Golf Organization Reaches Out to Youth, Partly to Stem Sport’s Decline

4 young people carrying golf bags, seen from back, walk through grass.

Youth on Course

Youth on Course, started in 2006, partners with golf associations across the country.

Young people who want to play golf can benefit from a nonprofit that will subsidize their play.

It’s Youth on Course, a Pebble Beach, Calif.-based organization that lets kids play on 1,000 courses across the country for only $5 apiece.

“We want to eliminate cost barriers,” said Adam Heieck, chief executive officer of Youth on Course.

Membership in the organization is available to kids ages 6 to 18, who can join online and print out a membership card. The membership cost ranges from $5 to $30, based on area of the country. Kids can then call up a list of participating golf courses and find where to play.

Golf is an expensive game associated with affluent businessmen — and it’s been losing popularity in the past two decades.

The number of players dropped from 30 million a dozen years ago to 21 million in 2016, according to one study. The number of courses in the United States — 15,372 — is declining. Baby boomers are the largest golf-playing group, but the millennial generation isn’t drawn to the game.

It’s also a very white game. Despite the impact of Tiger Woods, only 1 out of 20 golfers is African-American, according to the National Golf Foundation. In the past, black caddies were the norm on the PGA Tour, but they have all but disappeared.

So how do you lure new players to the sport when the cost is high and the cachet isn’t there?

The First Tee was organized in 1997 by several major golfing organizations, including the United States Golf Association (USGA), the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the Professional Golfers Association (PGA). It defines itself as a youth development organization that teaches kids nine core values. Its goal has been to bring affordable junior golf programs to schools and after-school programs across the country.

Other efforts include Golf. My Future. My Game. a Washington, D.C.-based foundation organized specifically to draw African-American kids.

Enter Youth on Course.

“It started in Northern California in 2006 with 50 to 100 kids as a pilot program,” Heieck said. Organized by the Northern California Golf Association, the nonprofit expanded beyond California in 2014 and now has 47,000 members, he said.

Today, Youth on Course partners with golf association across the country. Among them is the Georgia State Golf Association.

“It’s been great for us,” said Casey Adams, junior golf manager of the Georgia association. Getting young people involved is a priority of the association, she said. The larger the junior golf program, the more members you’ll have on golf courses in the future, she said.

Young people tend to come to the game through a parent, she said.

“Most golfers will say: ‘My dad introduced me to the game,’” she said.

Youth on Course is an effort to cast a wider net. In addition to subsidizing young people’s play, it also offers $250,000 to $300,000 in golf scholarships to high school seniors each year. And in Northern California, it offers internships and a caddie program to youth ages 14-18.



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