COURSE CARE
Attracting Children To The Game April 1, 2014 By Larry Gilhuly

Naturally, the USGA Green Section focuses on the agronomic side of the game; however, one of the main reasons why we opted to change the name of the Turf Advisory Service (TAS) to Course Consulting Service (CCS) is because we cover more than just turf. We discuss virtually every topic on a golf course excluding those areas of golf professional expertise and clubhouse matters. During a recently completed USGA Golf/Green Committee University conference at Waverley Country Club in Portland, Ore., the topic of attracting the younger generation to the game was discussed. However, rather than talking about the usual ways we, as an industry, have attempted to attract more to the game, three outside-the-box ideas were discussed that are worthy of widespread attention to help our sport.

What are the most common negatives associated with golf when the subject of growing the game, or simply playing the game, is mentioned? The big three are:

  1. Golf is too expensive. This applies to both playing the game and the equipment required.
  2. Golf takes too long to play. Four hours or more is simply not desirable for many people.
  3. Golf is too difficult. Even though the ball is not moving, it is not easy to hit. Many give up in the effort.

But what if there were ways to introduce children and young adults to the game that addressed all three of these perceived negatives. More importantly, what if they already existed? They do and I hope you will all give these three programs a close look at your golf facility.

The First Green   

The First Green was started in the state of Washington as a simple way to bring students to golf courses to interact with golf course superintendents and learn about the many positive attributes that are common on golf courses. This program has expanded throughout the state and is now expanding through the entire country thanks to support from the USGA and other organizations. Click here for the story of this unique and growing program. The First Green is a simple way to introduce children to the game while teaching the positive story of what golf courses and turfgrasses do for the environment.

SNAG Golf:

Starting New at Golf (SNAG) has been around for over a decade and offers a much easier and fun way to introduce the game to younger generations. Originally conceived as a great way to teach the game in various physical education classes, this form of golf does not have established courses where the game can be played, or at least not until a golf course operator in Loveland, Colo., saw the positives that this form of golf offered to juniors and other golfers in his community. Mr. Steve Southard is the director of golf operations for the city of Loveland, Colo. After discussing various ways to attract more players to the game, Steve opted out of adding an 18-hole natural-grass putting course. Instead, he added a SNAG course to their operation with very good first-year results. His results and the story of this unique way to introduce the game can be found at:

Cattail Creek Mini-Course is a SNAG-Friendly Facility and Putting Course

New Loveland Course Hopes to SNAG New Golfers      

FootGolf

How many times have you heard the term “soccer mom?” Wouldn’t it be great to have an equal amount of “golf moms?” Even better, how about if you were able to combine both sports into one and have children and mom (and dad) play at the same time? This is already being done at two courses in California and is expanding across the country.

During a recent Golf Alliance of Washington meeting, Mr. Monte Koch, player development regional manager for the PGA, brought up the concept of FootGolf as another way of introducing both young and old to the game while providing another revenue source to every type of golf facility. After getting over the initial concern of pace of play, the concept of combining these two sports into one and making it work makes perfect sense. Again, what are the three major stumbling blocks to growing the game? Golf is too expensive, too long and too difficult. FootGolf requires no clubs and fees are considerably less than traditional golf and it takes half the time to play. All three of these negatives and a lot of positives have already been seen at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, Calif. Click here to visit their website with information on their FootGolf course. Additionally, please see this FootGolf introductory video.

Another golf course in southern California has a similar positive story. River Ridge Golf Club in Ventura, Calif., was one of the first courses to host FootGolf in the U.S. Click here for their website. Scroll down and you will see their FootGolf success story along with another link from the SCGA describing this unique sport in the article Soccer and Golf as One.

As an industry, we are always trying to find ways to expand the game. While many of us “old timers” learned through caddying, playing with our parents or simply starting the game in high school, the newest generations need more. Give these three ideas a close look to introduce the game to young and old. Who knows, it may even lead one to SNAG a hole-in-one on the First Green while playing FootGolf.

Source: Larry Gilhuly (lgilhuly@usga.org

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