Michael Henderson is making a bold move in the golf community effort to grow the game and he hopes other follow suit. The director of golf and PGA Professional at Lakeside Golf Course in Stillwater is launching a program to allow juniors to play free golf all summer.
Beginning May 27, all youth age 16 and under will be able to play at no charge. Those new to the game will be able to borrow clubs thanks to sponsors Ping Golf and U.S. Kids Golf. Any child who would like to participate but is new to the game will go through an orientation on fundamentals, golf course etiquette, speed of play, etc.
Children will be allowed to play on their own Monday through Thursday and with an adult on weekends up until 2 p.m., at which time they will be allowed out on their own depending on course traffic.
Henderson has more availability than some courses because Stillwater is a university town and loses a good portion of its population each summer. Still he is hopeful that courses that are busier in the summer will do what they can to encourage youth participation.
“In my vision, if I can get this started, others will follow suit, whether it’s free golf or advanced scholarship programs,” Henderson said.
Henderson has the enthusiastic backing of city officials in his vision. Financially, he believes it will be a wash. With more kids spending time at the course, concession sales will be up, as well as range balls and hopefully pro shop sales for hats and balls. He also hopes the program will encourage more parents to play golf with their children knowing the only green fee they will need to purchase is their own.
Henderson, who is also the Secretary of the South Central Section of the PGA of America, has the blessing of Executive Director Brian Davis, who grew up in Nebraska paying $100 for unlimited summer golf.
Henderson is also involved with bringing SNAG (Start New at Golf) programs to all elementary schools in Stillwater and is initiating a Foot Golf program at Lakeside this summer.
“I’m the first one to step of this cliff with the free golf,” he said. “We will see what happens and what the ramifications are. But I think we all have to do some radical thinking if we’re going to revitalize the golf industry.”