Program that Subsidizes Junior Golf to Surge in 2021
In 2020, the Alabama Golf Association announced it had joined the Youth on Course initiative that allows junior golfers to play at select golf course for a modest $5 fee.
The timing of the program’s launch was both good and bad. Good in the sense that the coronavirus pandemic shuttered most school systems and sports came to a grinding halt across the state. That left youngsters searching for activities. With golf courses open, rounds surged nationwide and the sport regained some lost popularity.
The timing was bad in the sense that it was harder to get the word out to youngsters about Youth on Course.
With the calendar turned to 2021, the AGA hopes to see a participation surge in the program.
“We think it was a good time to start this,” AGA Executive Director Andy Priest said recently. “We had it in the queue to be launched pre-Covid anyway. We were already lined up and ready to go to do it. It was just a matter of when. With golf still being open and one of the only things you could get out and do safely, the timing actually worked out for us.”
The program is designed to attract youngsters to the game. Junior golfers pay a $25 registration fee to join Youth on Course. After that, they pay $5 to play any course in the country affiliated with the program. Golf courses are reimbursed for the price difference through Youth on Course funding mechanisms.
Youth on Course Anchored by RJT Golf Trail
“We missed the window of opportunity to promote it to high school players that we’ll capture this year,” Priest said. “It’s off the ground and off and running.”
Youth on Course in Alabama is anchored by nine Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail sites, and Priest said that support was crucial to launching the program.
“Having the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail 150 percent behind it is what helped get it off the ground,” he said.
Mike Beverly, chief operating officer of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, said it was only natural to partner with the AGA on the Youth on Course initiative. He said the Trail has always offered a junior trail card to youngsters for $10 with greens fees of $14.95 to walk 18 holes.
“It’s a great program that can introduce golf to a much broader spectrum of youths,” Beverly said. “That’s what we are hoping to do in the long run. Many of our facilities have short courses and fantastic practice facilities. The kids can learn to play the game on the short courses. We have six sets of tees on most of the courses, so once you transition into the championship golf courses you can start at a distance and work your way back to a championship level if you have the desire.”
Beverly said participating in Youth on Course is just another way to expand the RTJ Golf Trail’s presence and ensure a future customer base.
“We want to do as much as we can to help grow the game and add new players to our history,” he said. “Twenty years from now these kids will paying cart and greens fees somewhere and we’d like for them to learn to play the game on the Trail and become loyal customers.”
The Trail’s footprint from north Alabama with sites in Huntsville and Muscle Shoals to the Gulf Coast, along with four non-trail sites means a Youth on Course facility is within a reasonable distance for most junior golfers.
“The whole core purpose of Youth on Course is to make golf more diverse and more accessible. This is a great way to introduce the game to new players at a relatively inexpensive program,” Beverly said. “It’s a great program that can introduce golf to a much broader spectrum of youths. That’s what we are hoping to do in the long run.”
Non-trail sites participating in the Youth on Course program are Cherokee Ridge Country Club in Union Grove just south of Huntsville, Lagoon Park Golf Course and Gateway Golf Course in Montgomery, and Azalea City Golf Course near Mobile.
Priest said the list could grow, but cautioned that in expanding, Youth on Course is looking for specific facilities beyond just providing access to the course.
“We want to give juniors a place they can kind of call home – where they have facility access but they also have practice facilities, instruction available, programming available; competitions available to them. We want them to have access to the things that you need to get better at playing the game.”
Barkley Martin, general manager at Cherokee Ridge, said it was an easy decision to participate in Youth on Course.
“When our owner Jimmy Green, who also owns the Auburn University Club, was approached with it originally, he told us that we certainly should be a part of it. We are more than happy to support Youth on Course,” Martin said.
Youth on Course Outreach to Juniors in Rural Areas
Although Cherokee Ridge is located just south of Huntsville, it is in a rural setting with little golf availability nearby. Martin hopes that by participating in Youth on Course, Cherokee Ridge will attract youngsters who might not have access to the game otherwise.
“The benefit of Youth on Course, not only for Cherokee Ridge but for everyone involved in the program, is that the juniors get an opportunity to play at places they might not normally get to attend,” he said. “The bigger picture is that they are the direction that the golf industry needs to look at for future support and understanding for the importance of the game and how it relates to communities. It’s just amazing the relationships they can build up during their tenure enjoying the game of golf.”
Martin said Cherokee Ridge has already seen youngsters take advantage of the program.
“We certainly hope that number grows,” he said.
Detailed information about how to register for Youth on Course is available at alabamagolf.org.
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News.
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