Too often the barrier between many underprivileged kids and the golf course is the green fee. That’s a problem when growing the game is a priority.
For 10 years now, Youth on Course (YOC) has been rectifying that situation, and in the process bringing thousands of players to the game that might never have had the chance to tee it up. YOC also hopes to expand the horizons of those in the program, ages 14 to 18, beyond golf.
Based in Northern California, YOC subsidizes green fees so that kids never pay more than $5 for a round of golf. We’re not talking dog tracks here, either. Poppy Hills Golf Course and the Links at Spanish Bay are among the participating layouts. There are 302 courses in the program, stretching from Northern California where YOC began to Kansas and Illinois where YOC recently expanded. YOC is now in 11 states and will soon have courses to play on the East Coast.
According to YOC Executive Director Adam Heieck, the organization works with facilities and asks them to drop their junior rates for YOC participants. In return, the courses get increased play from a golfer that might not otherwise visit the layout.
For instance, a layout that normally charges a junior rate of $15 would lower it to $13, YOC would furnish $8 of every junior round their members play, and the golfers would come up with $5. At many locations YOC members can only golf on weekdays after 4 p.m.
The YOC was founded in 2006 after a Northern California Golf Association (NGCA) member wanted to honor his deceased father, an avid golfer. An organization called Tom’s Kids was formed with the NCGA as a major supporter. The First Tee in California gave a substantial donation to help the program get off the ground. The NCGA continues its support, providing office space for YOC staff.
Funding is provided by the NCGA, individual and corporate donations, and grants from other entities, including the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
In 2015, there were 13,272 YOC participants (about 10,000 in Northern California). That number is projected increase to 17,000 this year. Last year, 61,744 subsidized rounds were played in Northern California alone. The hope is that nationally the number will reach 77,000 this year.
How’s that for growing the game one kid at a time?
But wait, there’s more.
YOC also has a caddy program. YOC members are paid a minimum of $50 per bag for a loop, $25 of it coming from the YOC with the remaining $25 and more, if warranted, provided by the golfer.
And, for every round a kid caddies, $50 is put into a college fund by YOC. In June, $250,000 in scholarships will be awarded.
Heieck sees the caddying as a vital opportunity for the kids to meet and interact with adults, many who they would never encounter in their non-golf lives.
“That’s four or five hours of mentoring and positive influence on kids,” he says.
In Northern California, Heieck says there are not as many facilities with caddies as there once was. “We need to reverse that trend. We missed a whole generation,” he says. “It provides a good entrance to the game.”
The YOC also coordinates internships for its members to give them a chance to experience the golf business from agronomy to the pro shop to food and beverage.
Now, according to Heieck, the YOC is attempting to track their former members to see if they stay in the game.
“Can we convert the kids who come out of the (Northern California) program into NCGA members and keep them for life?” Heieck asks. It is estimated that 20 percent of YOCers join the NCGA. An NCGA Junior Tour is aimed at keeping kids in the game by helping them improve their skills and enjoy the game.
The YOC is also looking to track former participants that continue in golf but are not NCGA members.
No matter what the survey reveals, YOC is already a success story.