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Is Golf The Next Big Youth Sport?

A new program breaks down the barriers for young golfers.

Image by Pexels/Pixabay.

Youth sports might be struggling, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Interest in alternative activities such as golf or track and field has been on the rise for the past eight years.

And there’s good reason. A seemingly simple round of golf can have numerous benefits for players young and old, often lasting a lifetime.

“I started playing when I was much younger,” said Adam Heieck, executive director of the nonprofit organization Youth on Course. “Golf teaches you a lot of life skills, but what I remember most are the friendships and strong relationships I’ve built from it.”

According to fellow youth golf advocacy group The First Tee, the average person can burn about 350 calories and walks about 10,000 steps carrying his or her bag and walking the golf course while playing. Golf also offers a chance for kids and teens to get outdoors, play a game with players of various ages and backgrounds together, and learn etiquette and sportsmanship with self-regulation, since there’s no referee present.

But cost can be a major barrier, and many would-be players find themselves without a way of taking advantage of the benefits golf has to offer — particularly when a $20 round of golf is more than, say, they’ve earned from babysitting or is readily available from their parents.

Youth on Course, founded in Pebble Beach, California, was created to not only alleviate some of the cost barriers, but to help promote the benefits of golf far beyond the course itself. Through subsidized rounds at partner courses, mentorship opportunities, caddie programs, paid internships, and college scholarships, it’s committed to using the game of golf as a platform to elevate youth toward a lifetime of good health, stronger family connections, and improved educational and career opportunities.

In July, Youth on Course awarded 28 high school graduates with college scholarships totaling $315,000, continuing its commitment to providing youth with access to higher education.

Since the inception of the scholarship program in 2008, Youth on Course has awarded 204 students with scholarships totaling more than $1.2 million in financial support. The current Youth on Course scholarship retention rate is 95%, with 53 students already graduated.

Several of the 2017 recipients will attend the country’s most prestigious universities including UCLA, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, and Yale, and 28% of this year’s recipients will be first-generation college students.

In order to be considered for an award, scholarship recipients must be members of Youth on Course, be enrolled as a full-time high school senior with a GPA of 3.0 or above, and have been accepted to a four-year college or university. All recipients undergo an application process that includes one-on-one interviews with Youth on Course staff and board members.

Growth through golf

Heieck said there was a tremendous amount of growth in golf membership in general in Northern California in the 1990s, but a very small number of those joining were young people. The solution? Make each round of golf $5 or less.

The model for Youth on Course is simple. Members join their regional golf association, which typically costs $5 to $30 annually, with opportunities for need-based subsidies. The organization operates in 17 states and regions and has subsidized more than half a million rounds of golf since its inception in 2006, with plans to expand.

That means nearly 30,000 kids and teens ages 6 to 18 have had access to the game who otherwise might have been left on the sidelines.

One of them is Jalyn Robinson, a 15-year-old Youth on Course member who participates in the caddie program in the San Francisco Bay Area. She said what she’s learned most is the importance of making mistakes.

“When playing in a tournament, it’s hard to remember that every shot doesn’t need to be perfect,” she said. “But in fact, you’re expected to make mistakes because these mistakes help you to learn and grow, not just through yourself, but with the sport.”

Heieck feels those values will extend far beyond the sport into business settings later in life. And he’s personally invested; he golfed 100 holes in one day recently as part of a “100-hole hike” fundraiser that raised about $100,000 for the organization.

But he finds the feedback he hears most is not about work but about family.

“What I hear most from parents is that our program has helped strengthen families,” he said. “Golf helps families spend more time together.”

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