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Opinion & Analysis

Youth player development: The lifeblood of the golf industry

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When people hear the phrase “junior golf,” they tend to think of things like group clinics, summer camps, or perhaps even an annual father-son event. These types of things come to mind: the images of kids strung across a driving range, whacking away and free-wheeling at golf balls, with little thought given to aim or technique, is the likely vision one sees. For some, the idea of a glorified babysitting service, with golf clubs, may come to mind…something offered at the club so mom and dad can enjoy a beverage or two.

In my mind, these stereotypical ideas of what “junior golf” is are very sad ways of characterizing programming for our youth. What’s even worse, is the fact that many golf professionals buy into these stereotypes and provide “junior golf” programming in such a manor.

From this point on, for the sake of this discussion, let’s stop using the term “junior golf.” That phrase alone may be so ingrained in the minds of many, that images as what was mentioned above can’t help but come to mind. I think the phrase, “youth player development” sounds much, much better. In the big picture, that is what we, the PGA Golf Professionals, as keepers of the game, should be doing…developing players. In this case, the development of players has a focus on the youth within our communities.

The impact that “youth player development” has on our game overall cannot be understated. It is the gateway to the long-term health of the golf industry. It has been proven that a positive, fun and productive introduction to golf leads to lifelong golfers. For the gatekeepers of the game, the PGA Professionals, that is the mission. We must continue to develop players in order for courses to continue to operate. It’s a very simple fact of economics, you must create a demand for a product or service in order for your business to survive.

So, if a structured, positive and fun introduction of golf to kids is almost proven to create lifelong golfers, why is it sadly still seen as a “nice to do” or “feel good” thing by many? The answer, simply, is that many owners and operators get stuck in the instant…the now…and the quick buck. The idea of the “long play” and creating long-term customers is not something that many want to invest resources in. After all, it’s not, at least in their mind, something that will show the results desired in a timeframe that is conducive to creating revenue in the now. This mode of thinking is counterproductive in many ways and its what’s driving many clubs to have to close the doors for good at their facilities.

Creating youth programming leads to the opportunity to capture an even broader audience. Moms, dads, grandma, grandpa, little sis, or big brother. Even the non-golfing friends of kids that do play the game can now be captured as well…I’ll explain this in a bit. Getting results from opportunities like these is indeed something that can produce revenue in the short term…if you structure things the right way and have “Youth Player Development” at the core. Before I explain, I must define a few things.

What “youth player development” is NOT

  • One focused on creating single-digit, competitive youth golfers (is it happens, that’s great!)
  • One that is seen in a mentality as being a “nice to have” or “Babysitting Service”
  • One created by or solely ran by your new, young professionals (They should be involved, but these initiatives need to be led by senior golf staff)
  • One with a PGA Junior League program that is merely about winning
  • One with programming in place, but has an atmosphere that is not fun, inclusive or positive

What “youth player development” IS

  • One creating life-long golfers…at any level!
  • One that has a staff that truly cares about a positive, inclusive environment
  • One that sees the Head Golf Professional, Director of Golf, and other higher profile Professional’s involved
  • One that has a PGA Junior League program that has a good balance of beginner, intermediate and advanced players
  • One that is Fun, Fun, Fun, Inclusive, Inclusive, Inclusive, Positive, Positive, Positive

With the before mentioned in mind, here is how you create short term revenue, hand-in-hand, with long-term, youth player development programming.

Establish and fully embrace PGA of America, and other Allied Association lead programming. Register as a coach and establish a PGA Junior League team (or two), host a Drive, Chip and Putt local or regional qualifier, and start a Get Golf Ready Program focused on youth. In addition, create programming similar to our Little Linksters™ program which focuses on ages 3-8. All of this becomes your base.

As step one evolves, introduce programming that runs in conjunction with your “youth player development” base programs. You will find that parents, grandparents and siblings will be hanging around the club while these base programs are going on. Establish programming for those “hanging out” that are conducted during the same time frame as your base youth programs. 30-minute couples’ clinics, women’s clinics, specialty clinics such as short game, driver, etc. and market these to the folks that are waiting for their kiddos in your youth programs.

Not everyone plays golf, but everyone eats! Creating special menus or specials for the families of the kids taking part in your base youth player development programming is a no-brainier, but rarely is seen. You have a captured audience right there for the taking. Show your facility off and be proud. Creating an atmosphere that makes these families feel welcome and special pays major dividends.

Create other specials for the families of your “youth player development” programming such as range bucket punch cards, golf shop coupons, or reduced round rates for a parent and child…or better yet, a family rate for two kids and two adults.

The beautiful thing about PGA Junior League is that it is a team-based program, something unique to a game that is, for the most part, a singular sport. This simple fact is something that can bring in non-golf youth athletes that may want to share an activity with a golfing friend. I have seen this first hand, and, in a few cases, I’ve seen kids move toward golf in place of other sports they played.

The real secret sauce that you need to put on top of all the above-mentioned ingredients is this…keep things economical, inclusive, fun and inviting. Creating a positive atmosphere will only make folks want to stay longer and come by more often.

As an industry, we need to think more progressively and seek opportunities for growth in places we may have never looked before. Take a page out of the book of Topgolf. They have recognized that people want to be entertained and have fun. Golf has a great deal of tradition that makes it the special game that it is. However, being stuck in our ways, wearing blinders and not thinking outside the box is detrimental to the health of our game. Keeping the youth at the forefront and creating a community around them at your club could be the game changer needed at your club. For those that do not work in the industry but are consumers of golf, I encourage you to share these thoughts with management at your club…especially if you’ve noticed things getting a little stale and crusty around the edges.

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PGA Professional Brendon Elliott is a multiple award winning Golf Professional based in Central Florida. He is the 2017 PGA of America's National Youth Player Development Award Winner among other coveted awards. He is considered by his peers as an industry expert on topics ranging from Jr. golf player development to operations to industry sustainability. He is the founder of the Little Linksters Golf Academy and the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development, a 501c3 nonprofit also based out of Central Florida. You can learn more about Brendon and Little Linksters at littlelinksters.com

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. N

    Apr 6, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    Yeah. It’s hard to try to be the Little League of Golf.
    Especially with the varied levels of wealth and private country clubs to street level Munis that don’t ever coincide.
    With Little League they get to wear cool team uniforms and get a feeling of teamwork and camaraderie and community.
    In golf, no matter how much you bring them all together, the kid is by him/herself and her parents most likely.
    Tough to broach the divides and individuality.

  2. Bill

    Apr 5, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    You forgot one very important program. The First Tee. The First Tee is unique among all youth golf development programs. As our motto says, its more than a game. Most important in the first tee is the life skills curriculum experience and certifications. Also, many first tee chapters also incorporate pga Jr. League and lpga girls golf. The first tee is also a pga partner. Take your blinders off.

    • David Simmons

      Apr 6, 2019 at 7:30 pm

      Great read! The key is to make it fun and not feel like a chore. 80% of our instructors use video to make it fun and also send content to the parents which they share socially leading to free advertising for academies. FUN FUN FUN and we will keep them coming back!

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Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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Opinion & Analysis

By definition, there will be no 2020 U.S. Open. Here’s why the USGA should reconsider

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In 1942, the USGA decided to cancel the U.S. Open because it was scheduled so soon after U.S. entry into WWII.  They did this out of respect for the nation and those called to war. There was a Championship however called The Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, which was contested at Chicago’s  Ridgemoor Country Club. It was a great distraction from the horror of war and raised money for the great cause.

All the top players of the era (except Sam Snead) played, and the organizers (USGA, Chicago Golf Association, and the PGA of America) did hold qualifying at some 70 sites around the country. So effectively, it was the 1942 U.S. Open—but the USGA never recognized it as such. They labeled it a “wartime effort to raise money” for the cause.  Their objection to it being the official U.S. Open was never clear, although the sub-standard Ridgemoor course (a veritable birdie fest) was certainly part of it.

The USGA co-sponsored the event but did not host it at one of their premier venues, where they typically set the golf course up unusually difficult to test the best players. Anyway, Ben Hogan won the event and many thought this should have counted as his fifth U.S. Open win. The USGA disagreed. That debate may never be settled in golfer’s minds.

Ahead to the 1964 U.S. Open…Ken Venturi, the eventual winner, qualified to play in the tournament. His game at the time was a shell of what it was just a few years earlier, but Kenny caught lighting in a bottle, got through both stages of qualifying, and realized his lifelong dream of winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Ahead to the 1969 U.S. Open…Orville Moody, a former army sergeant had been playing the PGA Tour for two years with moderate success-at best. But the golfing gods shone brightly upon “sarge” through both stages of qualifying, and the tournament, as he too realized the dream of a lifetime in Houston.

Ahead to 2009 U.S. Open…Lucas Glover was the 71st ranked player in the world and had never made the cut in his three previous U.S. Opens. But he did get through the final stage of qualifying and went on to win the title at Bethpage in New York.

Ahead to 2020…The USGA has decided to postpone the event this year to September because of the Covid-19 virus. This was for the fear of the global pandemic. But this year there is a fundamental difference—the USGA has announced there will be no qualifying for the event. It will be an exempt-only event. By doing so, the event loses it status as an “open event,” by definition.

This is more than a slight difference in semantics.

The U.S. Open, our national championship, is the crown jewel of all USGA events for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is just that: open. Granted, the likelihood of a club professional or a highly-ranked amateur winning the event—or even making the cut—is slim, but that misses the point: they have been stripped of their chance to do so, and have thereby lost a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to realize something they have worked for their whole lives. Although I respect the decision from a  health perspective, golf is being played now across the country, (The Match and Driving Relief—apparently safely)

So, what to do? I believe it would be possible to have one-day 36-hole qualifiers (complete with social distancing regulations) all over the country to open the field. Perhaps, the current health crisis limits the opportunity to hold the qualifiers at the normally premier qualifying sites around the country but, as always, everyone is playing the same course and is at least given the chance to play in tournament.

In light of the recent “opening” of the country, I am asking that the USGA reconsider the decision.

 

featured image modified from USGA image

 

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TG2: Reviewing Tour Edge Exotics Pro woods, forged irons, and LA Golf shafts

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Reviewing the new Tour Edge Exotics Pro wood lineup, forged irons, and wedge. Maybe more than one makes it into the bag? Fujikura’s MCI iron shafts are some of the smoothest I have ever hit and LA Golf wood shafts get some time on the course.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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