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Junior Golf In Canada

They say that the children are our future. Okay, so Michael Jackson said it, but despite whatever jokes you might make about Jacko, the statement couldn`t be truer when it comes to the game of golf.

The golf industry is scratching its head as to how to ebb the decline in both rounds played and club memberships. Let`s face it, players are aging and very few people in the industry seem to be prepared to do the work to bring young players into the game.

I`ve come across very few courses that have junior golf programs and even those that do cater mainly to the children of their members or regular public players. One thing that stands out to me as a missing element in all of this is the concept of reaching out into the community and introducing the game to kids who wouldn`t otherwise have the opportunity to play. These are the potential players of the future who could appreciate the game and all that it gives them more so that the privileged children who take a day at the course for granted as they write off a burger and coke at the turn on their parents tab. Two programs stand out from the pack though.

Mike Kelly, a CPGA pro based at Blue Springs, runs a program called Golf 4 Kidz. He and his team take plastic clubs, Velcro balls and targets, dress up in funny costumes and travel around the greater Toronto area visiting schools throughout the year. Mike estimates that the program has reached over 3,000 children this past year.

Another program trying to beat the odds is run out of the Driftwood Community Centre in the infamous Jane-Finch corridor in Toronto. The National Junior Golf Academy was established in 1999 with the goal of using the game of golf as a force for good. The NJGA teaches their students the rules and etiquette of the game in hopes of giving them tools to better themselves in all aspects of their lives. The program was not established to build better golfers for the future, it was established to reach into the inner city and build better citizens for the future. And it`s working.

Every Wednesday night 25 inner city kids gather in the community center`s gymnasium and drive yellow foam balls into the wall, putt down a synthetic green and practice the subtle art of chipping in to nets. The kids learn honesty, integrity and the fundamentals of a sound swing. Every once and a while a student will show exceptional talent like Dominique Claxton who won a sponsorship to attend the Tiger Woods Foundation Golf Camp in Alabama.

If this program reminds you of the First Tee program in the U.S., it should. Both programs hold the same values. What is different is that while the First Tee is a government endorsed national program, the NJGA is an organization started by an individual (Kingsley Rowe) and is staffed by local volunteers. The program has a lofty goal of expanding across the city and then going national and with a recent endorsement from the Canadian Professional Golf Tour that dream is a little closer to reality.

Junior golf programs are the best way to grow the game in this country. Reaching out into the community is the best was to grow junior golf programs.

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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.

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