USGA FOUNDATION
Teeing up the Future of Golf June 20, 2018 By Alyssa Haduck, USGA

Over the past 50 years, David Jacobsen has played countless rounds of golf. Some have been in USGA championships, including the U.S. Senior Open, the U.S. Amateur, the inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur and the U.S. Senior Amateur. Others have been with his brother, Peter, a successful PGA Tour pro who won the 2004 U.S. Senior Open. David’s favorite rounds, however, are with children.

“It’s just so cool to see the young people begin the journey of golf: the experience, the people, the positive environment that golf can provide,” he said.

Jacobsen knows the key to enjoying the game is playing, but is aware of how difficult it can be to convince children to start.

“If you have the opportunity to play enough golf, most of the time, you will fall in love with the game,” he said. “You may not be able to be a Tour player, but if you have the opportunity to play enough golf, meet enough people, those people can become your very best friends.

“I just think if we can create enough opportunity for young people to play golf at a reasonable expense, they’ll be able to fall in love with it.”

So that’s what he did. Through the Jacobsen Youth Initiative, a program within the Oregon Golf Association, he has helped reduce the price of junior golf across the state.

In addition to his philanthropic efforts, Jacobsen’s involvement with the USGA and his embodiment of its ideals has earned him the distinction of first-tee starter for the 2018 U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo. This new role comes 15 years after Jacobsen qualified for the 2003 U.S. Senior Open as an amateur.

Though Jacobsen continues to play golf competitively, he has become more involved in supporting the game. A USGA member since 1984, he has served on multiple councils, currently sitting on the Regional Affairs Committee with the OGA. Over time, Jacobsen found the more he gave back to golf, the more this pursuit enhanced his life.

“Everybody has a different journey, and for me, my journey has been wonderful,” he said.

At one point, the entire six-person Jacobsen family had a combined handicap of just 26. (Jacobsen family photo)

Jacobsen spent his early years playing Little League baseball until his father, Erling, introduced him to golf when he was 12 years old. Jacobsen has never looked back. His father’s passion for golf paired with his own influence as the oldest of four children guided the rest of the family’s participation in the game.

“At one point, all six of us, our combined handicap was 26. Dad introduced us to the game, and all the Jacobsens did was hang out at the golf course,” he said.

Before Erling passed away in 1992, Peter and David asked him for one golf tip he’d leave behind.

“Sense of humor. It’s only a game,” Erling told his sons.

Left with these words, David set out to continue his father’s legacy. In 1996, his family and the OGA established the Erling Jacobsen Tour, a 16-event summer program that promotes etiquette and non-competitive nine-hole play among golfers ages 7 to 18.

“Erling, in his day, was really supportive of young kids playing golf,” explained Barb Trammell, OGA CEO. “Erling would see a young kid on the driving range and would go up to them and see if he could help them, so he’s just always been very supportive of juniors, and particularly juniors that weren’t elite players – those kids that just wanted to play for fun.”

David shares the same love for golf as his father, enjoying its entertainment and appreciating its education.

While the tour has grown, hosting 250 individual junior golfers last year, Jacobsen still felt that more could be done to advance the game for youth.

“Many young people have an opportunity to play with their parents at a private club or a daily-fee club.  What I was concerned about is that I didn’t see just regular kids out at some of the public golf courses, and I wondered why,” he said. “With the Erling Jacobsen Tour, we had participation, but there was not a lot of follow-through as far as keeping up playing.”

Jacobsen made it his mission to investigate.

“It was just a curiosity,” he said. “I just started asking questions and looking at some of the barriers that are keeping kids from playing, and it came down to greens fees.”

According to Jacobsen, the average cost for junior golfers in Oregon is $25 per round. These fees added up over time could be a significant financial obstacle for families. Consequently, the OGA teamed up with Jacobsen to tackle this issue.

“I knew the value of the Erling Jacobsen Tour, and the Jacobsen family was obviously a big part of that,” said Craig Winter, the OGA’s director of junior golf at the time. “I sat down with David just really wanting to take it to the next level, asking what else we can do to help kids play golf.”

Discussions soon involved the Northern California Golf Association. Jacobsen and the OGA sought to implement a program like the NCGA Foundation, which subsidized greens fees for junior golfers ages 6 to 18. Today, this program is known nationally as Youth on Course, which, in addition to reducing greens fees for young golfers, offers them caddieing, internship and scholarship opportunities in 25 regions.

As the first organization to adopt the idea from the NCGA, Jacobsen and the OGA introduced Youth on Course to junior golfers in Oregon in 2011.

To participate in the program, young golfers must pass an online course and exam that educates them on the Rules and etiquette of the game. They then receive a card that authorizes them to play golf for $5 at more than 65 public courses in Oregon, as well as other affiliated facilities in other states. After the junior golfer plays, the course requests a reimbursement from the fund at the OGA that makes this program possible.

More than 1,000 young golfers have a Youth on Course card from the OGA and have played nearly 7,000 rounds of golf this year.

“Getting thousands of kids to be able to play golf is a special thing,” Winter said.

By 2012, Jacobsen and the OGA oversaw the execution of the Erling Jacobsen Tour as well as the Youth on Course adoption. Needing a name to encompass the two, the OGA bestowed the Jacobsen Youth Initiative moniker on the dual-feature program.

Even though the two programs have served thousands of young golfers in Oregon, Jacobsen still felt that he could do more. In 2014, he organized the first Oregon Youth Golf Summit, inviting representatives from local programs and other golf industry individuals interested in advancing junior golf in the state.

The summit, which occurs twice a year, has produced important insights and subsequent action.

“The big issue is that it’s very difficult for young people to figure out where to play, so we put the Oregon Junior Golf Road Map together,” Jacobsen said.

This website shares information about courses, junior golf programs, camps, lessons, competitions and scholarships.

Today, the Erling Jacobsen Tour, the Youth on Course program and the Oregon Junior Golf Road Map are the three main offerings of the Jacobsen Youth Initiative. Jacobsen noted that in addition to Trammell and Winter, OGA Director of Junior Golf Robyn Lorain, and Director of Youth Programming Tyler Morse have been instrumental. But Jacobsen has always driven the team.

“He just continues to have the dream, and he’s encouraging everybody to make it happen,” Winter said. “He’s always taking the positive approach, he’s an eternal optimist. He knows it’s going to work.”

Experience fuels some of Jacobsen’s optimism. He has witnessed personally how these programs have improved lives. Once, while playing in the Oregon Amateur, Jacobsen realized just how powerful the initiative could be.

“I’m playing with a young man who’s clearly a college kid,” Jacobsen said. “He immediately jumped into his golf bag, pulled out his wallet and showed me his Jacobsen Youth Initiative card and said: ‘Thank you. I wouldn’t have been able to play as much golf without your help.’

“I don’t remember how I played that day, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences to have a young person, who was now grown, show me his card.”

From instructing practical golf skills to coaching character development, the Jacobsen Youth Initiative has made a difference in the lives of thousands of junior golfers in Oregon. To maintain the operations of this program, however, securing funds is a top priority for Jacobsen and the OGA.

“It’s been a great partnership and we look forward to the future,” Trammell said. “We just have to raise money to fund Youth on Course. It has been growing by leaps and bounds every year.”

Jacobsen echoes this assertion.

“The future is really just focusing on sustainability,” he said. “After that, I’ve got all kinds of ideas.”

Alyssa Haduck is an intern for the USGA Foundation. Email her at ahaduck@usga.org.