Club golf is student-funded, often over par, and always for the love of the game. Most of our students won't go pro, some may never break 80, but everyone of our 10,000+ college students spends their weekends and savings to be part of a rapidly growing grassroots college golf movement in a crucial segment of the golfer life cycle.
CollegeGolfPass & NCCGA Alignment
Fond memories arise when looking back to the fall of 2012 when Kris Hart and I--at the time running CollegeGolfPass (now Nextgengolf)--first caught wind of a purely student run organization called The NCCGA. Some of the club teams we were supporting through our affordable golf membership--UNH, Northeastern, and Boston College--had mentioned an NCCGA national championship they sought to qualify for at Sea Island. Upon making the trip to Sea Island ourselves, we immediately realized the enormous potential in what was at the time a word-of-mouth growing golf movement consisting of 30 teams throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic.
The fact that the NCCGA had not only managed to remain in existence since it's founding in 2006, but actually grow with no organizational structure, marketing, web presence, or funding vehicle should make all of us in the golf industry smile. This is not to say that growth was happening by accident, however, as Matt Weinberger, the 2012 NCCGA President, had personally spearheaded a push to form new collegiate club golf teams. Looking at the many unsuccessful grow-the-game initiatives over the past decade, it's hard to fathom how an engineering major with a 3.9 GPA and a burning abhorrence for slow play was able to jump-start such a movement. Matt--now the NCCGA Chairman at night and engineer at Procter & Gamble during the day--often jokes about how if he had lost his lap top and saved Excel sheets, the NCCGA would now cease to exist.
Thankfully Matt didn't lose his lap top back in 2012, yet he did have the foresight to realize that even the modest growth (30 to 60 teams) he spearheaded that year likely could not be maintained by a new NCCGA President even with him helping out part time. The synergies between the NCCGA's club golf presence and Nextgengolf's network of 500+ courses offering collegiate rates were undeniable. Further, the opportunity to have two eager entrepreneurs working full-time on growing the NCCGA as the collegiate TOUR within Nextgengolf presented a unique opportunity to grow golf for Millennials in a way that had never been explored. In 2013, The NCCGA & CollegeGolfPass formally merged and in 2014, officially became part of the Nextgengolf in an even broader-based effort to provide golf tournaments, memberships, content and resources exclusively for Millennial-aged golfers.
Reversing Golf's Declining Trends
With Title IX shutting down varsity golf programs left and right, the surge of new club golf teams and thousands of students on campuses wanting to compete on their own dime should be a sign of hope for an industry that is experiencing a precipitous decline in Millennial participation over the past twenty years.
While the act of starting a club golf team on campus is not hard, one of the biggest challenges we find is that students are just not thinking about golf at school. Until the Nextgen Collegiate Membership came along, if you were not a varsity golfer, you were typically forced to pay the normal adult rate at local courses which is less than ideal for the average cash-strapped college student. With over 225,000 high school students playing competitive golf, it is hard to fathom how the golf industry has not addressed the issue of keeping students in the game of golf while at college. We are proud to have over quadrupled the size of the NCCGA in growing from less than 50 teams at the end of 2012 to now supporting over 200 active club golf teams on college campuses across the country.
Intramural Golf, the Great Unknown
In hosting over 100 regional tournaments in 2014, the NCCGA helps keep competitive golfers in the game who don't play varsity. While we are thrilled with our current growth and optimistic knowing less than 3% of American colleges and universities currently compete in the NCCGA, our mission extends beyond just that of the competitive golfer. On college campuses across the country, tens of thousands of students are signing up for golf learning and teaching programs. Last year at Michigan State, for example, over 500 students signed up for the golf club with the majority of those students being novice or beginner golfers. While it makes us tingle to see this demand for the game we love, the sad reality is that the overwhelming majority of intramural and recreational sports departments don't actually have the know-how, resources, or ability to support the demand for golf we know exists on campus. Be in assisting them in running their own intramural golf event or encouraging them to offer Kwik Golf, a fitness-oriented golf learning game, we need to continue to help more people learn to play golf while in college and not just settle for what we have achieved on growing the competitive side with the NCCGA.
Golf Jobs and Internships
As the all-encompassing golf organization for 18-29 year olds, Nextgengolf's mission runs deeper than just helping student play golf, but also involves helping them work in the golf industry through our job board and recruiting platform. Our student members are talented, driven, and often seeking to work in the golf industry. As we see it, every junior golf organization is our friend as we want to help their students stay in the game of competitive golf while in college and also help the junior organizations with our students who seek internships and full time positions after they graduate. We've had a great start on this front in delivering some of our top students to the AJGA and Hurricane Tours. We're also thrilled to be working alongside the World Golf Foundation and Golf 20/20 in managing a summer social media intern who will be focused on an initiative to promote the #FUN in golf targeted to Millennial golfers. There's nothing more rewarding for us than helping our students get their first golf internship or land a job.
NCCGA is the Core
People often ask us, "What is the core of Nextgengolf?" Undoubtedly, our core is tied to the root of the problem we are solving, that of course being students leaving their clubs at home and abandoning golf. Club golf teams are the core of Nextgengolf because they provide structure, organization, access, purpose, funding, learning opportunities and hope to a dozen to 500 students who just want to play golf in school. We've done a nice job building the structure and process to support a national competitive non-varsity collegiate TOUR. That said, the we're just getting started at the college level and are excited to launch Nextgen Graduate in Boston this summer and have 10 cities targeted by 2015 to help all of our graduating students stay in the game.
At the center of the NCCGA core is our student leadership team that is the driving force behind everything that we do at the collegiate level. NCCGA is a student run organization by and for its own members. It's been a great privilege to work with such talented young men and women who are all integrally involved in leading this growing the game movement in their various regions across the country. Everyone of us knows how special the game of golf can be and the positive ramifications it can have on our lives. Knowing that we are helping more students experience the game we love is what keeps us going in our ongoing mission to help all 18-29 year-olds get in the game.
**Mike Belkin is a Co-Founder of Nextgengolf and NCCGA Board Member. Contact him on twitter @MikeBelkin11