Growing The Game of Golf

Growing The Game of Golf

In the spirit of growing the game of golf, my home course, Washtenaw Golf Club, frequently hosts junior tournaments and high school and college teams. On any given day, you’ll see players from Concordia College, Huron and Pioneer High and other area schools. Washtenaw has made a tradition of hosting the annual Golf Association of Michigan Junior Kickoff Championship in June.

Yesterday evening, I saw players from no less than five area teams either playing, or working on the range and practice greens. They somehow manage to avoid the leagues, and even with all that activity, I finished my round in just over three hours.

This is the sort of “growing the game” that has both an immediate and long-term effect on the future of golf. It also confirms my belief that golf’s future is not in the hands of high-end tournament organizers, but in course owners and PGA professionals like Washtenaw’s Dave Kendall, Zach Szawara and Matthew Okopny.

Washtenaw is by no means alone. So many of the courses I visit – from small town munis to high end resorts – support youth golf by hosting teams, offering discounts and participating in programs such as Youth on Course and The First Tee.

Northern Michigan’s Boyne Golf, for example, holds First Tee fundraisers and hosts junior tournaments. On the other end, Ann Arbor’s Huron Hills muni runs summer group lessons, “Wee Tees” to encourage youth play and (along with Leslie Park) is a Youth on Course facility.

These quiet, hands-on — and usually unrecognized — efforts stand in stark contrast to certain large operations that loudly proclaim that they’re “growing the game” by throwing giant piles of money at playing pros.

Most of these young folk will never play in a PGA TOUR, LPGA or USGA Championship. With the support of local courses and state associations, however, they can be encouraged to spend a lifetime playing the game for enjoyment and health.

Hosting juniors and schools is a long tradition at Washtenaw. In 1931, the club hosted the Michigan high school state championship. It was won by Woodrow Malloy, the younger brother of Johnny Malloy, who won the 1927 Michigan Amateur at Washtenaw. The elder Malloy won the Michigan Amateur three years in a row: 1927, 1928 and 1929. He did not defend in 1930, setting the stage for the first Michigan Amateur win of the legendary Chuck Kocsis.

Golf courses and PGA professionals aren’t the only ones working to grow the game through our young people. Youth on Course is national program that coordinates with 1, 800 courses to offer greens fees of just $5 to juniors. In Michigan, golfers can help grow the game by donating to YOC via the GAM Foundation.

The First Tee has more than 24,000 volunteers at 1,200 facilities nationwide working with youth to develop life skills through golf. Michigan chapters across the state that can use volunteers and donations, such as the First Tee of Greater Detroit and The First Tee of Northern Michigan.

There are many others, such as the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf and the AJGA.

To get involved with growing the game, contact your state golf association or one of the organizations through the links above.

As with fairways and greens, golf grows at the grass roots.

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