Bailey Plourde tees off on the 11th hole at Val Halla golf course in Cumberland during the 2017 Maine Junior Championships. Val Halla is one of 10 public courses in Maine that have committed to a program to offer low-price rounds for junior golfers ages 6 to 18. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Maine State Golf Association and 10 of the state’s public courses have joined a national program to offer youth golfers a season of $5 rounds.

“The theory is, the more you play, the more likely it is you get hooked and that’s better for all because you’re going to be more of an avid golfer if we tear down the barrier,” said Brian Bickford, the MSGA’s executive director.

The program is supported by Youth on Course, a national nonprofit that got its start in 2006 in northern California. The program now operates in 37 states at more than 1,400 courses. Youth on Course is open to players aged 6 to 18. For Maine golfers there is a one-time signup fee of $5 to create membership (which can be done at www.youthoncourse.org). After that, each round will cost $5.

In southern Maine, four courses have committed to the program so far: Riverside Golf Course in Portland, South Portland Municipal Golf Course, Dutch Elm Golf Club in Arundel and Val Halla Golf & Recreation in Cumberland.

“Anytime you can get junior golfers into golf and on the golf course, it’s a great asset for everybody,” said Jeff Hevey, the owner of Dutch Elm. “It gives kids a chance to do something different and you hope they become future golfers down the road. And, with the (coronavirus) pandemic, golf has been a sport that has been able to be played with a few modifications.”

Also offering the Youth on Course rate in 2021 will be Apple Valley Golf Course in Lewiston, JW Parks Golf Course in Pittsfield, Barnes Brook Golf Course in West Enfield, Mars Hill Country Club, Turner Highlands Golf Course in Turner and Bangor Municipal Golf Course.

Youth on Course members can play any course in the nationwide network for the same $5 (and in some cases, even less).

“It allows them to not just play at South Portland but some other courses, so they can go out and experience some other tracks and really expose themselves to the sport,” said Anthony Johnson, the recreation operations manager for the city of South Portland.

“It’s for those kids who maybe didn’t play before because of finances or whatnot; that $5 cost helps,” said Ryan Scott, the golf course manager at Riverside. “And the kids who are already playing, it just entices them to play more.”

Caleb Manuel of Topsham, who won the 2020 Maine Junior Amateur championship with a double eagle on the 18th hole and is about to start his freshman season at the University of Connecticut, said he would have taken advantage of the Youth on Course program.

“Definitely. I started playing when I was 10, so whenever juniors start playing that would definitely be good for them,” Manuel said. “And for kids that might want to play in the fall and don’t have much experience, it would definitely be good to have this deal through the summer.”

Manuel said when he was an eighth-grader, “I was always looking for buddies to play with. With this, you can just tell your buddies it’s only $5, and I think a lot of them would start picking it up.”

State associations, supported by the national organization, subsidize the difference between a course’s regular junior greens fees and the $5 fee the course charges Youth on Course members.

“Say you’re going to play the Riverside South course and the cost is $15 for a junior. Now if a junior walks in, it’s $5 and Riverside gets $10 from the MSGA,” Bickford said.

Junior rates can vary significantly. At South Portland Muni, a 9-hole course, the daily rate is $15 for up to 27 holes on weekdays for all players. Riverside charged juniors $13 for nine holes and $18 for 18 holes in 2020. Other courses, like Dutch Elm and Val Halla, offer a discounted junior rate off their daily greens fees while emphasizing junior memberships that started as low as $250 for a season.

In addition to not losing money with the reduced rates, courses can benefit from junior play filling normally open tee times. Courses are allowed to set their own restrictions on when Youth on Course rounds can be played. Also, Youth on Course reports that 40 percent of rounds played by its members are accompanied by a full-paying adult.

The reduced cost could encourage parents to bring their kids more frequently, especially younger children who might not have the stamina or attention to play nine holes. “Now as a parent, at $5, I can rationalize not playing the full nine,” Bickford said.

States have seen a significant rise in youth golf participation, particularly last summer with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down many other athletic outlets.

In Idaho, Youth on Course membership boomed from 150 to over 700 members and 1,500 to 5,000 rounds from 2019 to 2020, said Cecilia Baney, the director of junior golf for the Idaho Golf Association.

“With everything going on with COVID, juniors were looking for an outlet and golf was just the thing for them,” Baney said. “Youth on Course gave juniors access to affordable golf.”

The Youth on Course option can also enhance existing recreation department learn-to-play programs, Bickford said. When he was the golf pro at Val Halla, Bickford would give a series of clinics through the recreation department, but “sometimes the kids would come in for lessons and then they leave and that’s it. They never go on the course. We’d like for them to continue to play.”

Some courses, like South Portland Municipal and Dutch Elm, also offer rental clubs.


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