Ask any kid about the sport of golf, and he or she will probably describe it as boring.” At least that’s how Joe Pickett feels when he thinks about the state of youth golf.

“Golf is made out to be a hard game, and kids get the impression that it’s boring, and it isn’t going to be fun unless they’re out there on the course,” says Pickett. Which is why his organization, Youth Golf of America, aims to change that belief by offering children a real opportunity to get involved in golf, through interactive drills and skill development, team building and actual experience playing on an 18-hole golf course.

“We are a playing program, so no matter what level you are, you’re going to play,” Pickett says.

Pickett, the national director of golf for YGOA, has been working with young athletes since 1985, when he started Champions Junior Golf Tour. The organization’s name was changed to Youth Golf of America three years ago. Since then the organization’s presence around the country has grown significantly, and Pickett only sees more opportunity to expand and continue to bring the sport to kids and teens everywhere.

“We’re unique in that our mission is about focusing on the beginner to intermediate player, and not much attention is paid to that area…very few programs are there to help kids mature in the game,” he says. “Our platform is about the everyday kid, so we’ve tapped into a niche market which really allows us to grow. It’s a good structure.” He is particularly excited about some of YGOA’s recent initiatives.

YGOA has recently gotten involved with parks and recreation systems in hundreds of cities throughout the United States to promote the sport.

“We offer a program similar to league play where kids come to a golf course one night a week and golf with about 60 to 70 other kids,” says Pickett. The partnership has not only boosted the number of young athletes who have picked up the sport, but has also helped bring in revenue for golf courses and parks. Pickett says that the events held at area courses bring in more spectators, which increases sales of everything from concessions and equipment to lessons and golf cart rentals. The local golf courses have even started offering special parent/child rates for players in the league to draw kids back to the course even when they are not involved in league play.

Pickett is also proud of the home school kid’s league, which consists of children and teens who are educated at home and may not have opportunities for after-school sports and activities. “It’s actually a huge market for us; there are a lot of home school kids that get involved with our organization,” Pickett says.

The organization even holds home schooled-only golf events and tournaments. Pickett says, “It’s a lot easier to schedule lessons and events and tournaments for them because they are a lot more flexible with their time. They can travel and compete during the week without the restrictions of school.”

While its dedication to youth golf is certainly a draw for many athletes and parents, another big appeal of the organization is its player benefits and cost. YGOA is accessible to so many people due to its affordability—a year membership costs $15—and its unbeatable amenities—all athletes are fully coved by insurance. In addition, the professionals and coaches will take the time to teach and train each child individually through camps and drills. The organization wants to make sure that every kid has the opportunity to play at a regional, state or national level.

YGOA has reached a well-defined demographic with its programs and continues to recruit players and families through active marketing techniques. The group uses every available means at its disposal to get its name out and expand its program. Pickett says YGOA has people out there marketing to golf courses, writing press releases, and attending trade shows and PGA events. YGOA believes that the best way to continue its mission is through people starting branches in their own cities, which is why it provides brochures on how to host a junior golf event.

“We reach out to numerous other non-profits and organizations, and we teach them how to hold their own tournament, how to market to golf courses and how to get sponsorships,” says Pickett. Through local efforts, more youth golf leagues will form, which will bring the sport to more children around the country, one of YGOA’s main goals.

The other goal is to make golf fun. “Usually, golf courses don’t like kids because they’re inexperienced and uneducated, so they feel unwelcome. We try to change that by creating an atmosphere where a kid will leave with a better attitude about golf than when he [or she] started,” Pickett says. Part of that positive atmosphere is generated by a supportive crowd, and Pickett encourages galleries of parents, friends and families to be at the golfing events.

“It doesn’t matter what level they’re at, kids need to be involved in the game of golf, and our program lets them pick it up at any time,” says Pickett. “We don’t just limit them to the driving range because that’s boring. We make it fun by getting them out on the course and playing.”

Youth Golf of America’s philosophy is exactly what junior golf needs. In the end, it’s all about helping kids enjoy the game.

Vanessa Day