Think of when you first learned to throw a baseball, kick a soccer ball, or shoot a basketball.
Or you took swimming lessons at the local pool.
Whatever activity you did between the ages of three and seven, it likely did not involve golf.
The Payne Stewart Foundation aims to change that.
“Our view is every child deserves to learn how to play golf,” said Kelly McCammon, the Director and CEO of the Payne Stewart Foundation, in an exclusive interview with Playing Through.
“Everybody should learn how to hit a golf ball. We want to be the golf equivalent of tee-ball or the bunny slope in the skiing industry. If you start at the age of seven on a golf course, it’s really like starting fast pitch [baseball], and those kids are skipping the entry-level.”
McCammon and the foundation have established ties with hundreds of YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs across the United States, hoping to introduce golf to children, especially those who come from poverty.
“We go into these communities, and we start these programs, and we train the youth leaders on how to run the activity,” McCammon explained. “It’s all games in place. And then the kids learn the basics of golf. They learn how to putt, chip, pitch, and swing, and they learn how to play holes inside or outside.”
Essentially, the way McCammon looks at it is, all of those parks, soccer fields, outdoor basketball courts, and those public areas where children play can be utilized as beginner golf courses.
It is a brilliant concept, and it has begun to take off.
In 2023, the Payne Stewart Kids Foundation introduced golf to roughly 40,000 children. They hope to reach 500,000 annually in the coming years.
But the key to doing so is getting kids interested in golf, which, as McCammon noted, having top athletes play golf helps attract young audiences.
“Look at Steph Curry winning the Lake Tahoe event,” McCammon said. “Here’s an NBA player shooting two under over three days, which is crazy.”
“Every great athlete on the planet plays golf, like the common denominator between all the athletes, cricket players, soccer players, basketball players, they all play golf. Hey, golf is pretty cool because every great athlete plays golf.”
McCammon also explained how kids should learn the game from as close to the hole as possible, just as Tiger Woods did so at a young age.
The now 15-time major champion first learned to putt, knocking two to three-foot putts into a hole as he imitated his father, Earl.
From there, Woods gradually moved back until he was easily swinging a club.
But, of course, Woods is an anomaly. Yet, he serves as an example of what McCammon and the Payne Stewart Family are trying to accomplish: for children to establish an understanding of the game at an early age.
The game of golf stays with these young children for life. That is the beauty of this game: anybody can play it anywhere, with anyone.
“You’re starting at four or five years old, at a Boys and Girls Club or even in a parking lot, and they never thought they would learn golf,” McCammon said.
“Then they’re starting to play in elementary school, and then high school, and it’s just fun. Then they go to college or not to college, but they are still playing. And then, later in their life, they’re an adult, and they’re playing in their corporate outing, then they’re playing with their wife, then they have kids, and they’re playing with their kids, and then they get older, they’re playing with their grandkids, and you follow them from five to 100.
“There is a whole life of that, of that story of, and that is the true power of golf.”
Golf is a game founded on principles, integrity, and morality. Keeping yourself in check, displaying manners on the course, and penalizing yourself are all essential tenets of the game—but also of life.
If these values are instilled at an early age, more and more children will be better off.
And those are the attributes that the late, great Payne Stewart lived by, whose name is now associated with a distinguished award on the PGA Tour. Former player and broadcaster Gary Koch won the 2023 Payne Stewart Award, given to someone “who best exemplifies Stewart’s values of character, charity and sportsmanship.”
Now, Stewart’s legacy lives on through his foundation, as his wife Tracey continues to play a vital role in growing the game among America’s youth.
There is still plenty of work to be done. But hopefully, in due time, American children will be putting, chipping, and swinging a golf club just as frequently as throwing a baseball, kicking a soccer ball, and shooting a basketball.