Having already subsidized more than 1 million rounds for kids, the California-based nonprofit receives $1 million GolfNow donation to help broaden reach
Growing the game comes in all shapes and sizes and almost everyone will agree that the way to ensure the future of golf is to expose the game to kids. However, the biggest hurdle from teaching children how to swing to making them real golfers is affordable access.
Not only is Youth on Course leaping over that hurdle, it’s working to remove the barriers entirely. Since 2006, the California-based nonprofit has used partnerships with 1,600 courses across the U.S. to make courses available to kids for $5 (or less) per round. In summer 2020, Youth on Course passed a significant milestone by subsidizing its 1 millionth round of golf.
Speaking of seven figures, Youth on Course received its largest single donation last month — $1 million from NBC Sports Next, which is the umbrella for the GolfNow tee-time booking application and GolfPass, its subscription content service.
GolfNow was responsible for the mammoth donation. On the GolfNow app, golfers who booked tee times were asked if they would “round up” their purchases to the next even dollar amount. The response was overwhelming. More than 3 million purchases were rounded up and, at an average of only $.36 per donation, the program generated $1 million in fewer than nine months.
“I haven’t talked to a golfer yet who didn’t want to introduce someone new to the game,” said Amanda Norvell, vice president of direct-to-consumer products and services for NBC Sports Next.
The donation will enable Youth on Course to subsidize an additional 150,000 rounds, said Adam Heieck, the organization’s CEO. “We will be able to expand our reach much faster than we could have planned,” he said.
The initiative began in 2006 with the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA), which recognized the problem and began allowing kids to play Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach — where the NCGA is headquartered — for $5. Thanks to a grant from the Morton family in the name of Tom Morton, Youth on Course started to grow from three golf courses and 50 kids by moving into Oregon, then Washington, Idaho and Arizona.
Heieck has been there from the beginning. After graduating from Clemson University with a degree in political science and communication, he received a paid internship to the NCGA, funded by the USGA and named after former executive director P.J. Boatwright. In 2015, the NCGA decided that Youth on Course could stand on its own and had the legs to reach nationwide growth.
“It was the only program we knew of that could massively scale without enormous overhead needs,” Heieck said. “We implement technology to scale this. We have a staff a fraction of the size of other entities. By partnering with state and regional golf associations, Youth on Course has built a nationwide network without having to spend money on staff in every location."
A membership in Youth on Course costs a one-time fee of $20-25, depending on region, and most kids join on the organization’s website, youthoncourse.org. In addition to the golf course access, members also become a member of his or her state or regional golf association. “It gives them the ability to have a handicap,” Heieck said. “And by having a GHIN number in the system, that’s how we track the number of rounds.”
Youth on Course subsidizes each round played by the kids by paying the participating facilities an average of $7 per round. “It’s really a win-win situation for the courses,” Heieck said. “They can fill some unused tee times and 45 percent of the time, the kids bring a paying adult with them.”
The organization, which currently has 125,000 active members, has experienced a sizable growth spurt in the last two years. From 2019 through 2020, membership increased 50 percent from 70,000 to 105,000. And the number of subsidized rounds doubled from 205,000 in 2019 to 410,000 in 2020.
Youth on Course’s funding comes from philanthropy from individuals, private foundations, corporate foundations and partnerships. The organization is also a major beneficiary of the charitable efforts of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Youth on Course also has the proprietary “100-Hole Hike,” in which players play and walk 100 holes in a day. Heieck says the event is “a seven-figure fundraiser for us on an annual basis.”
NBC Sports Next and Youth on Course became partners in January 2020 and the Round-Up program is ongoing for the foreseeable future, Norvell said. As a result of the partnership,
members can book tee times on the Youth on Course app through a booking-engine component created by GolfNow. They also receive a complimentary video membership to GolfPass.
Heieck takes special care not to conflict with the First Tee or the PGA of America’s Junior League. “We’re complementary and not competitive with the other programs,” he said. “We work well with them.”
But the bottom line, said Heieck of Youth on Course’s purpose, “If you don’t have a place to play, all you’ve done is just learned how to swing.”