When golf industry leaders announced they were “growing the game of golf” – they meant it. Kids now enjoy a field of opportunities, both new and old, made even more popular as other sports take a timeout. Several junior programs are up and running to teach the game or simply provide an affordable way to just play golf.
For a $15 annual fee, Youth on Course members may play 27 Arizona golf clubs (1,200 nationwide) for as low as $5. Exact rates and tee times vary from course to course, but the program is a money-saver no matter how you “slice” it. The national organization with roots in the Northern California Golf Association works through local affiliates – e.g. Junior Golf Association of Arizona (JGAA) – as well as Valley golf courses to subsidize green fees. This effectively lowers golf’s once-notorious financial barriers to nominal levels.
“Youth on Course is an easy and inexpensive way for our members, and kids in general, to get outside and get some exercise and play golf,” said Scott McNevin, executive director of the JGAA. “It’s not an instruction or drop-off-type program – just affordable golf. It’s popular with everyone from our top-ranked JGAA players to new members trying to get more rounds under their belts. The cost makes it realistic to play more often.”
In fact, Youth on Course recorded the most golf rounds played across North America in a single day at 2,649 on June 30. Youth on Course membership is included with annual JGAA membership, among many other benefits, and as mentioned above, the JGAA also offers a $15 Youth on Course-only option.
The JGAA caters to kids 8-18, and they also provide little ones, ages 3-5 years old, with a chance to discover golf – for free – at the Itty Bitty Open. Kids receive a free set of plastic clubs before joining the golf fun hosted by PGA and LPGA professionals. In its 33rd year, the event is held early January at 20 Valley-wide parks.
Although the JGAA features both boys’ and girls’ divisions, its sister organization – USGA*LPGA Girls Golf of Phoenix – provides girls ages 3-18 with a “purple and pink” way to learn, play and compete. Youth on Course enrollment is included, and members build lifelong friendships through clinics, tournaments, family events and team competitions. Skill levels ranging from 3-hole events to 18-hole competitions are available along with special events such as the popular Girls Golf Day to be held this October 3.
“It’s the largest-attended event we host all year,” said Cori Matheson, director of LPGA*USGA Girls Golf of Phoenix. “Families can dip their toes in the water with daylong activities like a tournament, women’s golf expo, Game Changer session and Girl Power Panel. It’s just a fun way for girls to get involved in an empowering, social and athletic lifestyle they can enjoy all their lives.”
The First Tee of Phoenix is another popular option, with 2021 memberships already available. Plus, those who join now may begin participating as early as August 17 at 17 Valley locations. The opposite of “If you ain’t cheating; you ain’t trying,” students also learn The First Tee’s 9 Core Values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. To be fair, other sports build character, too, but a classic Bobby Jones anecdote versus the shenanigans of the 2018-2019 Astros provides a stark comparison.
Jones matter-of-factly called a penalty on himself, nobody else saw, that eventually cost him the 1929 U.S. Open. He then batted away praise for his honesty by saying, “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.” The Astros, by contrast, carried out an elaborate, premeditated scheme to steal signs from opposing teams to gain an unfair advantage.
Drive, Chip & Putt is golf’s version of Punt, Pass & Kick, and the Firebird Club offers divisions based on 1-, 3-, 6- and 9-hole competitions at monthly events throughout the Phoenix area. Not to mention, just about every golf course in the country is staffed by PGA teaching professionals who offer junior instruction, camps and clinics.
All of the above programs (and many others not listed) are for kids, but they don’t have to go it alone. Golf is a unique sport with plenty of space for mom, dad, sisters, brothers, uncles, cousins and social distancing. Just as allied golf organizations rallied around growing the game, they also drew up Back2Golf guidelines to keep everyone safe. The next time “I’m bored” rings out: Go Play Golf.