Category - Amateur Programs
How High School Golf is Playing a Big Role in the Growth of the Game
By Brendon Elliott, PGA
Interest in high school golf is as strong as it has ever been. According to a recent survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations, in the 2021-22 school year, golf was the only sport among the most popular boys’ sports to show an increase in participation at roughly 3 percent growth.
To gain more insight on this trend, I recently caught up with PGA Professional Mike McDonald, who is the National High School Golf Association (NHSGA) Lead at the PGA of America. The NHSGA is one of several amateur organizations overseen by the PGA, along with the National Collegiate Club Golf Association (NCCGA) and PGA Team Golf.
Turns out, high school golf played a big role in his life growing up in Minnesota.
“I played high school golf at Bloomington Jefferson High School and was a starter on varsity all four years,” remembers McDonald. “My biggest success in high school golf was my senior year when I played in the Minnesota High School State Championship and finished sixth. I also qualified for the US Junior Amateur that summer at Lake Merced in California. That was an amazing experience competing in an event with Tiger Woods!”
After high school, Mike played one year of NAIA college golf at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) before transferring to Mississippi State’s PGA Golf Management program, where he earned PGA Membership in 1996. The NHSGA has a passionate leader who’s yearning to make the golf experience the best it can be for high school golfers.
“Being a PGA Professional means everything to me,” says McDonald. “As a kid from Minnesota, I am forever grateful for the game of golf and what it has allowed me to do throughout my career. If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life —I feel this encompasses my passion for being a PGA Professional.”
In catching up with McDonald, I wanted to get his insight about the role that the NHSGA will play going forward in the PGA’s ever evolving plan to continue to grow the games footprint. His answers are below.
What is the NHSGA?
McDonald: The NHSGA is an organization dedicated to the overall growth and development of high school golfers across the United States. Our presenting partners — Titleist and FootJoy — are instrumental in helping provide support through our organization to all high school golfers.
The NHSGA conducts two National Invitationals each year. Each high school state championship winner — team and individual, boys and girls, public or private school — is encouraged to fill out an application to play in the National Invitational, which is being held this year at Fields Ranch at PGA Frisco. From these applications, the NHSGA picks the best of the best from each state to build the strongest high school golf field possible. The NHSGA crowns a Girls & Boys High School Golf National Invitational winner each year.
The NHSGA also conducts an annual High School Coaches Conference in conjunction with the PGA Show in Orlando, Florida. While this event has been virtual the past couple of years with over 250 coaches attending, 2023 marked the return of an in-person conference.
Each January, the NHSGA does an annual survey of high school coaches to get the pulse on what we can do to support high school golf across the country. We generally get over 2,500 responses and is a great way for us to stay connected with all the high school coaches and programs.
Each spring, the NHSGA holds a virtual recruiting seminar for high school players, parents, and coaches. The NHSGA recruiting seminar has grown exponentially the last couple years with nearly 800 people attending online this past Spring.
What is the importance of high school golf programs in the current youth golf landscape?
McDonald: Golf needs to be open to everyone and that is where high school golf differs from youth golf tours and rankings. Typical golf tours and rankings celebrate and reward the best golfers — high school golf can be more open as they typically have deep teams (10-plus golfers). Most high school programs have a varsity and junior varsity (JV) level teams for boys and girls, so it can be developmental for many of these young golfers versus having to be a competitive golfer day one.
One last thing for the NHSGA National Invitational. One of the reasons this event has become so popular amongst the players is that it celebrates the team concept.
Since our format counts the Top 4 scores out of five players each day, most of the teams competing will bring five players. The top one or two players on each state champion high school team may have an opportunity to play varsity golf at the collegiate level, but for golfers 3-4-5 on the team, the National Invitational might be the highlight of their junior golfing career.
Our event is run through our Amateur Championships department at the PGA of America, so it is like other national junior championships and the experience for many of these golfers is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity!
What does the future of high school golf look like in your opinion?
McDonald: Interest in high school golf is very strong right now. The biggest challenge facing high school golfers (basically all golfers) is course access – both finding places to play and to practice. I think that high school golf will continue to grow provided we remember that this is our next generation of golfers and that we need to provide the necessary access needed for them to play and improve.
There are over 220,000 high school golfers currently in the country and only about seven percent of these will go on to play at the varsity level in college. The PGA also acquired the National Collegiate Club Golf Association (NCCGA) in 2019 as part of the Nextgengolf suite of products. The NCCGA gives all high school golfers the opportunity to play golf in college on a club team. NCCGA runs regional college tournaments and a National Championship each semester for club teams across the country.
Lastly, girl’s golf needs to continue being a grassroots campaign — each high school golf coach and PGA Professional needs to do their part to recruit. The game of golf is hard, so we need to be as welcoming as possible to young girls as they express interest in playing. There are tons of opportunities for golf in high school and beyond for young girls getting into the game, so we’ll need to ensure they have a great experience and are supported properly as they start to learn!
I think providing an opportunity for high school golfers to continue their journey into college golf is another key to strengthening our game for these players.
Mike McDonald, PGA
For parents or high school golfers that want to learn more about the NHSGA or National Invitational, visit here.