Golf is viewed as an elitist sport by many, on par with tennis when it comes to the high cost to participate and develop as a player. Because of this, a lot of young athletes don’t consider golf to be a viable option, resulting in a large, untapped demographic of potential golfers.
That’s what prompted the Northern California Golf Association Foundation to step in with its “Youth on Course” program, hoping to promote the sport to middle school and high school students free of charge.
“We aim to make the game more affordable and accessible throughout Northern California,” NCGA’s Michael Lowe said. “We try to target at risk youth and traditionally underserved communities.”
In the past three years NCGA has introduced its Youth on Course program to students in Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo, Richmond and Salinas. Eager to expand, the NCGA recently partnered with Delhi High and Stevinson Ranch, forming the first program of its kind in the Valley.
“We’re teaching the kids golf skills but more importantly we’re teaching them life skills and the etiquette of golf and sportsmanship,” Stevinson’s John Leighton said. “We want to grow the game and help Delhi form a golf team.”
“We talk about determination, integrity, honesty, and healthy lifestyles,” Lowe said. “Some of the things you pick up in golf can carry over to other aspects of life.”
In addition to lessons, the 55 middle school and high school students enrolled in the program have been exposed to cross fit training and yoga classes, as well as a number of other benefits that would normally cost thousands of dollars. Youth on Course students also have the opportunity to earn scholarships and paid internships. After giving away six scholarships last year, the NCGA will be awarding $50,000 worth of scholarships to students this year.
“It’s a struggle for adults to find a job these days, so to provide high school students with a chance to earn good wages and gain valuable job experience is very important,” Lowe said. “Our main goal isn’t to create great golfers; it’s to open different avenues for the youth.”
After completing only five of the 20-week program, the students at Delhi have already made achieved recognition as the lead Youth on Course site. The enthusiasm and warm response has prompted Lowe and his partner Adam Heiech to look towards expanding the program to schools like Hilmar and Livingston High. The SCGA had also shown interest in Youth on Course with the hopes of providing a national model for schools to follow.
Additional benefits of Youth on Course include 50,000 subsidized rounds for students as well as a highly affordable $5 fee to play at 120 participating golf courses.