Some barriers were meant to be broken, and that’s exactly what the non-profit, Youth on Course, and golf course, Sweetens Cove, in South Pittsburg, Tennessee are aiming to do. Golf is an expensive sport - from the equipment cost to the membership fees, it’s out of reach for a lot of people. For young people, it’s an even harder sport to get into. Traditionally, youth aren’t overly welcome on golf courses and they usually can’t afford to play without support from an adult. So, the team at Youth on Course came up with a solution - they worked with country clubs and golf courses around the country to create a program specifically for young people that gives them an access point to the game of golf. Whether it be helping them get equipment or a tee time, they’ve made it exponentially more accessible.
As a kid, you are able to become a member with Youth on Course for free. From there, you have access to roughly one thousand courses across the country. A Youth on Course member can play any of these courses from $0-$5. There are additional programs for kids who might not be able to afford the $5 playing fee or the equipment so that they can still get involved regardless. There are also scholarships and internship opportunities. They are breaking down that barrier for young people who otherwise might not have had access to these possibilities.
As Matt Adamski, GM of Sweetens Cove says, “The life skills you get in golf are never ending. Golf, being an individual sport, teaches you a lot of lessons that one might not learn from team sports. You have to learn notto give up on yourself because you don’t have teammates to rely on. You’re out there on full display. Countless business deals have been made on golf courses, and there are never ending connections to be made. It’s an amazing equalizer.”
Youth on Course came up with an idea for a 100 Hole Hike - play 100 holes in one day on foot, no cart - to help raise money for Youth on Course missions. Each golfer, or “hiker”, participating invites their personal network to pledge donations for each hole that they play. When they brought the idea to Adamski he loved it, but wanted to add a spin. So it was decided that the event would be invite only, with friends of Sweetens and golf personalities to ensure it gets added exposure, resulting in the best yield for Youth on Courses initiatives.
A little about Sweetens Cove…
“It’s like walking into an arena for the first time… the people, the music, the banter”, says Adamski, “It’s the coolest setting in golf, period. You don’t get this on a ‘real’ golf course.”
After driving 2 miles down a long, windy road you hit the parking lot and from there you see it all - a 9 hole course designed by King-Collins Golf Course Design. It’s brilliant architecture that isn’t talked about until you get there. Where a clubhouse might stand, you have a shed. Where other amenities might stand, you have none. That’s right, none. Just golf.
Adamski refers to it as the “lake house effect”. Some people love the big home, some love the camper, some just love the property that gets them close to the water. The whole point is to just get to the lake.
As you’ve probably gathered, Sweetens doesn’t operate like most golf courses. Twice a year they offer releases for their “day passes”. Their last release sold out in 14 minutes. Passes equal the amount of people, and they offer 60 passes Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and only 40 passes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This way, people feel like they have the course for the day and it feels a bit more private. And because it’s all about inclusivity and having a good time, you don’t have tee times or play in four somes - instead, Adamski will connect people in the beginning of each day and lay out the rules of play.
A day at Sweetens Cove guarantees a vibe as much as it guarantees brilliant golf, “everyone is on the same page, it’s electric”, says Adamski, “getting to see everyone so genuinely excited… it’s like Christmas every morning - I get to unwrap and experience”. Music is playing, some people are wearing their favorite team's jersey, some people aren’t wearing a shirt at all. They don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you look like - just come play some golf and enjoy the day.
Adamski says that at the end of the day, they operate this way to be anti-country club. But that doesn’t mean that they are trying to make the country club go away. “Maybe playing at Sweetens helps someone to renew that energy in their golf game - giving them the confidence to get back out there and enjoy that social aspect of golf. Maybe they go home and join a country club, because people still need that.” He says that it’s been a life changing experience being able to work at Sweetens. He has been in the golf management world since the early 2000’s, and he doesn’t know if he could go back to country club life again. “The way Sweetens is designed helps with that experience, and people are starting to make more of these link style, open courses to get that same vibe.”
And what’s even better is that because of Sweeten's rise in popularity it has given Adamski and the team an opportunity to give back to the golf community, with events like the 100 Hole Hike with Youth on Course.
To break it down, Sweetens has been rated…
#63 on the top 100 Golf courses
#23 in Public Golf Courses (putting them up there with Pinehurst and Pebble Beach)
#1 on the top public golf courses in Tennessee (for the 7th year in a row)
#7 on Golf Digest’s list of top 50, 9 hole courses
Adamski says it’s an honor - “there's always an opportunity to grow the sport. There is always the next kid, always that next wave of golfers. The growth of the sport will never stop”. It’s all about being involved in the community and making the game more accessible.
Our team at johnnie-O feels privileged to be a part of Youth on Courses 100 Hole Hike at Sweetens Cove, next Wednesday June 29th. Our very own Ethan Winchester, Territory Sales Rep, will be trekking the 25 some miles, aka 100 holes, to help raise money for Youth on Courses many initiatives. You can donate HERE.