To help energize youth participation in golf, the leagues will be introduced for children ages 5 through 12 at select local facilities in 2013. The leagues will emphasize team play and utilize SNAG® Golf equipment.
To help bring golf more into the mainstream of youth sports, golf legend Jack Nicklaus has joined with the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and SNAG® Golf (Starting New at Golf), which makes equipment designed for those first learning the game, to create Jack Nicklaus Learning Leagues that will be introduced at select local park and recreation facilities in 2013. The leagues will make golf available for the first time to youngsters as a team sport, organizers say, and provide a golf learning experience for children, ages 5 through 12, in a safe, affordable and accessible environment.
Some 300 Jack Nicklaus Learning Leagues are being planned for spring 2013, and an estimated 400 are projected to launch in 2014. Nicklaus hopes the leagues will help give golf competitive footing with such team sports as soccer, basketball and football.
“There are so many sports—team sports—played in the park system today,” he said in announcing the initiative. “Today, kids start playing athletics when they are as young as 4 or 5 years old, and by the time they are just 7, 8 or 9 years old, many of them have picked the two or three sports that they might want to play in the different seasons.
“If golf is not part of the sports introduced and available to them at their local park and recreation facilities, they will play other sports and not golf,” he added. “So we need to get golf in their local parks and have them play our sport, and I think the team concept is the way to do it.
“Children seem to embrace the team concept of looking to and relying on other children, so it is not all on their shoulders,” Nicklaus continued. “A lot of kids shy away from golf because of that. When I picked up the game at age 10, one of the beauties of the sport was that I could do it by myself. I didn’t need someone to throw a ball to me or catch a ball or defend me. I could be as good as the time and effort that I wanted to put into it.
“But at the very young age many children are introduced to sports, many don’t want so much placed on their shoulders,” he said. “The idea is to bring kids into the game, keep them into the game, have them learn, let them have fun, have fun with their friends, and then they can advance to the next level where they get on a golf course and develop.”
The Nicklaus Learning Leagues will be separated into four groups, for ages 5 and 6, 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12. Each league will have a set number of children per team, and incorporate a specialized, age-appropriate format and learning curriculum.
The NRPA’s role in the initiative will be to help line up parent-coaches and turn soccer and other playing fields into venues for the golf competition. “Local parks and recreation [facilities] are the go-to places where children can learn to play sports and develop a connection to healthy activities,” said Barbara Tulipane, the organization’s President and CEO. “We are proud to be bringing the Jack Nicklaus Learning Leagues and SNAG to park and recreation agencies across the country. It is not only a great program, it means more children will have the chance to participate in the sport of golf in a fun and unique way, and develop a connection to a healthy activity that will last them a lifetime.”
The NRPA will administer grants to park and recreation facilities across the U.S. to underwrite the costs associated with providing equipment, coaching and programming for the leagues. A 501[c]3 entity, G.O.L.F. (the Global Outreach for Learning Foundation), has been established to raise the necessary funds. G.O.L.F.’s mission is to help people develop golf skills and have fun through developmentally appropriate programs. The goal is to ensure retention and provide a sustainable model for transition to other programs at golf facilities, to increase participation for current and future generations.
Terry Anton, founder and CEO of SNAG Golf, expressed enthusiasm about having Nicklaus in a leadership position to help establishment the leagues. “Jack Nicklaus’ vision to bring golf to the same venues where other organized sports thrive will make it easier to develop our future golfers,” Anton said. “These leagues will introduce millions of new players to the sport and help nurture children developing their motor skills, and do it in a fun way.
“This is an important stepping stone for the industry to capture interest in golf early so that youngsters will transition with confidence to play with actual golf equipment on a traditional course,” Anton said. “The more fun we make golf for children, the more chance they have to play the game for a lifetime.”
Ultimately, organizers say, the Jack Nicklaus Learning Leagues will be a global philanthropic endeavor, to bring the sport to countries that are embracing the game as part of the Olympic movement.
More information about the golf-specific grant program for park and recreation agencies can be found by visiting www.nrpa.org/snag