Tom Watson with a group of First Tee of Kansas City participants last month.
Tom Watson, a renowned golfer with eight major titles, understands the importance of starting somewhere when it comes to learning golf. He has dedicated a significant portion of his career to supporting junior golf and helping young players get involved in the sport.
Watson firmly believes that golf is a lifelong activity and emphasizes the value of instilling skills and passion in kids early on. He encourages parents and young athletes to consider the future when other sports may no longer be viable options. By providing children with the necessary skills and a love for the game, they can continue to enjoy golf well into their adult lives.
In the 1970s, as Watson’s own career flourished, he noticed the decline of caddie programs, which had traditionally served as an important pathway into golf. These programs were gradually being replaced by golf carts, causing concern for Watson. He believed that caddies represented the future players of the game and felt compelled to do more to involve children in golf.
Throughout the years, Watson has supported various junior golf initiatives, including the First Tee and Youth on Course. The First Tee focuses on teaching golf fundamentals and core values, while Youth on Course aims to make golf more affordable. Watson has been a staunch advocate for both initiatives since their inception.
However, Watson recognized that easy access and affordability alone were not enough to keep young players engaged in the game. He drew inspiration from his own upbringing, where his father provided him with fundamental skills and played alongside him. Watson conceived the idea of a program that would allow kids who had developed some golf skills to play on courses with mentors who shared a passion for the game, similar to his father’s role.
Thus, Watson Links was established as a unique initiative in Kansas City, Watson’s hometown. The program replicates Watson’s childhood experience by offering junior golfers between the ages of 10 and 18 free access to select golf courses. Each junior golfer is paired with an adult mentor who guides them through the game, offering insights on various aspects such as chipping, putting, etiquette, and strategy. Before being paired with a junior golfer, all mentors undergo a thorough background check. Tee times are covered by donations from golf courses and support from Watson’s charitable foundation.
Following a successful test run in 2022, Watson Links is now in its first full season, running for 22 weeks until mid-October. The program received an enthusiastic response, with 65 mentors and 90 kids signing up within days of its launch. Watson’s goal is to enroll over 200 junior golfers by the end of the year.
While Watson focuses on expanding the program locally, he also hopes to replicate it on a national scale. He has already engaged in discussions with industry leaders about launching similar pilot programs in other cities.
Although Watson Links currently operates under the First Tee Greater Kansas City umbrella, Watson sees it more as a complement to the First Tee program. He believes that while the First Tee teaches kids the necessary skills, there is often a lack of places to play once they acquire those skills. Watson Links aims to bridge that gap by providing a platform for kids to apply their knowledge and develop a genuine passion for golf. Even if they take breaks from the game, the skills they acquire through the program will always be with them, allowing them to return to golf whenever they wish. The ultimate goal is to create lifelong golfers.
(Note: this article was written based on the information sourced from the golf.com ( https://golf.com/news/tom-watson-mentorship-lifetime-golfers/