Growing rapidly, Youth On Course (YOC) now encompasses over 100,000 participants in 37 U.S. states and Canada through partnerships with 1,400+ facilities. The YOC umbrella of programs includes subsidized rounds of golf, paid high school internships, caddie academies and college scholarships. YOC’s vice president of programs, Michael Lowe, talked with Golf News Hub (GNH) on their incredible growth as well as issues YOC faces in this time of the coronavirus pandemic.
GNH: The growth numbers for YOC are reaching notable milestones including one million rounds played by members. Would you mind telling us about these significant trends?
Lowe: Our growth has been on a steady incline since we were founded but has truly grown exponentially over the past three to four years. In 2017, we had 30,000 members nationwide, that grew by 50% the following year and at the same rate in 2019. YOC is now closing in on the 100,000 mark in membership (after adding 30,000 new members this year alone).
In addition to the growth of our membership, the number of rounds played by YOC members this year are up by more than 75% and we recently hit the one-million mark in the total number of subsidized rounds of golf played by YOC members since our founding (more than 180,000 of which were played so far in 2020).
While those numbers are impressive, what’s most meaningful is the direct impact we’re having on young people’s lives. We often hear that golf wouldn’t be an option for many of our members and their families if it wasn’t for YOC, and more than 82% of our members report that their YOC membership is helping them spend more time with their family.
GNH: What are the main benefits of getting kids “hooked on golf” early in their lives?
Lowe: The golf course is an incredible training ground for building confidence and perseverance in young people, so there are frankly no downsides to getting kids into the game early.
When you bring a young person into the game at an early age, you’re creating the opportunity for them to enjoy more experiences with golf and to deepen their affinity for our sport.
GNH: There are certainly challenges with growing the game in the COVID-19 world. How is YOC navigating this “new normal”?
Lowe: What makes Youth on Course unique as a junior golf organization is that our primary focus is on providing affordable access for young people to play the game. Supporting our Allied Golf Association and course partners in their efforts to adapt and create spaces for safe and socially distant play.
With many other recreational sports being put on hold due to COVID-19, golf has become one of the few safe options for kids and families. So while we’ve had to put our internship and caddie programs on hold this summer, we’re still able to connect our members with an affordable way to get outdoors, be active and find some normalcy on the golf course.
GNH: Diversity and inclusion is important in growing the game. In addition to playing golf, YOC also provides “off-course” growth and learning experiences. Please tell us about these initiatives.
Lowe: Between our subsidized rounds and internship and caddie programs, inclusiveness defines our business model. Our internship program offers high school students the opportunity to gain work experience in the golf industry with positions available in club operations, retail, food and beverage and more, along with guidance and mentorship along the way.
Our caddie program helps YOC members feel more connected to the game, better at course management and feeling more confident networking and having conversations with adults. We help prepare new caddies for their first loop through an orientation program and connect them with opportunities to caddie at clubs in select markets.
GNH: YOC has some big names as “brand ambassadors” like NBA superstar Steph Curry giving shoutouts in a new star-studded video. That must have been an exciting project for YOC. Please tell us about it.
Lowe: It’s an incredibly exciting time for our organization. We recently relaunched our brand with a new visual identity and celebrated it by kicking off our digital #YOCWeek campaign.
It’s garnered some great traction online and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect with our members hitting the one million rounds mark in the number of rounds played since our founding. We’re fortunate to have the support of Steph Curry, Annika Sorenstam, Tom Watson and several other celebrities inside and outside of golf who joined us in celebrating this milestone.