Local junior golf scene gets boost with Youth On Course program

When it comes to playing golf in the Baltimore Metro area, being a kid suddenly has major advantages.

Through a partnership with the Maryland State Golf Association, the Youth on Course program is being introduced at several local courses and will provide junior golfers between the ages of six and 18 the opportunity to play a round for $5 or less.

The concept, which began in 2006 in Northern California and is just now making its way to the east coast, is designed to help grow the game of golf by making courses more accessible from a financial standpoint for young players.

“The idea is to basically encourage kids to start playing golf by taking as much of the financial component out of it as we can. It’s all about providing access and opportunity,” said Youth On Course executive director Adam Heieck, who has helped lead the program’s expansion over the last four years. “What we do is work with regional partners, in this case the MSGA, and figure out the best starting point. Often, that’s building on existing relationships with junior programs at courses in a particular area.”

Including Maryland, Youth on Course now has partnerships in 26 different states across the country and over 20,000 members. As of the program’s official launch in the area on June 5, there are 18 Maryland courses on board to participate.

For Joe Rahnis, who serves as Director of Golf Operations for Baltimore County Golf, the decision to have all five of the county courses participate in the program was an easy one.

“Honestly, this program kind of goes to the core of what we have been trying to do for the last 10 years with junior golf in the area. We’ve had things in place like half-price range balls, the opportunity for juniors to play for free with a paying adult at certain times — this is a great chance to build on that and hopefully attract juniors we weren’t already touching,” Rahnis said. “The way I see it, as strong as golf is today, it could be that much stronger 10 years from now with initiatives such as this.”

Baltimore Municipal Golf Corporation’s executive director Jon Ladd expressed a similar sentiment, with each of the City’s Classic Five courses slated to participate in the program as well.

“Whether it’s through programs like this, instruction through local PGA professionals or the First Tee, the mission is pretty much the same: introduce kids to the game of golf and facilitate getting them out on the course,” Ladd said. “This is a wonderful sport and there’s a lot of things about golf that teach you about life, so anything we can do to encourage that start for the young players in the area is great.”

In addition to the 10 combined Baltimore City and Baltimore County public courses, the other facilities currently on board are Clustered Spires, Compass Pointe, Eisenhower, Enterprise, Fairway Hills, Great Hope, Hog Neck and Worthington Manor.

Of those 18 courses, all but two are within 60 miles of downtown Baltimore and Heieck said that clustering isn’t just a coincidence.

“Eventually we see this as a state-wide build out, but we kind of identified Baltimore as a great hub to get things going because there are a lot of junior golf initiatives already in place,” Heieck said. “We’ve found through some of our launches in other areas that 15-20 somewhat localized courses is a great starting point and, a lot of times, after six months we will have courses start reaching out to us to see how they can get involved as word of mouth spreads.”

The sign-up process is fairly straight forward, with interested players going online to register, complete a short online curriculum and then obtain a membership card.

The registration process does carry an annual $18 fee, providing access to not only the participating courses in Maryland but also to an additional selection of more than 800 courses nationwide all for $5 or less per round. Also included is the USGA Handicap service administered through the MSGA.

Heieck said that in essence by signing up, players are getting a dual membership to both the Youth On Course program and the MSGA.

The online curriculum takes 15-20 minutes to complete and contains a series of 34 questions that provides players a chance to test their knowledge and get information on how to use their membership card, correct golfing etiquette and a brief glance at some of the rules of the sport.

Once a part of the program, members can call and make tee times at the participating courses during the designated time periods and upon arrival just have to show their membership card for the discounted rate. (CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP AND FOR COURSE BREAKDOWN)

The $5 rate does not include cart, so a junior with a driver’s license has the option to pay for a cart on top of the cost of a round.

As for the courses, they get reimbursed for the difference between the subsidy rate and the usual cost for a junior to play. When you factor in that juniors will also often play with a paying adult, Heieck says the program provides the potential for increased traffic and revenue during traditionally slow periods.

“We like to think of it as a win-win, especially when you consider it’s adding play during open inventory times when tee sheets are typically empty anyway,” Heieck said. “Ultimately, the kids get a chance to be exposed to the game at little or no expense to the courses.”

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