The LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program, founded 25 years ago, is run in partnership between the LPGA Foundation and the USGA (United States Golf Association) and LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association). LPGA*USGA Girls Golf is a non-profit 501(c)(3) junior golf program with sites in more than 460 communities across the country. Girls Golf sites provide girls with quality golf instruction led by LPGA and PGA teaching professionals or certified coaches from The First Tee. To date, it has taught more than 70,000 girls the game.
Sports Destination Management: Girls Golf has been quite successful.
Allie Bodemann: It was started in 1989 so we’ve actually been around for quite a number of years. However, it has really grown exponentially within the past seven to eight years.
SDM: What kind of numbers are you seeing for participation?
Bodemann: In 2010, we had about 5,000 girls. By 2017, we had 72,000. Our 2018 growth goal is 80,000.
SDM: That’s very ambitious. What caused such a dramatic growth surge in the short time?
Bodemann: In 2011, the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, which is one of the professional tournaments on the LPGA Tour in Phoenix, Arizona, was having its inaugural event. The players were asked to donate their purse and earnings to Girls Golf. A substantial amount of money was donated and those funds allowed the program to grow.
SDM: Do you put on tournaments?
Bodemann: We do not necessarily put on national tournaments, although some of our programs run a tournament-style event for the girls. Our flagship program in Phoenix not only runs intro clinics for the girls but a tournament series for girls all over the valley area. We do have some partnerships with tours.
Editor’s note: Information on events put on by various locations of Girls Golf is available here.
SDM: The perception for so long was that golf has been a men’s game. Have clubs ever given you pushback about having young kids, and particularly girls, on the course?
Bodemann: I think the tides have really started to turn. I think a lot of these facilities have realized these junior golfers are the future of the game, as well as being their future members, and it’s good for them to welcome them in. they’re providing free range balls, junior rates and other incentives to make it more of a family sport and make it more accessible to young people.
I’ve been playing golf since I was five and I can say when I was learning, the membership at my father’s club was not as keen on him bringing his five-year-old and seven-year-old girls to the course. But now we’re seeing that people are not just welcoming kids but building in special programs.
SDM: With the program having been in effect in a while, and with so many girls having been involved with it, do you have success stories?
Bodemann: I believe we have over 40 Girls Golf alumni playing professionally, either on the Symetra Tour or the LPGA Tour. But honestly, our focus isn’t on creating champions, it’s on giving girls a place to learn the game and the tools to stick with it. I’m an alumni of the program too. We also have girls who are now playing at the NCAA level.
SDM: The program aims to get girls engaged in the sport. It’s obviously important to make sure kids have a good time learning.
Bodemann: Yes, and girls especially. They’re social, they’re emotional and they want to do what their friends are doing. We realize there are plenty of things they can be doing with their time.
SDM: If a golf event director at a venue wants to become involved, is there any template for being involved?
Bodemann: The programs are individually run so their format varies greatly by location. We offer grant funding support to help them get started. Most of our programs are now operating independently and do their own fundraisers.
SDM: What problems exist with bringing young people into the game?
Bodemann: There are always conversations about the cost of the game, and about being able to provide equipment and clubs so that it’s not as taxing to the families financially to have their daughter involved in golf. Our programs has no national fee to become involved so that we can continue to make golf affordable and accessible. We’ve also heard time is an issue. Some of our programs run 30 minutes while some may run longer, up to two hours. We tell people they can start by offering a three-hole division and let players move up to nine or 18 holes when they’re ready.
SDM: How young do girls start?
Bodemann: We recommend that programs be offered for girls between the ages of six and 17 but one of our local programs has had girls come in as young as four. Some will also allow 18-year-olds who have not entered college yet.
SDM: Do the girls tend to stay involved in the sport?
Bodemann: Yes – we have quite a bit of retention. The girls are making friends and so are their parents; everyone likes the social aspect.
SDM: Do you see golf events offering youth clinics and similar activities to get girls involved?
Bodemann: We absolutely do hear them – at our national events, we can reach girls and young women who are new to the game. They are skeptical at first, but at the end, they want to bring golf home with them.
SDM: Do the junior golf tours ask you to work with them to bring in more kids?
Bodemann: Yes, several have reached out to me; they want more girls to play and they want our help. My question to them is always, ‘Well, what are you doing to welcome them in?’ I always suggest they start classes and clinics for girls. Once they do that, it will translate into more participation in the junior tours.
SDM: Do you think it’s an intimidating sport to learn for new players?
Bodemann: Any sport can be, and golf is not an exception. Girls are not going to try out for their high school team if they’ve never swung a club before. We’re the starting point. We’re giving them a place to learn so they can stick with it. When you’re comfortable, you’ll progress even further.