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September 2019

Growing Youth Golf: Fact or Friction


By Jay Karen

I love corporate lingo. There are some great YouTube clips making fun of all the esoteric phrases we use in the business environment, such as “We need to socialize the concept with the management team.” Or (one of our staff favorites), “We need a deeper dive into this topic at the conference.”

One of the more popular phrases these days is about how to “remove friction” from the process, or to make something “frictionless.” It’s brilliant and means taking away roadblocks or difficulties that slow the process down – whatever process you may be discussing. How do we make things easier for our customers is the ultimate question about friction.

I was reminded of friction when my good friend, Ben Tonon (who runs a local shuttle company in Charleston), was taking me to the airport. He has four boys – the infamous Tonon boys of Daniel Island. Every one of them runs rings around most kids on the soccer and football fields. Ben is an avid golfer, who wishes he could play more. And yet he’s even more passionate about finding a way to get his kids into golf, because Ben understands the lifelong value of the game. But (and here is where friction enters the equation) it’s not easy getting his kids into golf, and that’s a shame.

Do you know what’s frictionless? Getting the Tonon boys into football, baseball, basketball, soccer, swimming, lacrosse, flag football and just about any other sport. That’s pretty easy – just sign up through the City of Charleston parks and recreation office, which every parent knows about. Do you know what’s completely missing from summer and fall youth sports options? You got it. Golf. There are 150,000 people who live in the city limits of Charleston, and there isn’t one golf program being promoted under “youth sports” by the city.  Are there golf programs going on around Charleston? You bet, but they aren’t easy to find.

When Ben and I chat about the golf industry (he’s always curious about what’s happening), I can’t help but feel a bit embarrassed that our $84 billion industry hasn’t mastered frictionless entry into our game – for kids. But the good news, as I told Ben, is that progress is being made. As a golf industry guy, I love PGA Junior League Golf. As a dad, I love it even more. Both my son and daughter have been in the program, and it is everything the country needs in a youth golf experience (they have also gone through the Operation 36 program, which is fantastic). The PGA has turned recreational youth golf into a team sport, which is what parents want for their kids. And the PGA of America is seeing near-six-figure participation from kids. And I believe it could quadruple participation – or even hit the seven-figure mark – by fishing where the fish are.

I am hopeful we can remove friction from the youth segment of golf by bringing our industry’s greatest youth golf programs to the masses. Easier said than done, for sure. But if youth golf is the industry’s 401k program (as the NGF’s Joe Beditz often says), I believe the parks and recreation programs across the country are the dollar-for-dollar matches we’ve been waiting for. I’d even argue that the match is 5-to-1. Before Ben’s kids have grown up and moved on, my hope is that we’ve removed some of the friction in our sport.

What else can we do to make golf “frictionless?” Let me know at


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September 2019 Issue

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