Rounds are up from Maine to California, and the sport I fell in love with as a youth is making a comeback. The best news for our industry…it’s not all middle-age men. Research shows the number of junior golfers could grow by as much as 20 percent this year.
I began playing golf pre-Tiger Woods and pre-housing boom. Because I was too young to drive, either my mom or a buddy’s mom would take us to the course, drop us off and pick us up at a designated time. Memberships were cheap then—less than $100 for Monday-through-Friday playing privileges—and we’d play from sunup to sundown, only stopping for a hot dog, lemonade and bag of chips.
Because the sport hadn’t yet captured national attention, we often had the course to ourselves, or so it seemed, for much of the day. There would be some traffic in the morning for senior and women’s leagues and again around 6 p.m. for evening leagues, but in between we’d have carte blanche. Playing 54 holes was commonplace.
As is typical for kids that age, we became bored of playing the same 18 holes multiple times a day, multiple days a week, for an entire summer. Instead of finding another activity—returning to baseball, taking up tennis, heading to the beach—we’d make up different games on the golf course.
We’d play from the first tee to the seventh green, eighth tee to the second green, etc. Challenge each other to loft a wedge over a seemingly-too-high tree, or turn an iron over and play a shot from the opposite side of the ball. We’d even designate the order in which we had to play clubs—wedge off the tee, 7-iron on the second shot, driver on the third, etc. Imagine how difficult it is to hit a 3-iron out of a greenside bunker.
All of this playing over several years did wonders for my game, confidence and handicap. I quickly went from struggling to break 100 to regularly shooting in the 80s and getting down to a 2 handicap within a few years.
The world was mine, or so I thought. Life, as we all know, has a way of getting in the way of play. I never did find that trust fund I was looking for and any unknown, wealthy uncle is either still living or chose to bequeath his fortune elsewhere. Jobs turned into a career, my teens turned into 20s, 30s, etc., and a single kid with no responsibilities became a father of three with a lot on his plate.
As I’m typing this, I’ve logged 18 holes in 2020. COVID has had a lot to do with that, of course, but I’m in the minority these days. We’ve shared quite a few stories from clubs across the country who’ve experienced a rebirth, of sorts, this year. Rounds are up from Maine to California, and the sport I fell in love with as a youth is making a comeback.
The best news for our industry … It’s not all middle-age men who are finding their way back to the golf course. Kids, many younger than I was when I began, are now teeing it up. A lot of team sports were forced to suspend activities this summer, so golf was the beneficiary of children with time on their hands and bodies full of energy.
Research done by the National Golf Foundation shows evidence that the number of junior golfers (ages 6-17) could grow by as much as 20 percent this year. Putting that in concrete numbers, approximately 2.5 million kids played golf in 2019, making the COVID-related bump in the neighborhood of half-a-million added youth golfers. If a similar percentage fall in love with the sport like I did many years ago, we’re looking at plenty of years of prosperity ahead.
What is your club doing to attract and retain the next generation of golfers? I’ve seen plenty of experts speak about “keeping it fun” as the most important aspect of engaging youth and beginning golfers, but I’d love to hear specifics from your club. Is everything for junior players confined to the practice facility, or do you also introduce them to the actual tees, fairways and greens?