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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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Brendon is a PGA Golf Professional in Central Florida. He is the passion behind Little Linksters, LLC, the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development (501c3) and the Little Linksters Golf Academy, now at Wekiva Golf Club in Longwood, FL. Born and raised in the small upstate New York town of Norwich, Brendon is the oldest of three and turned 43 in May of 2018. He is married to his wife of almost 19 years, Melisa and they are the parents to a beautiful daughter who was born in March of 2005 and a son who was born in August 2009. He began his golfing life when he was about 12 years old at the Riverbend Golf Club in New Berlin, N.Y. After a few years at Riverbend his father joined the Canasawacta Country Club in their hometown of Norwich, N.Y and Brendon began playing golf as much as he possibly could. He joined the boy’s varsity golf team at Norwich High School his freshman year and played all four years during high school, however, a broken hip and foot injury sidelined him for a bulk of that time. He returned to full strength his Senior year and played anywhere from the 4th to 1st spot on the very strong team. He finished 10th in the Conference Championship, shooting an 80 on a cold and blustery late fall day. When he was 15, Brendon started working in the proshop at the Canasawacta Country Club. It was his first job and it was the start of his life in the golf business. After his high school graduation, Brendon attended the State University of New York @ Delhi and majored in Golf Course Operations. While at Delhi he was a member of the men’s golf team. Upon graduation from SUNY Delhi, he moved to the central Florida area to officially begin his career in the golf business. Brendon has been working in the golf business for twenty-five plus years and is considered by his peers in the industry as one of the true leaders in the junior golf and growth of the game arena. After a successful run of 13 years at the Winter Park Country Club, the last 5 of those years as the GM & Head Professional, Brendon turned his attention toward growing the game of golf for kids of all ages but with a focus on children ages 3 to 10 years old. Brendon founded the Little Linksters Golf Academy at Metrowest Golf Club in August of 2011. The Academy later moved to Wekiva Golf Club in January of 2014. Elliott now serves in an ownership and manager role with the Academy while he works on other projects including his 501c3 nonprofit, The Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development. In January of 2013, Elliott became a PGA Staff Professional at the Golf Academy of America in Apopka, FL. In December 2018, after 44 years in business, the Golf Academy of America closed its doors for good. Elliott is the 2017 PGA National Youth Player Development Award winner. He is also a 2010, 2011 & 2012 US Kids Golf Top 50 Kids Teacher, a 2013 US Kids Golf Master Kids Teacher, a 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 & 2016 Top 50 Growth of the Game Instructor as named by the Golf Range Association of America, a 2017 & 2018 Elite Status Top 50 Growth of the Game Instructor as named by the GRAA, the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 ECC Junior Golf Leader, the 2013, 2014 & 2017 ECC Horton Smith award winner, and the 2011, 2012, 2013 & 2014 NFPGA Junior Golf Leader award winner. He was a finalist for the PGA’s National Junior Leader award in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 before winning the prestigious award in 2017. In January 2014, Little Linksters was named the 2013 ING (International Network of Golf) Player Development Award winner. Elliott has appeared in or been a contributor for numerous golf media articles with publications such as Golf Business Magazine and PGA Magazine as well as PGA.com and PGAMagazine.com. His contributions have included topics ranging from Social Media to Junior Golf. Elliott was a guest on the Golf Channels Morning Drive in April of 2013 along with Dottie Pepper and Alan Wronowski. The threesome spoke on many different junior golf initiatives that are available to children of all ages. Elliott also appeared on Morning Drive in October of 2016 as part of Junior Golf Week as well as in October of 2017 and January of 2018. Elliott is a sought-out speaker on Junior Golf with a focus on children ages 8 and under. He spoke at the 2012 Proponent Group Annual Conference in October of 2012 which was held at Cog Hill Golf Club near Chicago. The event was held in conjunction with the 2012 Ryder Cup. Elliott spoke at the 2013 Southeastern Junior Golf Summit at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta on November 4, 2013. He was also a presenter at the 2014 PGA Youth & Family Golf Summit held during the week of the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, FL and Little Linksters G.O.A.L.S. program was featured at the 2016 PGA Youth & Family Golf Summit, also in Orlando. Elliott served in the role of Secretary, Vice President, President and the Honorary President of the East Central Chapter of the NFPGA Section from 2009-2016. He was also a NFPGA Section Board member from 2009-2015. He has also served as Chairman of the ECC Junior Golf Committee as well as the Co-Chair of the NFPGA Junior Golf Committee. Brendon was also a member of the PGA of America’s 2012-2014 National Youth Player Development Committee and the 2010-2012 & 2012-2014 Public Relations & Communications Committee. He is currently a member of the 2018-2019 PGA National Awards Committee. With the closing of the GAA, Brendon will now focus his full time once again on the Little Linksters Golf Academy, Little Linksters, LLC and the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development (501c3). Brendon is available for Private Coaching through his long-range coaching packages of 6, 9 or 12 months.

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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