Paving the Way

Ever-growing Youth on Course initiative, which will help make golf more affordable for participating junior players, is coming to Colorado

by Gary Baines - 1/4/2018

The CGA has drawn rave reviews for one youth-oriented golf program that uses subsidies to good effect, and now it's hoping another will be similarly successful.

Since 2012, the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy has promoted the use of caddies by paying their base fees through a grant, with participating golfers having the option of adding a tip. The Academy started at CGA-owned CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora, and has since spread to Meridian Golf Club and to Grand Junction, and similar programs in Oceanside, Calif., and southeast Wisconsin have used the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy blueprint.

Now, in an agreement finalized late in 2017, the CGA -- in partnership with the Colorado PGA -- this year is becoming the latest Allied Golf Association to roll out the Youth on Course initiative. Youth on Course makes golf more accessible to juniors by capping their cost for a round at $5 at participating facilities, possibly with some date/time restrictions. Then a subsidy of a similar amount per round is paid to the participating course.

In Colorado, Youth on Course will be overseen by the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado, which was founded by the CGA and the Colorado PGA. Leadership of the CGA, CPGA and the JGAC gave their blessing to the addition of Youth on Course late last year.

YOC, a non-profit started in 2006 as a Northern California Golf Association initiative, has been steadily taking root across the country. Colorado will be the 20th state in which the program has been formally sanctioned.

"If we're half as successful as some of the other markets, it's going to be a real game-changer for player development," CGA executive director Ed Mate said recently. "I'm really excited about it."

Adam Heieck, executive director of Youth on Course, said the program had more than 30,000 members nationwide and had subsidized 115,000 rounds as of the end of 2017.

"We're pushing hard for this to be in all 50 states by 2021 and actively pursuing other state and regional golf association partners," Heieck said via email this week. "We're also getting a lot of interest from PGA pros nationwide. Adding Colorado is huge given the strength of the CGA and Denver as a key major market. We're very excited to work with Ed and his team.

"We see Youth on Course as building a foundation for future golfers. Members are able to play more frequently with rates at $5 or less and they are therefore getting better. Removing cost as a barrier to enter the game can only help grow the base long-term."

With the goal of developing a strong foundation of players who will sustain the game for decades into the future, some Colorado public courses in recent years have started offering free or deeply discounted golf for juniors, with some of those requiring a paying adult as part of the deal.

One of the most successful "kids play free" programs was initiated in 2011 by South Suburban Parks & Recreation. At most of the SSPR courses (Lone Tree, Littleton and Family Sports), kids can play free golf after 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays -- and after 6 p.m. at the South Suburban regulation course -- during the height of the Colorado golf season.

"The benefit is really building the future, building some future business, growing the game, getting some kids involved," Bill Ramsey, the longtime director of golf for SSPR, said during the Colorado Public Golf Operators Meeting in November. "It's brought a lot of new people to our facilities, I think. The kids will come, the families will come in a lot of cases, so they're learning about us. Some parents might sit in the bar for an hour or two while the kid is playing, so they might buy a drink or an appetizer or something like that. We probably generate some side revenue there.

"I think it's been great."

But part of the idea behind adding Youth on Course in Colorado is to make things uniform at participating facilities.

"This is really a great opportunity to simplify and make it consistent so that it's a lot easier to navigate for the end user," Mate said. Plus, "It's taking advantage of the brand, the best practices and experiences of other states that have used (Youth on Course), and some initial funding. And it's a chance to be a part of a national initiative."

To participate in the Youth on Course program in Colorado, a youngster will have to be a Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado member, with that cost being $25 for Introductory membership, $100 for Series (intermediate-level) membership, and $150 for Tour (advanced-level) membership. Registration for JGAC membership in 2018 begins on Jan. 15. The three-tier membership is new this year for the Alliance.

Mate said the plan is for the JGAC to reach agreements in the very near future with at least a dozen Colorado public courses -- six in geographically-appropriate spots in the Denver metro area and six others spread out around the remainder of the state -- that will serve as pilot sites for the program. Those courses will commit to offering JGAC members rounds at a price of probably no more than $10 apiece, with the user paying $5 and the other $5 coming from the national Youth on Course foundation for the first 18 months, then from Colorado-based funding, possibly the Colorado Golf Foundation. Participating courses can set restrictions as to when the juniors (age 6-18) can play at the set rate.

"Youth on Course is a really nice added benefit across the board (for JGAC members)," Mate said. "We'd love to (eventually) have 50 courses participate in Youth on Course -- and I think we'll get there. But we want to walk before we run.

"We want to just kind of use this as a learning year, see what kind of feedback we get. The other great thing for us is we have an immediate ability to offer this to people who are already in the fold -- and that's everybody who's already a Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado member will be a Youth on Course member.

"We already have a great system. We have the infrastructure laid. We'll just have to be careful that the supply and demand match up."

While the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy was born largely organically in Colorado, Youth on Course has been proven elsewhere. And Mate is fine with both situations.

"Youth on Course is already a great program," he said. "Why try to create our own when there's already a wonderful model so let's use it -- just like Drive Chip & Putt and like PGA Junior League. We didn't invent those wheels but let's put them to use for us. If these are the major initiatives (in the golf industry nationwide), wouldn't you like to have access to those programs and be part of them instead of saying we're doing our own thing over here?

"The other thing I like about Youth on Course -- and this is my bias -- is it was born out of a state and regional golf association. It's SRGA DNA, which I really value because I think we do great work. Some of the best, most innovative ideas have come out of the state and regional golf association community (of which the CGA is a part). This is a chance to be part of that. And it's a brand that's building momentum."

The addition of Colorado gives Youth on Course a solid block of participating states in the western U.S., (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico), plus many in the Midwest and a few in the Southeast. YOC members in Colorado will be able to play for $5 or less at participating courses outside the state as well.

"To me, of all the initiatives that we as an industry can fund and support, this is right at the top of the list," Mate said. "What is more important than reducing barriers of entry to young people getting into the game?

"I'd be surprised if there's not an announcement sometime in 2018 that Youth on Course has been dubbed by the World Golf Foundation as an industry program." If that were to happen, it would give Youth on Course similar status as The First Tee, PGA Junior League, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, Drive Chip & Putt, Golf 20/20 and Get Golf Ready.

There are other aspects of Youth on Course -- college scholarships, caddie programs and paid internships -- but at least for now in Colorado YOC will be limited to subsidized golf for juniors. As noted earlier, the CGA already has a highly successful caddie program in the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy.

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