As golf among young players has gained in popularity in recent years, the southwest Twin Cities metro has been experiencing the growth first hand.

When Jayson Schultz started as the PGA head golf professional at the Ridges at Sand Creek golf course, the junior program sported a little over 60 kids. COVID-19 restrictions did limit the number of students allowed in the program during 2020, but the number was still similar to previous years.

And then came a surge.

“COVID accelerated golf in general. Along with that came the surge of junior golfers,” said John Kellin, PGA head golf professional at the Chaska Town Course.

Golf was one of the activities people could do to get outside during the early days of the pandemic, leading to people learning more about the sport for the first time or re-discovering the sport they played years before.

Parents also decided to get their children involved, as the junior program at Ridges grew from roughly 60 to 90 participants in 2021 and will have between 120 and 130 during 2022.

The six-week junior golf program at the Chaska Town Course has kept a steady number of juniors over the past years. This summer’s program has 192 juniors, but they could have had more based on demand. Kellin estimated every spot was filled within three minutes of registration opening.

“It is crazy, it’s great for golf. Growing the game is everything a PGA pro would want,” Schultz said.

But with the growth comes challenges.

According to Schultz, finding space becomes difficult when the club hosts juniors at the facility while still allowing community members to schedule tee times and practice at the driving range. Schultz said one option is expanding on land at the course. Chaska also has two courses — The Loop and Par 30 — that Kellin expects to be used for future junior golf events.

Space is not the only barrier to expanding and allowing for more junior golfers. Finding enough people who can give quality instruction and create a fun, enjoyable atmosphere for the juniors is also a priority. Both Kellin and Schultz believe their respective junior golf programs offer high-quality instruction, and opening more spots with the same number of instructors might hurt the program’s value.

“We still need more teachers, and I want someone with golf knowledge and teaching background,” Schultz said. “The number [of students] I’m at is where I have to stay. I most likely won’t have more teachers. That doesn’t mean I won’t try to get more.”

Despite the challenges of accommodating the increasing number of golfers, Schultz and Kellin are excited about what it means for the future of golf and hope to help as many juniors along the way.

“It’s a great game. We have a chance to introduce them to it and get them hooked. There’s a lot of life lessons you can teach through golf, while also being outside getting physical activity,” Kellin said.

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