First Tee and Youth on Course work collaboratively to provide a welcoming and accessible junior golf pathway.
Golf participation in Canada is currently at multiyear highs and as the national sport organization, Golf Canada is focused on the long-term future and overall health of our sport. For example, as golf participation thrives today, what long-term investment must be made to ensure the sport will be similarly healthy a generation from now?
Long-term trends indicate that the Canadian population will become increasingly multicultural and multidimensionally diverse than today. To sustain and grow Canadian golf participation going forward, a larger share of golfers will reflect racialized and socioeconomic backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented in our sport.
Many golf courses operate highly successful and impactful junior programs across Canada. As a complement to these fundamentally important locally driven efforts, Golf Canada, along with corporate and philanthropic supporters, are making long-term investments that specifically seek to provide affordable and welcoming golf access to Canadian youth from a diversity of backgrounds.
The first primary investment is in First Tee – an internationally renowned program with over 25 years of operation in the United States. First Tee offers junior golf and youth development experiences in three settings: golf facilities, community centres, and schools. The First Tee program provides equipment, turnkey lesson plans, and in-depth instructor training. First Tee is primarily suited for publicly accessible facilities and municipal golf courses – or private courses who welcome non-member juniors for First Tee programming that takes place on driving ranges and putting greens. First Tee has an extensive track record in the United States of welcoming equity-deserving youth into our sport.
First Tee is funded by generous individuals and corporate donors. First Tee programming is offered for free at all schools and community centres. Most participating golf courses are able to offer programming for free, and need-based financial assistance is available to all participants so that cost is never a barrier.
Golf Canada initially partnered with First Tee in 2020 and the program will be operational in every province by the end of 2023, charting a course for community-by-community growth that will be executed over several years.
The second important investment into the sport is Youth on Course – a program that allows junior golfers to play golf on a participating course for a green fee of $5 or less. Junior golfers who are introduced to the sport through First Tee can thus transition onto the golf course at an affordable price.
Youth on Course started in the United States and there are nearly 2,000 participating golf courses across North America. From a Canadian perspective, the program began in Alberta and Ontario in 2019 and expanded to British Columbia and Atlantic Canada this year. Partner courses are provided with a modest subsidy in addition to the $5 green fee collected from the junior golfer. Youth on Course is funded by individual and corporate donors who believe in increasing golf course access for juniors. Host courses also make an important contribution by prioritizing access for juniors, even while incurring an opportunity cost.
What do we believe is the blueprint for supporting an accessible junior golf pathway for Canadian youth from all backgrounds? Engage youth from equity deserving communities at their local schools and community centres through First Tee, transition participants to nearby First Tee golf courses to further their development in golf and finally, provide a low-cost on-course entry point through Youth on Course.
Beyond large-scale exposure to the sport, a segment of these participants will advance on to engage in competitive golf through the Junior Skills Challenge or the multitude of local, provincial, and national junior tournaments.
The impact of junior golf programs always occurs locally, and is often supported by the local club, provincial golf associations, and the efforts of PGA of Canada professionals. Whether at the grassroots level or competitively, junior golf is driven by the energy and professionalism of local coaches and volunteers. Through First Tee and Youth on Course, Golf Canada seeks to complement existing successful junior programs and provide local leaders with additional programming that is designed for the long-term future of Canadian golf.
The long-term result will be a sport that continues to be the most played of any sport in the country, and one more closely aligned with the diversity strengths of multi-cultural Canada.