If it seems like there have been more kids on the golf course recently, well, you’re right. The number of junior golfers (ages 6–17) rose by 24 percent in 2020 as fairways and greens became safe refuge amid the pandemic. It was the industry’s biggest junior jump since 1997, the year a 21-year-old wunderkind named Tiger stormed to a 12-stroke victory at the Masters Tournament for his first major title.
More than three million youngsters hit the links in 2020, according to the National Golf Foundation, and about 90 percent of those come from a “golf” family, meaning at least one other person in their household plays. So, if you’ve got a son or daughter (or grandson or granddaughter) who’s expressed an interest in taking up this game of a lifetime, what are the options?
Today, there are more junior golf programs than ever before, although there’s no formal roadmap for progression that connects them all. But here’s a quick overview to help better familiarize you with some prominent national options in the ever-growing junior golf landscape beyond your local facility.
One of the most visible youth golf organizations in the game, First Tee is about more than golf. The program originated in 1997 as a partnership between the USGA, PGA TOUR, PGA of America, LPGA, and Masters Tournament as a way to make golf affordable and accessible. But introducing the game proved to be a valuable way to introduce life skills and values to kids and teens, almost half of whom are non-Caucasian. Thanks to more than 24,000 volunteers, First Tee uses golf to reinforce values such as integrity, respect, and perseverance at more than 1,200 golf facilities, in community youth locations, and through its after-school and in-school programs.
The flagship youth program of the PGA of America’s PGA REACH foundation is targeted at boys and girls ages 17 and under, providing predominantly social, team scramble competitions intended to be less stressful than stroke-play tournaments. Launched in 2011, PGA Jr. League counted almost 37,000 participants in 2020. There’s strong involvement from PGA and LPGA Professional coaches, who put a focus on safe, fun, and inclusive experiences while structuring the programs and team competitions to foster communication.
With its unique franchise model, TGA brings its enrichment programs to schools, community centers, parks & recreation facilities, childcare centers, and other venues where kids spend time. Trained coaches combine golf with academics, life skills, and physical activity in classes for pre-K to 8th graders before or after the school day. Notably, TGA has developed a Junior Golf Player Pathway that consists of four progressive core programs that help guide kids (and their families) through the various stages of learning the game.
Originally started in 1996 as a family business to provide right-sized equipment that would help keep kids hooked on the game, U.S. Kids Golf created its foundation in 2000 after seeing the need for improved programs, coaching, and competitions. Today, kids ages five to 14 compete in more than 1,600 annual tournaments, including local, state, regional, and world championships, and U.S. Kids Golf has a 10-level player pathway that uses game-based learning along with a “Play and Learn” program that answers the “Where do I start?” question that many parents have.
Access is one barrier to golf. Affordability is another. For kids who are already into golf, Youth on Course is addressing those hurdles with subsidized rounds of golf for its more than 100,000 members ranging in age from six to 19. The organization got its start in Northern California in 2006 to address a disconnect in the industry: Juniors who learned the game through youth programs often couldn’t take their game to the course due to cost. Today, Youth on Course has subsidized more than one million rounds for $5 or less at more than 1,400 participating courses in North America.
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Another youth organization for established players, the AJGA is a non-profit dedicated to the growth and development of girls and boys who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf events. The AJGA was founded in 1978 and in 2020 held 101 tournaments for its 7,300 junior members and approximately 1,000 collegiate coach members. The results are there, too, with the organization seeing 765 college commitments from its class of 2020 golfers.
Is your child or grandchild involved in any junior golf programs?