There's a lot of talk in the golf world about what can be done to make the game more attractive to prospective youth players. I've partaken in many debates, and to be honest, I'm tired of talking. I want to do something.
For a while now I have been trying to think of a way I can leverage this site to do some good for junior golf. I'm happy to report to all of you that I've found that solution.
I'm excited to announce that Practical Golf will be partnering with Youth on Course. I will be offering them support through donations as well as using this site as a tool to help spread awareness about their organization.
You'll be seeing more of them on the site, but I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce all of you to them, and why they are such a unique organization that is doing tons of great things for junior golfers and the golf industry as a whole.
Who Are Youth on Course?
In case you haven't heard of Youth On Course, they are one of the great success stories in the golf world. Their core mission is to "provide youth with access to life-changing opportunities through golf."
The idea for their current model started about 15 years ago. The Northern California Golf Association faced the problem of dwindling participation from junior golfers. One of their board members, Michael Hexner, had an idea for how to fix it. Michael believed that by subsidizing rounds through private funds, kids would be able to play golf at an affordable rate and at the same time help golf courses fill their unused tee times.
The idea was to increase junior participation, and also use it as a marketing tool for local golf courses (kids tend to purchase other things and bring parents with them). What started as a small project in the Bay Area with one large donor has grown dramatically since then.
Youth On Course's numbers are staggering. Here are a few remarkable achievements they have accomplished over the last 10+ years:
- 48,000 members (25% female, 52% between the ages of 14-18)
- 29 States/Regions operating their subsidized rounds program
- 1,000 participating courses
- 750,000+ rounds subsidized since 2007 (145,000 in 2018)
- Nearly 5 million dollars reimbursed to local golf courses
- 221 scholarship recipients (94% retention rate) and a total of 1.4 million in college scholarships rewarded
Solving Two Problems At Once
Sufficed to say, the model has worked better than anyone could have imagined. Kids can now pay $5 to play courses like Chambers Bay, Cog Hill, The Links at Spanish Bay, and even the famed Pinehurst resort.
On top of that, golf courses have added revenue. YOC pays them the difference of what they would make for a typical junior round. An added benefit is that many children bring parents with them who pay a full rate, and courses are exposing themselves to new golfers. This helps solve two major issues that face the golf industry - junior participation and unused tee times.
Youth On Course is growing rapidly, and adding more and more partnerships with local golf organizations and courses. On top of that they've developed several other programs:
- Caddie Program: in 2018 they trained 250 youth caddies to loop at 20 private clubs in Northern California. YOC pays the $25 base fee, and the golfer is charged $25. Additionally, $50 is placed in each caddie's scholarship fund for those who are under a maximum income threshold. More than 1,000 rounds were completed in 2018, and new programs are opening up this year in states like Kentucky.
- Internships: High School students are selected to work at internship sites (golf courses and clubs) for the summer and YOC pays the wages. Students get experience working in the golf industry, earn money, and learn the valuable lesson of work.
- Scholarships: YOC members can apply for roughly 17-20 scholarships. More than $250,000 is awarded in four-year scholarships each year. They are merit and need-based.
Youth On Course is very transparent with their finances, which you can view here. According to their 2018 Financial Report, they have close to seven million dollars in assets to work with. Close to 90% of the financial support comes from charitable giving from businesses and individuals.
This Isn't Just Talk, It's Changing Lives
There are tons of success stories from Youth On Course's members. Speaking with their Executive Director, Adam Heieck, I got to learn a little bit more about these stories and the organization's plans for the future.
The program has impacted thousands of kids. Self esteems have been lifted by performing well at a first job. Teenagers who never thought about college as a possibility are now seeing a different trajectory for their life that they didn't think was possible before. Additionally, many kids are being introduced to golf who might not ever have played the game.
Adam Heieck referenced one letter, in particular, he received that resonated with him. A mother wrote him explaining how Youth On Course had helped repair a damaged family dynamic. Her daughter and husband had always struggled to get along and find common ground. The father always liked golf, and because of the affordable rate provided by YOC, his daughter was able to join him on the course. Golf became a common ground for the two of them, and it became a tool to connect, helping to repair their relationship.
I asked Adam about what the future holds for Youth On Course. The answer, of course, was more of the same...and then some. They want to continue to add youth members, local golf associations, and partner courses in the United States and beyond (they recently expanded into Canada).
The caddie program is still in its infancy, and they are hoping to replicate that model in golf clubs around the country. Adam also mentioned they want to leverage technology to make the program more effective. It's a significant endeavor to have partner courses log rounds in a national database, manage tee times, and provide more benefits to their youth members. They believe working with more technology providers will help make this process easier, and improve the program operate more efficiently as they continue to grow so fast.
Why Is Practical Golf Supporting Youth On Course?
My passion for the game has been with me since I was a little boy. Golf is a part of me, and it's taught me some of the most essential life lessons and brings a lot of joy (and yes, the occasional frustration). I want to help spread the game as far and wide as possible, so other kids can have the same experience I have.
There's a lot of talk about "growing the game" and to be honest, I'm not a fan of that term. I believe it's misused quite a bit to make organizations look good, but there isn't much action behind it.
The reason I want to support YOC is that I believe their model is the first one I have seen that truly invests in the future of golf. Like any investment, you don't know how it's going to turn out. But I believe any amount of money given to their organization is being used to help protect the game's future and make a meaningful impact on youth. Getting kids on the course, providing employment opportunities, scholarships, and assisting local golf courses improve their business makes sense to me. On top of that, their rapid growth, transparency, and measurable success make me want to add fuel to their fire as much as I can.
So what am I going to do? First off, I am going to start donating proceeds from my business to them throughout the year. Every time someone reads an article on Practical Golf, buys my book, or even a t-shirt, you will be indirectly donating to Youth On Course.
Close to two million golfers will visit this site in 2019, and that number thankfully continues to grow. I also want to entice all of those golfers to donate directly to YOC. I'll be promoting them on the site, my newsletter, and social media. Even if you give an amount as small as $5, you'll know that somewhere a kid played a round of golf because of you. Maybe they will catch the golf bug as you did, and it will be a positive force in their life. Also, their participation will help the golf industry continue to move forward.
I'm excited to get started with this endeavor. I hope you'll consider donating directly to Youth on Course on their website.