Golf for $5 or less? Youth on Course makes it possible for kids 18 and under
Every golfer knows how much of a dent their hobby can put in their pocketbook.
The clubs, the bag, the balls, the lessons, the greens fees.
It adds up in a hurry.
And for cash-strapped parents who have an addicted kid or two or three?
Fortunately, a groundbreaking program known as Youth on Course debuted in Illinois in 2017 to help families get their kids playing far more often -- and for far less money.
"We've been hearing from a lot of our members who didn't realize how much of an impact golf has made in their lives and how much of an outlet it's been for them until this time (of coronavirus)," said Ashleigh McLaughlin, the vice president of marketing and communications for Youth on Course. "In a time when the country has been confined to our homes ... golf has provided a really critical outlet for a lot of them."
Here's how the program works:
• Kids 18 and under can sign up by going to cdga.org/youthoncourse and paying a $20 fee.
• They will receive a membership card in the mail, which they may present at one of roughly 50 participating courses in Illinois and/or the nearly 1,400 in 39 states across the country.
• Greens fees are typically $5, although they can be as low as $1.
• Courses are then reimbursed for the difference between their junior rate and the YOC rate from the CDGA Foundation, the charitable organization of the Chicago District Golf Association.
The CDGA Foundation, which runs the program locally, saw the number of Youth on Course rounds soar from about 7,000 in 2018 to over 12,000 last year.
As for the courses, they are able to set some restrictions.
For example, Fox Run in Elk Grove Village allows Youth on Course members to play Monday, Wednesday and Friday anytime and after 2 p.m. on Sundays. Old Orchard Country Club allows play after 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and on the weekends. At Twin Lakes Golf Course in Palatine, members can play Monday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m.
Restrictions for each course can be found at cdgafoundation.org/youthoncourse.
"Kids are playing more," said Alex Nolly, the director of foundation administration for the CDGA. "Courses are seeing a lot of the same faces, so it's bringing them together."
Now the challenge for the CDGA Foundation is to not only keep Youth on Course thriving in Illinois, but to grow it so that more courses can come on board.
And make no mistake -- it's a huge challenge.
"For us to make this work -- because it is expensive -- we have to walk a little bit before we can run," Nolly said. "It'll take some time. A lot of it depends on our fundraising capabilities to do that."
The CDGA Foundation, which also has programs for veterans and players with special needs, runs two fundraisers each summer that pull in about 50 percent of the organization's donations. Those funds are split up so each program can thrive.
This year, however, one of the fundraisers was canceled while the other has been postponed.
"Pretty much every nonprofit has been struggling," McLaughlin said. "The focus has been -- and rightfully so -- dealing with this global health crisis and supporting our first responders and those who are in harms way.
"But there are also a number of nonprofits who do incredible work to help keep the rest of the country moving forward."
Let me pause here to emphasize how important it is to make golf affordable for kids. I got hooked on the sport because a course in Stamford, Connecticut allowed kids to play 18 holes for $2. And now my son is now in his fourth year as a Youth on Course member. His love of the game has exploded, and his scores have plummeted from the mid-90s to the high-70s.
There are stories like that all over, thanks to a program that began in California in 2006 and has spread like wildfire across the country.
"We can subsidize rounds of golf for kids because there a lot of other people who, like us, believe that golf should be more affordable for young people," McLaughlin said. "We believe in the values that golf can teach people and the relationships it can help you build."
In addition to signing up your son or daughter for the program, donations can be made at cdgafoundation.org. If you want the entire amount to go to Youth on Course, just make sure to add that in the "notes" section on the donation page.
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