When I first started playing golf as a kid, I obviously didn't have a job. My middle-class parents weren't Scrooge McDucking their way through pools of dollar bills. So, having a reasonably priced way into golf was huge for me.
We had one, thanks to our local Optimists chapter, which had a junior golf program at an airport driving range and a nearby par-3 course. We got discounted rates at both places, given the green light to hit unlimited balls at the range with a PGA of America professional going up and down the line to check in on each kid. We got a twice-monthly loop at a par-3 course, where the mats were laid on glorified wood palettes. Creating a decent-sized group got us lower rates.
When I was a teenager, my parents got me a junior membership at a nearby golf course. The second I got my license, I drove there most days to pay $7 to walk the course for 18 holes. I could have a hot dog for lunch and go back out for another 18. I developed as a golfer thanks to that accessibility, and it's likely what kept me so engaged with the game that I was crazy enough to want to pursue a career in the sport.
Those programs were great, but my parents wouldn't have easily found out about them were it not for friends and family who knew about them. That's why making parents of potential golfers aware of cost-subsidizing programs so critical.
Youth on Course is one of those programs. At more than 650 participating facilities in the U.S., kids aged 6-18 can play golf for $5 or less. After becoming a member for anywhere from $5-$30, depending on your location, and taking some basic online training for rules and etiquette, a junior golfer becomes a member of the local participating golf association and can establish a free USGA handicap index. Children involved in The First Tee can easily gain membership.
The organization offers opportunities for older kids in northern California to further their involvement in the game, as well network and build potentially fruitful long-term relationships.
Working with Caddie Now (formerly Looper), Youth on Course offers a caddie program for older kids who can work at nearby participating courses. After attending a two-day orientation, kids in the program can take up loops using the Caddie Now app -- like Uber, for caddies -- to earn a minimum $40 per loop. An extension of the program is Caddies to College, which also pays $50 per completed loop to a college scholarship fund for the caddie if they demonstrate the need for financial aid to get to college.
It's an incredible program, and Youth on Course is always looking to expand. The program needs two things: facilities and money.
Participating facilities are a part of the program in part because of charitable donations from individuals and companies paying it forward to the next generation of players. For participating private and semi-private clubs, their members make a small annual donation added to their bill (usually around $20, or a cart fee for one round). For municipal and public courses, they get paid a rate reflecting their rate structure, including the subsidy provided by Youth on Course. Having more facilities open their doors to kids playing golf can only mean good things for the game.
So, if you want to be a part of expanding the reach of the game for the next generation, you may want to consider a financial gift to Youth on Course or lobbying to get your club and its members to become a participating facility.