The Rising Cost of Youth Sports: A Barrier to Entry for Many Families
Initiative Aims to Make Golf More Accessible for Young People
Editor’s note: On Nov. 13, Justin Ray, a contributor to The Athletic’s golf coverage, will participate in the 100 Hole Hike for Youth on Course by attempting to play 100 holes in one day at The Hay at Pebble Beach.
The business of youth sports is experiencing significant growth, but with it comes a growing concern over the rising cost of participation. Families in the United States are estimated to spend $30 to $40 billion annually on their children’s sports activities, according to the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program.
A recent survey conducted by Utah State University and the Sports & Society Program revealed that the average youth sports parent spends $883 per season on one child’s primary sport. This financial burden is often cited as a reason why some parents are unable to enroll their children in organized sports, resulting in only 37 percent of children ages 6-12 regularly participating in team sports in 2021.
Unfortunately, the cost of participation in youth sports disproportionately affects families based on their financial situation. A survey by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association found that 40 percent of children from households making $100,000 or more annually played sports regularly, compared to only 24 percent from families with incomes of $25,000 or less.
These statistics are even more pronounced in the sport of golf, which presents numerous barriers to entry. The cost of proper equipment and limited access to practice facilities make it difficult for many young people to engage with the sport. Additionally, approximately one-quarter of U.S. golf facilities are private, further limiting accessibility. The National Golf Foundation reports that the median cost for a round of golf during peak season is nearly $50.
Recognizing these challenges, Youth on Course, a non-profit organization, is working to remove barriers and make golf more affordable for young people. Through their program, nearly 200,000 members have access to play over 2,000 golf courses for $5 or less. Over 80 percent of Youth on Course families credit the organization for making golf financially feasible for their children.
“When we started this, we knew there were many barriers to the game,” says Youth on Course CEO Adam Heieck. “Cost, equipment, transportation. Historically, the game hasn’t been all that welcoming to many groups of people. Access is the whole ballgame. We want to change the economics of golf, period.”
One of the ways Youth on Course is expanding access to golf is through their partnership with TaylorMade. The DRIVE Club initiative allows young people to play golf for free at Youth on Course facilities and earn TaylorMade gear based on their participation. Since its inception, DRIVE Club has expanded to multiple cities across the United States, providing opportunities for new golfers to experience the sport.
“DRIVE Club is important to TaylorMade because it embodies the values of bringing people together and bonding over a shared experience,” says Rick Paschal, TaylorMade’s Chief Financial Officer and a Youth on Course board member.
DRIVE Club players are encouraged to invite their peers from the community to join them on the golf course, fostering a peer-to-peer introduction to the sport. Partner courses, known as “Community Hubs,” are equipped with TaylorMade equipment, further eliminating barriers for young people interested in golf.
For kids who don’t come from golfing families, an invitation from a peer may be their only opportunity to play the game. In 2023 alone, DRIVE Club facilitated over 1,100 rounds played by new golfers.
“DRIVE Club addresses the challenge of access by creating the introduction,” says Michael Lowe, VP of Programs for Youth on Course. “It’s not simply the cost that is a significant barrier, but also the question of whether or not a person has the opportunity to play golf.”
The benefits of youth sports extend far beyond the golf course. Allison Chan, a 13-year-old participant in Youth on Course and the DRIVE Club, has experienced firsthand how golf has taught her valuable life skills.
“Golf has taught me how to be a leader, work in stressful situations, step out of my comfort zone, and be independent and responsible,” says Chan.
By supporting initiatives like Youth on Course, more young people will have access to the countless benefits that golf and other sports offer. Readers are encouraged to contribute to November’s 100-Hole Super Hike, directly benefiting Youth on Course and its mission to increase youth sports participation in a meaningful and inclusive way.
“The 100-Hole Hike has added millions of dollars to Youth on Course, which has helped us subsidize hundreds of thousands of rounds for families across the country,” says Heieck. “It has certainly become part of our culture here.”
Together, we can create a culture of inclusivity and open doors to opportunities for young people through the power of sports.
(Top photo: John McCoy / Getty Images)
The Rising Cost of Youth Sports: Youth on Course Aims to Level the Playing Field
The business of youth sports is booming, but so is the financial burden on families. According to the Aspen Institute, families in the United States spend an estimated $30 to $40 billion annually on their children’s sports activities. However, the rising costs are preventing many children from participating in organized sports, with only 37 percent of children ages 6-12 regularly playing team sports.
The Financial Barrier
A survey conducted by Utah State University and the Sports & Society Program revealed that the average youth sports parent spends $883 per season on one child’s primary sport. The cost of participation is even higher for families with lower incomes, as only 24 percent of children from households earning $25,000 or less regularly play sports. The economic disparity is evident, with the wealthiest households spending four times more on their child’s sports than the lowest-income families.
Golf: A Sport with Unique Challenges
Golf, in particular, presents significant barriers to entry. The sport requires expensive equipment and access to private facilities, making it inaccessible for many. Additionally, the median cost for a round of golf is nearly $50, further limiting participation. However, Youth on Course, a non-profit organization, is working to remove these barriers and make golf more affordable and accessible for young people.
Youth on Course: Breaking Down Barriers
Youth on Course provides its members, nearly 200,000 young people, with access to play over 2,000 golf courses for $5 or less. This initiative has been instrumental in enabling families to afford golf for their children, with more than 80 percent of Youth on Course families expressing their gratitude for the organization’s affordability.
DRIVE Club: Expanding Access
In collaboration with TaylorMade, Youth on Course launched DRIVE Club, a program that allows young people to play golf for free at designated facilities and earn TaylorMade gear through their participation. The program has been successful in introducing new golfers to the sport, with over 1,100 rounds played by newcomers in 2023 alone. DRIVE Club’s peer-to-peer approach, where young golfers invite their peers to join, has been particularly effective in breaking down the barriers and dispelling the notion that golf is only for older individuals.
The Benefits of Youth Sports
Golf, like other sports, offers valuable life lessons and opportunities for personal growth. Allison Chan, a 13-year-old golfer, attests to the positive impact of golf on her life, stating that it has taught her leadership, resilience, and independence. By supporting initiatives like Youth on Course, more young people can access these benefits and open doors to new opportunities.
Supporting Youth on Course
Readers are encouraged to contribute to November’s 100-Hole Super Hike, a fundraising event benefiting Youth on Course and its mission to increase youth sports participation. The event has already raised millions of dollars, allowing the organization to subsidize hundreds of thousands of rounds for families across the country.