The golfing landscape has witnessed a remarkable resurgence over the past three years, transcending the conventional boundaries that once defined the sport. National Golf Foundation data revealed a staggering 106 million people engaged in golf in 2021. We’ve seen the interest in golf grow exponentially at the Park District at the Highland Park Golf Learning Center and at our beautiful Sunset Valley Golf Club. “It is especially exciting to see so many kids enjoying the game and coming to us wanting to play golf for the first time,” said Ryan Ochs, Superintendent of Golf Operations at Sunset Valley, “and once they gain some basic skills, they’re hooked on this game that they can play for the rest of their lives.”
To meet the demand for golf in Highland Park, the Park District is now partnering with The Golf Practice to bring the community a wide range of golf summer camps and group lessons with PGA-certified coaches. We’re excited about this and think you will be, too.
We asked Alex Prior, Co-owner/Director of Operations at The Golf Practice, to tell us what to expect. “This summer, we’re happy to team up with Park District to deliver the most comprehensive approach to golf training on the North Shore. Through our multi-level camps and programs, junior golfers have a complete path from beginner to high school varsity golfer and beyond.”
The Golf Practice uses a holistic approach to golf training, focusing on the whole student and not just swing mechanics. Golfers will build their overall athleticism and coordination, develop their mind and body, and learn important social skills—including course etiquette—that will elevate them on and off the golf course. The golf curriculum at The Golf Practice is based on developing curiosity about the game. Being curious will help a student learn throughout their life,” said Prior, “We think curiosity is one of the most important life skills we can impart in our training.”
Golf summer camps designed by The Golf Practice coaches include fast-paced stations, colorful aesthetics, and an energetic staff that creates an engaging environment of learning and fun. “Once students become interested in the game and develop their skills, they graduate to the Travel League and High School Prep Summer Camps where they can hone their game, learn to compete, and develop confidence on the golf course.”
As with each of our sports programs at the Park District, golf camp participants learn the fundamentals, are encouraged to set and achieve goals, make new friends, and become caring, confident, successful young adults. It’s what we’re all about.
In Highland Park, hundreds of kids (and adults) are discovering the game of golf for the first time every season. The challenge in retaining these newcomers is why we’re developing exciting and innovative programs that include instruction, on-course play, and socialization. When you ask Ryan Ochs why he thinks it will continue to grow, he shares an interesting perspective: “For some golfers, technological advances have made the game more fun and accessible – things like GPS on the golf carts. For many golfers, the flexibility to work remotely at their 9 to 5 job has opened up more free time for leisure activities—one of the genuine benefits of the pandemic. Parents are bringing in their kids, and kids are seeing golf for the first time on social media—including influencers on TikTok.” Years ago, it was all about following Tiger Woods. “Now, young golfers are more interested in the whole game than in any one player on the tour,” and that means they keep playing through high school and college.”
“To ensure everyone has access to golf, the Michael Goldman Memorial Golf Scholarship is available to Highland Park and Highwood middle and high school students facing economic, social, or emotional challenges,” said Ochs. Last year, 12 applications were received. “That’s double the number from past years.” The annual scholarship is made possible through our Parks Foundation by a generous donation from the family of longtime Highland Park resident Michael Goldman as a means for young people to overcome obstacles and foster physical and emotional well-being through golf. Rob Saunders, the Park District’s resident PGA Pro, interviews and selects applicants. The scholarship provides one-on-one golf instruction and the use of a set of clubs. You can read more about this unique scholarship on the Park Foundation website.
We know that the golfing resurgence is not just a temporary phenomenon; it’s shaping the future of the sport. For young golfers, it’s about the whole package: a healthy three-season outdoor activity (that happily continues indoors during the winter), making friends, and learning life skills that they carry over into school, family, and the community.
Check out the new golf programs on your Park District’s website. The Highland Park Golf Learning Center is where you’ll find an impressive Driving Range, with 40 hitting stations–grass tees and mats–a short game practice area, a putting green, and a bunker practice area. During winter, you can enjoy the indoor hitting range at the Highland Park Fieldhouse. It’s open Monday–Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Summer Camp registration is going on now, and with the increased interest in golf, you’ll want to sign up early! In the meantime, you can practice yelling Fore!*
See you on the course!
*There are some interesting theories on why golfers yell Fore! after they’ve hit the ball. You can read more about that here.