Concussions and physical impact in youth sport has never been more top of mind. Parents and medical experts often discuss the benefit versus danger, while some brain experts have questioned whether kids should even participate in contact sports. Golf offers a direct competitive advantage — a safe and social alternative that can provide a lifetime of quality golf experiences.
It’s vital to get children experiencing the game and having fun on the course so families can feel a sense of engagement and attachment to the sport — introducing them to golf’s etiquette and life values, such as integrity, honesty, fair play and the spirit of camaraderie inherent with our game. Consider the health benefits of burning 1,450 calories walking 18 holes as well as muscle endurance, blood circulation, flexibility and mental alertness.
As John Gordon writes in Time for Parents to Pitch In, parents play an important role in connecting children to the game. They decide the activities in which to get their children involved and to what level. A study on youth sport suggests that a child is 50 per cent less likely to participate in a sport or activity if he or she has not been introduced by the age of 12.
I agree wholeheartedly that parents play a critical role. I also believe golf facilities can do more to engage with youngsters and parents. Junior golf is a proven revenue driver for golf clubs. There are numerous success stories of PGA of Canada professionals using innovative programming to grow their junior program and subsequent revenue at their facilities. Many are recognized National Junior Golf Development Centres — recognized by Golf Canada and the PGA of Canada as premier facilities for junior development. Clubs with a strong junior golf program often see the fruit of their efforts as those children get older. Junior members with a connection to the game or a course represent a potential lifetime customer.
Clubs that connect with schools in their community offering Golf in Schools understand engagement. They recognize that students learning golf in a school gym might want to continue with golf after the bell rings. That could be buckets at a driving range, lessons, green fee play or a summer junior membership. With 10,000 elementary schools and 4,500 high schools, Canada’s physical education system is the most concentrated opportunity to get children of all ages and demographics introduced to any sport.
What happens when your child is old enough to make their own choices to spend recreational dollars? What is awaiting intermediate-aged golfers who want to enjoy the game but are cost-conscious on spending? The sport cycle relies on those same folks — they will have their own families and will make choices on what sports are best for their kids.
Clubs need to offer golf experiences that deliver the values that today’s consumers are expecting. That includes children, families and potential enthusiasts such as new Canadians or under-represented demographics. For some, it’s a function of cost. For others, it’s joining recreational activities that are social and open to innovation.
Access is important. I wonder if every golf course offered free access to children, how many kids and their families would take up the offer? Kids need to feel welcomed at the golf course. Grassroots programs like Golf in Schools, CN Future Links and Take a Kid to the Course are introducing thousands to the game each year. But kids and their parents make choices. Golf is competing for their attention with other sports and activities.
Junior golf is good for our kids. And it might just be the perfect alternative that safety-conscious parents are looking for.
Golf’s no-contact rule
This article was originally published in the April 2016 edition of Golf Canada Magazine. To view the full magazine, click the image to the left.