The stereotypical view of golf is that it's too expensive for most people to play.
I've invested heavily into trying to get my son and daughter to play. First, I tried equipment from S.N.A.G. (Starting New At Golf). Hitting oversized balls with clubs to colorful targets provided a few moments of backyard fun, but that was about it. I put my son in a local junior summer camp a couple years ago. I even ordered a pink "Hello Kitty" set for my daughter, who adored the look but never used them once.
All of this got me thinking: How much does it actually cost to get a beginner into the game? It's actually not all that expensive to start out. Once you really dive into the game -- custom-fitted clubs, video lessons, fancy resort courses, Pro-V1s -- that's another story.
Once upon a time, the best way to get a youngster into golf was to become a caddie. But golf carts have made that job all but obsolete, unless you belong or have connections to the fanciest of private clubs.
I reached out to three major golf organizations -- the United States Golf Association, the PGA of America and the National Golf Foundation -- to see if they had any research or statistics on the costs associated with being a beginning golfer. None did, so here goes, an unscientific look at the cost of getting started in the game:
Purchasing that first set of clubs
Youth sets aren't all that expensive. A simple Google search brought up options ranging from a top-of-the-line Callaway set for $249, a less expensive Wilson junior set for $129 or the generic factory-made set found at any sporting goods store for $72. By comparison, my son's latest, top-of-the-line baseball glove cost $250. A new high-end bat would cost more than $200.
U.S. Kids Golf offers sets for children of all ages and sizes. Parents can trade the clubs in for bigger ones as their children grow. For true beginners, it offers the new Yard Club, which has an oversized head and can hit real or limited-flight golf balls.
"I don't think equipment is going to be a prohibitive (to starting at golf)," says John Kim, the senior director of communications & media at U.S. Kids Golf. "It is not just a sport for millionaires. It is a game that we all (golf equipment companies) make as inclusive and inviting as possible, especially for kids."
A decent adult set bought at retail will cost at least double, probably $500 at a minimum and a bag will be a separate cost of $100 or more, unless you want to cobble together used stuff from a garage sale or online site such as Ebay, www.3balls.com or a manufacturer's site (www.taylormadegolfpreowned.com or www.callawaygolfpreowned.com).
Next comes the accessories -- a glove (buy a pair for $20 and up), a couple dozen balls ($40-$50 for low-cost brands), tees (free to grab a handful at most courses) and a towel ($15). You can probably live without golf shoes for the first year, but I've found that muddy or wet conditions can destroy a pair of normal tennis shoes, so investing in shoes isn't a bad idea. Another search for junior shoes dug up prices ranging from $35 (FootJoy), $40 (adidas), $45 (Puma), $50-$60 (Nike) up to $70 (high-end FootJoys). It's safe to assume most everybody (even children) already have a polo shirt or two, a couple pair of shorts and a hat good enough for the local junior or beginner friendly facility. Just in case, let's build in $50 for a fashion upgrade.
Total Estimated Cost: $232-$454 for juniors and $750-and-up for an adult.
Instruction: From a golf academy to individual lessons
Get Golf Ready, a program launched by the PGA of America that offers a package of five lessons for $99, is perfect for adults new to the game. There's no equipment needed. By the time five lessons are up, you should know the basics -- grip, warm-up, full swing, golf terms, etiquette, putting, chipping, driving and more. It's not made for children, however.
Young players will probably respond better by being around peers learning the game. You can try individual lessons right out of the gate (www.uskidsgolf.com has a search engine used to locate certified coaches in your zip code), but an afterschool youth clinic or summer day camp probably makes more sense. Children can learn from watching others their age in a more playful setting. Two summers ago, my son participated in a junior camp at the Santa Teresa Golf Club, a municipal course with a terrific youth program less than a mile from our house in San Jose, Calif. The camps, dedicated to ages 6-17, run from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, ranging in cost from $295-$595. Since this is Silicon Valley, I'm guessing people in most other parts of the country can find prices closer to $200-$400 for similar experiences.
The Golf Channel Academy (GCA) has teamed with US Sports Camps, Inc., the nation's largest operator of junior sports camps, to bring GCA-branded junior camps to a limited number of markets this summer, with plans to expand nationwide in 2018 and 2019. The first four markets are with Cindy and Allen Miller in Buffalo, N.Y.; Kelley Brooke in New York City, Staten Island & Brooklyn, N.Y.; Kirk Jones at Windsor Parke G.C. in Jacksonville, Fla.; and the Kendall Academy of Golf at Miles of Golf, a superstore in Ypsilanti, Mich. For more about the GCA-branded summer junior camps, including dates and prices, go to USSportsCamps.com.
The First Tee program -- which has grown to 165 chapters, offering programs at 1,200 locations, 9,000-plus elementary schools (in-school as part of physical education) and just launched a new after-school program delivered in partnership with other youth-serving organizations in more than 1,000 locations -- is even more affordable than a local camp. Since its inception in 1997 through 2016, more than 14 million young people have participated in The First Tee. For example, The First Tee of Silicon Valley charges $120 for a full season of classes, where students learn about The First Tee Nine Core Values, the 27 Core Life Lessons and 10 Golf Skills. Again, that rate is probably cheaper elsewhere in America.
Another option is finding a TGA Premier program through a local school. TGA's franchises have now grown to 62 markets across the nation serving more than 3,300 schools and introducing more than 650,000 youth (ages 5-13) to the game. Visit PlayTGA to find a franchise near you.
If you want to continue lessons beyond what's listed above, obviously, costs will grow, but doing any of these programs should get a beginner headed in the right direction.
Total Estimated Cost: $99 for adults and $100-$500 for juniors.
Playing golf: What it can cost for a tee time
Here, again, is where costs vary greatly. I'm pretty luck to live within walking distance of that municipal golf course with not only an affordable 18-hole course, but a nine-hole par-3 course that's a good incubator for beginners. The par-3 course, also used for FootGolf, features holes 140 yards or less with several ponds in play. Beginners learn quickly where to miss or they're reaching for a new ball.
Santa Teresa participates in the "Youth On Course" program with extra benefits. For $60 a year, YOC members who purchase the membership at the club get discounts on range balls; free entry into instructional clinics and youth tournaments; and $5 green fees on weekdays for the short course and the big course in the afternoon an hour before twilight. The Youth On Course program, started by the Northern California Golf Association, has expanded to hundreds of courses in 14 states, offering nearly 20,000 kids, ages 6-18, rounds of golf for just $5. If you can't find a YOC course near you, the next best bet is to play and practice at a municipal facility or a short course where beginners can gain confidence. Let's say you play nine holes per week with your child at $50 per round for the both of you, that pace will add up to $200 a month and roughly $2,500 per year.
Total Estimated Cost: $500-$2,500, depending upon how much you play, whether you take a cart and where you play.
You would think it would always be more affordable for a junior to take up the game than an adult, but the Get Golf Ready classes really give adults some savings. The industry is really pushing growing the game, so it's working hard on the next generation of country club members by creating more opportunities for junior golfers. New events such as the "Drive, Chip & Putt" Championship and the PGA Junior League are joining The First Tee to get kids hooked on the sport.
Results are starting to show. The number of junior golfers (ages 6-17) in America has increased by 25 percent, from 2.4 million in 2011 to 3 million in 2015, according to the NGF. This is the largest jump in total volume compared to other youth sports, including soccer, basketball, football and baseball, based on statistics from the Sports Fitness Industry Association and NGF. Affordability has to be part of that equation.
By my estimates, the first year in the game can cost anywhere from $832 to $3,454 for juniors and $1,849 to $3,349 for adults. Those numbers are probably inflated since most places in the country can't play year-round. Most adults don't have the time to tee it up once a week, even if they could (either by themselves or with a child new to the game). Most new golfers could probably get away with spending less money than a grand and still have a positive introduction to the game, a game that could ultimately provide a lifetime of exercise, entertainment and friendships if done right.
To put this all in perspective, it costs me more than $2,500 per child per year for my son to play travel baseball and my daughter to play club and travel lacrosse. With two Youth on Course memberships, my children could play all the golf they wanted for much less money.
Isn't it time to stick that first tee in the ground?