Meet the Organization Changing the Future of Golf One $5 Round at a Time
Despite being one of the most popular recreational sports across the globe, golf is one of the most expensive. From clubs to attire to cart rentals, golf is a costly sport, especially for juniors. Even if you have all the equipment needed to play, you have to pay a greens fee before taking your first swing on the golf course.
These barriers have historically made golf inaccessible to much of the junior population. “We looked around [in 2004] and found that an average junior rate late in the day was $20 - 25,” Youth on Course CEO Adam Heieck told the Mid-Am Crisis podcast. “And if you’re a family who has to buy equipment and get kids there, there are just so many barriers to entry around golf.”
A small idea starts to make a big impact
In the early 2000s, only 6% of all junior golfers aged six to 18 were minorities, according to the National Golf Foundation. While youth programs were becoming popular during that time, many beginners could learn to swing a club but were unable to practice their skills on the golf course due to the cost of play.
“There were a lot of golf professionals teaching kids the game, but in some ways, the industry was doing itself a little bit of a disservice,” Heieck said. “You got all these kids excited about going to play and it was so expensive.”
Youth on Course sought to find a solution to this problem. In 2006, the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) built a model for the initiative at its home, Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, and allowed kids to play rounds for just $5.
The program soon took off. After a grant from the Morton family, Youth on Course began to expand across the west coast and beyond, moving into Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Arizona. Since then, Youth on Course has partnered with over 1,700 courses in all 50 states and parts of Canada, including Alberta and Ontario. And YOC members can play them all for $5 or less.
Interested in becoming a Youth on Course member? Join today and start playing for $5 or less!
Youth on Course’s growth has been motivated by its core belief that access to golf allows access to greater opportunities off the course. “If we can eliminate the cost as a barrier to golf, we can do a lot for young people and their families,” Heieck said. “Ultimately, we feel like education is the great equalizer in life, and so paid high school internships and college scholarships were kind of those next steps for Youth on Course members and their families.”
Meet Nicolas Herrara
YOC golfer Nicolas Herrera knows this to be true firsthand. After leaving his native Columbia with his family, Herrera struggled to overcome language barriers and cultural differences as he acclimated to his new life in the United States. Golf helped Herrera with his adjustment, and he eventually found community in Youth on Course during his freshman year of high school.
“I loved YOC because of the sense of camaraderie,” Herrera said. “Everyone was so nice to each other.”
"The coaches also pushed me, and motivated me to be better. Not just to be a better golfer, but to be a better human in life. I feel like I also learned how to be a leader.”
Herrera soon got involved with another one of YOC’s unique offerings and worked as a caddie at La Rinconada Country Club and San Jose Country Club during his high school summers. The golfers he caddied for became mentors to him, and Herrera dedicates a lot of his personal growth to the conversations he was able to have on the golf course.
“It allowed me to learn a lot from them in terms of how they became successful, he said. “To be able to walk with a person for four hours and ask them questions, it really helped me pay attention to the things you’re supposed to do, and what I should focus on.”
Heieck knows the connections formed on the golf course can be life-changing, “It’s the relationships that develop on a golf course that make it a unique and valuable sport for young people,” he said. “What you learn from the random people you meet, or the strangers that become friends or mentors can transform where you go in life. I experienced that as a kid and it kept me involved in a sport that has now given me a career.”
Herrera is now a student at San Jose State University and is studying to become an engineer. The skills and connections that Herrera developed on the golf course helped him land internships at NASA Ames and Aerojet Rocketdyne. After realizing how much YOC changed his life, Herrera convinced his siblings to join, and golf has since become a shared family passion.
Growing the game
Herrera’s story is not unique. YOC has grown to serve more than 130,000 members, providing them unprecedented access to golf courses and work opportunities. In the summer of 2020, YOC subsidized its one-millionth round of golf. In September 2021, YOC received a $1 million donation -- its largest to date.
Who’s responsible for that groundbreaking donation? Everyday golfers. With the help of NBC Sports Next’s tee time booking application, GolfNow, golfers had the option to “round up” their booking purchases to the nearest even dollar amount. Over the course of just nine months, more than three million purchases were rounded up at an average amount of $.36 per donation, all adding up to the $1 million total. The donation will allow YOC to fund 150,000 rounds of golf for junior golfers.
“I think golfers know how special the sport is and want to see more young people taking advantage of the opportunities it provides,” said Heieck. “Golfers traditionally are a pretty generous group of people, but what’s unique about this moment is that GolfNow and GolfPass’ technology is giving millions of people the collective opportunity to make a huge impact on the lives of young people with just their spare change.”
In addition to bringing those 150,000 rounds to life for young golf hopefuls, Heieck says that the future of the program will steer towards improving representation in the game of golf. “I think you’ll see more of a focus around diversity, equity, and inclusion and making sure that we’re bringing kids of different backgrounds into the game,” he said, “digging deeper and making sure that the impact is really there.”
The impact may even be starting to show. According to the National Golf Foundation, 3.1 million juniors aged six to 18 played golf on a course in 2020. More than 25% of those young golfers are minorities, just like Herrera, his siblings, and many other YOC members.
“YOC is really trying to make sure that our membership kind of looks a bit more like the country and provides access to those kids,” Heieck said. “We want Youth on Course families to feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Interested in contributing to the Youth on Course mission? Find out how you can make a difference for YOC members through donations or other ways to give.