesn't mean it's any easier to get accepted into.

"It's still an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University. You still have to write the GMAT [entrance exam]. You still have to qualify," Mr. Fraser says.

Prospective students apply to the regular, full-time MBA program, and then opt-in to this specialization in the second term, after the core MBA component is completed, explains Dr. Munro. Students could also get a co-op placement, meaning they could get a four- or eight-month placement in the industry during their program. This will be a unique placement, compared to students in the college programs.

"We're not saying they [graduates] are going to come out of university and be the president of Nike Canada, but they're also not going to be working in the back shop of a club as their first co-op either. We're talking about a completely different segment of the market," Mr. Fraser says.

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Before a student graduates, he or she will take a cluster of five courses that will capture a lot of the content the GMIC already delivers; however, Mr. Fraser says they are going to separate the GMIC courses into modules that are appropriate for MBA students.

The first intake of students for the program starts in August, and they will begin the golf specialization in the winter term of 2015, once the core MBA courses have been completed.

As far as the future of the program, Dr. Munro says he and Mr. Fraser are expecting approximately 25 students in the first year, and will be looking at expanding to offer a part-time MBA program, as well – for people who already have experience in the golf industry.

Mr. Fraser says the long-term objective is to help Canadians tap into the expanding international golf market. "We're trying to create a specialized program to train the future decision-makers and leaders in golf."

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