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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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The Gear Dive WITB Edition: Ping Tour rep Kenton Oates talks Viktor Hovland

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In this WITB Edition of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Ping Tour rep Kenton Oates on the ins and outs of Puerto Rico Open Champion Viktor Hovland’s golf bag.

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

They also cover Jim Wells Putters and the legendary Ping Eye 2 wedge.

Viktor Hovland WITB

Driver: Ping G410 LST (9 degrees @ 8.5; flat standard, CG shifter in draw)
Shaft: Project X HZURDUS Black 6.5 (44.5 inches, D3 swing weight)

3-wood: TaylorMade M5 (15 degrees @ 14.5)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei Blue AV 85 TX

Irons: Callaway X Forged UT (21 degrees), Ping i210 (4-PW)
Shafts: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-85 X Hybrid (21), KBS Tour 120 X (4-PW)

  • Standard length, .5 degrees flat, D2+

Wedges: Ping Glide 3.0 (50-SS, 56-SS @ 55, 60-TS)

  • 50SS (35.25 inches, 1-degree flat, D3, “Half Moon” Grind)
  • 56SS (35 inches, 1.5-degree flat, D3+)
  • 60TS (34.75 inches, 2-degrees flat, D4)

Shafts: KBS Tour-V 130 X

Putter: Ping PLD Prototype “Hovi”

  • 36″, 20-degree lie, 2.5-degree loft, stepped shaft

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

Grips: Golf Pride MCC White/Black 58R

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Realistic expectations

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(Today’s post is one I actually wrote nearly eight years ago, but I’m using it to start a series about “thinking your way to better golf.” I hope you enjoy the next few weeks.)

One of the great regrets of my life is that I missed the fatherhood experience, never having had children of my own. As I get older, I find that I gravitate to the younger folks, and offer my help whenever I can, whether on the golf course, on the water fishing, or just life in general. One of my joys is working with younger kids on their golf. That includes instruction, of course, but what I think is more important for them in the developmental stages is to learn to manage
their expectations. Actually, we all could benefit from that bit of advice.

On Sunday, I had the joy of playing with the 16-year-old son of one of our partners at SCOR Golf. Kyle is a tremendously talented young man who I’ve worked with quite a bit, but he really hasn’t committed himself to golf yet. I’m talking about the kind of commitment that keeps him working hard at it as long as there is daylight. He might not ever get that, and that’s OK, but he hasn’t figured out yet that your expectations can only rise from your achievements, and not from your desires.

On a core level, Kyle has great strength but hasn’t learned to harness it yet. He wants to choose his clubs based on his maximum distance with that club—if everything falls exactly into place. Like most golfers, and especially young ones,
he’s enamored with the power game. When we play, I show him that throttling back and controlling the shot is much more reliable.

What I discovered Sunday is that Kyle has very unrealistic expectations about what a round of golf should really be like. He, like most of us, expects all the shots to be struck solidly and fly like he imagined. So I explained that he hasn’t
earned the right to have such expectations yet. His scores average around 90-95 and his best ever is an 85.

So, here’s my point (finally)

Kyle was off to a good start with three pars and two bogeys in his first five holes. He kind of “fat-pulled” a 4-iron approach on a 200-plus yard par three. His shot left him only 10-15 yards short and left of the green, but he wheeled around, dropped his club and expressed his disgust with the shot. And I got on him about it. “What’s wrong with that? It’s a difficult par-3 with a 20 mph crosswind and you are in good position to get up and down or at least make no worse than bogey on one of the hardest holes on the course.”

I went on to explain that he was only two pars away from tying his best round ever, and if he just played for bogeys – and stay excited—he would probably make twice that many or more. And I seemed to get through to him of the reality
of golf, or his golf at least. He stayed in the moment, with only a little more cajoling from me, and shot an 86—one shot off his best ever! And I MADE him congratulate himself on his accomplishments. Instead of focusing on those few
shots that were bad, and the 2-3 doubles he made, I told him to focus on the good that came out of that round.

So, here’s my point (or points) for managing your expectations, too.

  1. If you are a low single-digit player, you’ll still only hit 2-3 shots a round just like you wanted.
  2. If you play to a 12 or higher, any shot that keeps you in the game isn’t really all that bad.
  3. Regardless of your skill level, there is no such thing as a “birdie hole” when you are standing on the tee. A “birdie hole” can only be claimed when you have executed an approach to makeable putt range.
  4. If you are a 12-15 handicap player, you only need to make 3-6 pars to beat your handicap, as long as you don’t chop up any holes. Bogeys are good scores unless you regularly shoot in the 70s!

So, the next time you are on the golf course, try to set and manage realistic expectations. Your golf will be better for it, and you’ll have a ton more fun.

NOTE: I read a great article this morning by Geoff Ogilvy about the quality of golf being played on the PGA Tour. It reflects what I’ve often said about how the modern tour professional plays the game. Here it is.

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Does Viktor Hovland deserve a Masters invite for his win?

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Viktor Hovland won a side event in Puerto Rico against a limited field, so does he deserve the Masters invite? We can’t have a show without talking about Partick Reed. He got a huge win at the WGC Mexico and was it a revenge win against the media? Knudson was out on the range testing some new gear.

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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