The Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) Tour is considered one of the most valuable audiences in sports, more likely to own second homes, use the advice of a financial advisor and invest more than $100,000. The demographics of PGA Tour viewers includes more C-suite executives and more women in top management positions.
Yet, despite the value of the audience demographics to advertisers, participation in the sport declined drastically during the recession, when it was seen as too elitist, too difficult, too time consuming and too expensive. Now, that may be changing. Though golf is not necessarily be perceived as a youth sport, it is increasingly popular with younger people, and that could be what it takes to save it. Welcoming the younger crowd is the mission of Tetherow and its new head golf pro, Jake Edwards.
"There was a scare in the industry a few years back where golf felt like it was maybe on the backside of the bell curve," says Edwards. However, "Since a resurgence in the economy," he notes, "people are getting back in the game."
A younger generation of PGA pros is helping bring more youth golfers to a sport that has seen a decline in recent years. Players such as Jordan Speith, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, and Rory McIlroy are bringing even more visibility to the game and acting as role models. The PGA started the Junior League for boys and girls ages 13 and under, and local clubs like Tetherow have embraced the organization.
Edwards was hired as the new head golf pro for Tetherow from The Vintage Club in Indian Wells, Calif., but he is no stranger to Bend, and his move is a return to his past. Edwards grew up outside of Portland, as a ski racer, then moved to Bend to continue skiing. Although he had golfed a few times in his teens, it wasn't until he participated in (and won, two years in a row) the Race & Ace ski/golf race that he knew golfing could be his future. He helped launch Tetherow back in 2008, and moved to California the following year.
"I always had a desire in my heart to get back to Bend," he explained. "I love Bend and I didn't have to leave, but I did it to create a new career path for myself, and to come full circle back to Tetherow is probably the best thing that can ever have happened to myself and my family."
Edwards plans to generate even more interest in the club by creating an atmosphere for families, because Edwards, and the rest of his colleagues at Tetherow, understand that to assure the survival of golf, catering to youth will be important — not just for Tetherow but for every golf club.
"Getting kids playing the game is important, and I think any golf course that doesn't look at getting kids out for an affordable amount is foolish," said Chris van der Velde, managing partner at Tetherow. "Ten years from now, you need to keep kids playing. If you get kids playing between the age of 6 and 12 they're more apt to play for the rest of their life."
The PGA Junior League is like Little League for golf, says van der Velde. The golf clubs in Bend team up with other facilities in the area and can host events on their own courses or have their own league play at other courses. "Part of our vision is developing that Junior League and growing these players, growing the youth into being golfers and knowing the game and knowing the etiquette and knowing how to operate, but also I think it builds character in their life," Edwards explained.
"They'll get a jersey, and they're not so intimidated because they have that team environment, they get to hang out with their buddies, and get that camaraderie with one another and have a good time," Edwards explained. "As a PGA professional, part of our responsibility is to help facilitate those opportunities."
Although one of their priorities is focusing on bringing youth into the game of golf, both Edwards and van der Velde began playing golf in their late teens, and believe anyone can start at anytime. "It can be an intense game; there is difficulty involved," Edwards said. "The difficulty is a driving force in the game."
In Bend, clubs are working together to help kids and teens learn (and love) the game. Locally, the nonprofit Junior Golf Performance Academy (JGPA) holds a development academy for three different age groups at Tetherow. Last year, 134 kids participated. This year, the development academy is expanding, also offering clinics at Awbrey Glen and Bend Golf Club. JGPA also brings in kids from organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Club to participate.
Adam Huycke, founder and executive director of JGPA, started the organization because golf changed his life so significantly as a child, giving him self-esteem and a love of fitness. "We do a lot of movement development, especially for our younger age group, it's a critical part," he explained. "How you build your actual body awareness can play a huge role in your ability to play the game and makes it more enjoyable overall," says Huycke. He adds that the program and its reach continues to expand. The JGPA now has a player card, giving kids and teens access to 14 local courses for $5, $10, or $15, including private and public courses in the area.