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Kids and golf: How TGA is trying to grow the game in Ontario

My son swings at a TGA camp last year in London.

My son swings at a TGA camp last year in London.

This is my final take on TGA Golf, the organization that started in the US under the watchful eye of Josh Jacobs, and has come to Canada in recent years. It started as an after-school program in the US, but in Canada is often slightly different given the lack of accessibility of space in schools after classes let out. My two children, age 8-11, attended the camp last year and I was impressed by their experience. Interestingly, this isn’t run with golf pros–and given the age of the kids I don’t think golf pros are necessary.

Here’s my interview with Joe Barnes, one of the partners who bought the TGA franchise for London and surrounding area. Joe is an entrepreneur, educator and writer. He’s clearly passionate about the sport and has worked hard to establish TGA in London.

1) Golf participation in Canada is a genuine concern of many golf leaders. Did you see TGA as dealing with that issue or more as a program outside of those concerns with the game? 

TGA London co-owner Joe Barnes.

TGA London co-owner Joe Barnes.

Joe: Participation is indeed a large concern to many and TGA feels genuinely passionate about being part of if not the leader in providing solutions in this regard. Golf’s leaders are going to be forced to change the way they do business or fail miserably. Access to competent instruction and training by juniors of all ages is mandatory. By all ages I am talking about children over the age or 3 years of age to 18 years of age. For example, we have developed excellent players who are only 5 and 6 years old capable of shooting 50 or less on a 9 hole golf course, but what courses will allow them to play ? We have an extraordinary partner by the name of Crumlin Creek Golf Club that gives every one of our TGA London graduates a free junior golf club membership which allows them to play anytime absolutely free with an adult . This is the kind of attitude I am talking about when I talk about changing the way that Golf’s leaders must do business in the immediate future. This is only one example but one that is clear in its purpose and intentions.

2) What’s been the biggest hurdle in bringing TGA to London? How does it differ from what’s going on with the program in the U.S.?

Joe: Great question. The largest hurdle by far is that we are prohibited from renting elementary school gymnasium space during the school week before 6 PM. Evidently this is a Ministry of Education guideline that is strictly enforced by the school boards here. In the USA, our programs are welcomed with open arms as part of the daily continuing curriculum for elementary school kids. This means that the students interested in TGA golf enrichment lessons simply go to the gymnasium after their last academic class of the day, have their TGA golf enrichment lesson before Mom or Dad picks them up from school to go home. In our case, the kids have to go home first then come back to the school at 6PM for their TGA enrichment lessons. School boards here are also extremely reluctant to hand out our literature here whereas in the US, the schools are much more cooperative and actually let our TGA operators know they are running low of fliers or brochures or other information. Many USA schools actually have corporate sponsors that support the schools with  money, equipment and books. In our opinion many of the funding woes experienced by our education system could be totally eliminated by embracing corporate and community partnerships. This is not the case at this time in our experience even though the Ministry of Education guidelines clearly encourage the development and nurturing of corporate and community partnerships. Such is not the case in London Ontario.

3) Can you explain how the program differs from more traditional golf camps and junior programs?

Joe: The short answer is “fun, fun, fun.” Before being hired all our coaches must pass a very special onboarding process which includes: A clean police background check with vulnerable sector check, hands-on in class training and an extensive series of online training courses that specifically teach our coaches how to teach young kids. In addition, our programs all include STEAM concepts which when put in the hands of our creative coaching staff produces drills , exercises and student engagement in the learning process well beyond the traditional junior programs. Golf instruction is the vehicle through which TGA delivers character building lessons such as respect , cooperation, teamwork, sportsmanship, rules and etiquette to name a few. As a testimonial to how complete our TGA programs are: Several PGA sections in the USA have opted to purchase TGA franchises rather than try and reinvent the wheel. TGA programs deliver fun, fun, fun in a wonderful safe fun and educational environment 12 months a year. Teaching year round 12 months a year in gymnasiums, golf courses, driving ranges, YMCA’s, and community centres makes us very unique. Some of our largest classes are held indoors during the winter months .

4) You don’t necessarily have a golf pro involved. What’s the role of the pro in the development of children as golfers, in your opinion?

Joe: All TGA programs have been created and continue to be tested by PGA professionals along with PhD level education specialists. The programs created and tested by our curriculum development team are then converted into “child friendly” components for delivery by our well trained coaches . In actual fact many of our franchisees are PGA professionals and most franchisees employ more than one PGA professional on their coaching staffs. TGA London is no exception .

5) You’ve recently done a deal with the YMCA. Does expansion of the TGA program come more from those partnerships than from the traditional model of dealing with schools?

Joe: This is entirely new and very exciting for TGA London. During our due diligence phase with the local YMCA’s and our TGA franchises in the USA, we discovered that we have entire territories in the USA that teach golf only to YMCA members. TGA enrichment classes and summer camps with the YMCA’s in some cases are those TGA franchisees entire focus. We fully expect to develop the YMCA/TGA London programs to the point where every YMCA here will start at least 2 TGA /YMCA classes every month as well as collaborate with all YMCA locations here to produce exceptional summer camps . The traditional model that TGA uses in the USA is not the model we use here in London Ontario.

6) What do you see as the state of the game now? How will it evolve as far as junior golfers in five or ten years?  In general I see the state of the game showing signs of getting better. Where I see things getting better is at the clubs that continue to do away with old traditional and stodgy customs. Fine for the wealthy old money members at country clubs that demand the old ways and traditions, but old ways will not be unsustainable in the coming years.

We must embrace the younger ages of junior golfers like the TGA system does with curriculums for kids as young as 3 years of age. By adopting programs for the younger juniors means we must adopt their new ways such as their need to bring technology to the courses in any form they see fit. These kids want to be connected to their friends and the outside world while they play the “lifetime game.” New ways also means new ways of dress at the course like collarless shirts and blue jeans . New ways also means that courses need to learn how to treat younger players and have facilities around to cater to them like WiFi , electric golf boards and drinks and food that they like. Courses must make the junior’s experiences exceptional from the time they arrive at the course until they go home. New ways also means that courses must adapt to the busy lifestyles of working parents so adding things like day care services for the really young players to electronic games for the older juniors until Mom or Dad can pick them up will become mandatory for the golf facilities that want to survive .

Junior golfers of the future because of programs like TGA has to offer will be far better players, much better behaved, will know the rules, will know the proper etiquette , will have respect for those around them , their equipment and the golf courses and will be a pleasure for golf courses to play host to . This is a huge difference to the upcoming juniors predecessors who many golf course owners looked upon as trouble  If we are to survive in the world of golf, we must adapt to changes . Changes that are coming at us fast and furious over the next decade.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • Golf has many more benefits than other sports, it’s a sport that can last a lifetime instructs children on the core values of honesty, courtesy towards others, on strategy and smart decisions both on and off the golf course – all positive attributes that will help in leadership roles and throughout their careers. As mentioned by a local Houston-based developer, “Golf is math, golf is English. You must calculate the break of the ball in degrees. It’s just another avenue of learning.”
    There are also scientific aspect attached to golf and if we learn more about them, we will perform better on the putting green and on the course.
    Kids are the most voracious learners in the game. You tell them something they say, ‘Oh, okay’ and they start doing it that way. Swinging a golf club, walking the course, proper bending and stretching before and after the round all translate into great health benefits without hurting kids physically as may be the case with other sports.

    In my view everyone should enjoy the game they are playing. Fun element should be there. Find my golf buddy.com helps you to connect with your compatible buddy to play round of golf so you can enjoy the game more.

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