June 10th, 2016 12:51PM
When Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997 and the First Tee was launched soon after, the golf industry was rewarded with a potential influx of new and inspired youth golfers. The only problem, the influx didn’t create a sustainable solution to golf’s numbers game.
According to the National Golf Foundation, junior golf participation increased between 1995 and 2005 from 2.8 million junior golfers to 3.8 million. Since 2005, however, participation has dropped 21percent to 3 million.
During the same time frame, overall participation by adult golfers dropped 18 percent from 30 million players to 24.7 million.
It has been baffling for a number of reasons, but especially because TV ratings for golf were at its all-time high, the greatest player in the game and perhaps most popular athlete on the planet was center stage and non-profit groups like the First Tee were introducing the game to 10 million youngsters.
The growth didn’t happen, however, and for decades the game has struggled activating and retaining youth. In addition, baby boomers, who have supported the game for the past 30-years are beginning to play less. The questions loom: How many people are going to play in the future and how do we develop new players?
The answer: Developing grassroots programs that get youth vested into the sport and creating a pathway to golf courses where they will develop into lifelong players. On a national level, programs like TGA Premier Junior Golf, PGA Junior League, and Drive, Chip, and Putt are activating new golfers across the country.
On a local level, the Gaylord Golf Mecca is doing its part at the grass roots level. The Gaylord Area Junior Golf Association (GAJUGA) is a program that is now seeing the benefits in developing future golfers.
GAJUGA involves the member courses of the Mecca providing youth clinics and weekly junior golf events every summer. When the program began back in 1990 there were just 28 kids participating. Today, you will find over 155 participating and transitioning into the local PGA Junior League run by Treetops Resort. Not bad for a small town in a county with the population of about 24,000 people. In addition, smaller schools in the area like St. Mary’s and Johannesburg-Lewiston, who never had golf teams in the past, now have high school teams made up of kids who started with GAJUGA.
Treetops is leading the way locally by hosting GAJUGA and having the only PGA Junior League program, which involves team golf and kids of various abilities playing a scramble match-play format. Many of the players come from the GAJUGA program. Now in its 4th year, the league is up to 48 players. Juniors also play for free when on a golf package with the parents.
Treetops is also implementing Get Golf Ready programs with 34 adults taking a five-lesson program with women transitioning into a weekly women’s league and men receiving a midweek membership on the Tradition to keep them playing. There are also daily one-hour clinics for beginners, veterans, and active military. Visit http://treetops.com/golf-academy/get-golf-ready/
Other courses in the Mecca are doing their part to engage youth, beginners, and families to become active in the game.
The Natural Golf Course is also opening their doors to the youth of Gaylord, as well as travelers that come to Northern Michigan on their vacation. After 4:00 p.m., children 17 and under will be able to play free. High school students on the golf team or involved with the Gaylord Area Junior Golf Association (GAJUGA) will also be permitted to play for no charge.
Michawye Pines is also doing something unique that will help to grow the game starting up a new caddie program that is getting young kids age 14 and older out to the golf course. This program is attracting kids who have never played and will learn the game and hopefully become a lifelong golfer.
Whatever the grassroots programs are, we know there is proof that these are working, numbers are growing, and the future looks bright for the game!