ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Melendez family of golfers from Ann Arbor first found out about Youth on Course from a television commercial.
Further investigation convinced Tori and Robert that it was perfect for their three golfing children, Amaya, Mia and Robbie, and eventually they were directed to the Golf Association of Michigan website (GAM.org) to register and start paying $5 or less per round for their young golfers to play at participating golf courses.
“It’s had great impact for us because with this junior golf program you can go out across the country and play,” said Tori. “Sometimes it is hard to justify paying when there are not junior rates like these, especially with little kids who get tired or are just beginning.
“Youth on Course provides access to courses, the flexibility to diversify golf experiences, and it’s really great for kids who play in tournaments. It helps with the costs. In addition to tournaments, where you have tournament fees, there are practice rounds and playing different kinds of courses to help be ready for competition and just rounds for fun. Our kids are hooked. They love to play. Those things can add up quickly without Youth on Course.”
The Melendez kids, Amaya, 18, Mia, 14 and Robbie, 9, are three of the current 3,280 (as of May 10) Youth on Course members in Michigan where the participating courses are subsidized a negotiated rate through the GAM Foundation. Since December, 911 new Michigan members have joined. In comparison, 2019 numbers in Michigan totaled just 844 members.
“The registration process numbers are pretty impressive when comparing them to the last couple of years,” Laura Bavaird, director of member relations for the GAM said. “It just goes to show how much this program has caught fire.”
The Melendez family interest in golf sparked when Robert, a data scientist at the University of Michigan, suffered a foot injury playing basketball. Inspired by watching Tiger Woods play golf on television, he took up golf as a competitive and exercise outlet.
“Amaya would go with him when he hit balls, and eventually she became interested in trying it,” said Tori, who is a cardiovascular researcher at the University of Michigan Hospital. “Right away she made great contact and got the ball in the air on her first shot and Robert was impressed. Amaya was also a gymnast and quite athletic and liked it. It kind of all went from there. Mia, who also plays soccer, followed her sister and then Robbie, then golf tournaments and here we are.”
Along the way the family joined The Polo Fields Golf & Country Club, and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame golf instructor Dave Kendall worked with the kids. Robbie, who plans to play his first GAM age-group tournament this summer, the GAM Junior Stroke Play Championship, is already competitively involved through U.S. Kids Golf.
Amaya has reached a major goal. She will graduate from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School soon and in the fall will head to nearby Eastern Michigan University where she has been recruited for the women’s golf team.
Mia, meanwhile, recently won the 15-and-under girls title in the GAM Junior Kickoff Championship at Washtenaw Golf Club. It was her first GAM win after a series of second-place finishes the last two years.
“We’re so proud of all of them,” Tori said. “Amaya got to the point where she chose golf over gymnastics and she has worked really hard at the game. Her success and earning a chance to get recruited and play in college has pushed Mia too, and she was so excited to finally achieve that GAM win. She had been so close and everybody has learned golf can be so humbling. And Robert is excited to compete like his sisters. We are a golf family now.”
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