Golf clubs looking for ways to introduce more people to the sport could look at Va-Jo-Wa Golf Course in Island Falls for a unique method.
The club is offering free green fees Monday through Friday to any high school student at six area schools. The schools are Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook, Houlton, Hodgdon, Greater Houlton Christian Academy, Katahdin of Stacyville and Schenck of East Millinocket.
“Basically, all the high schools within 30 minutes of the club,” said Scott Walker, one of the members of the Walker family that owns the 18-hole facility just off Route 2 and next to Pleasant Lake.
Va-Jo-Wa is breaking new ground with this plan, according to Walker.
“I talked to people from other courses, in state and out of state, and as far as I can tell it’s never been done before,” said Walker.
The zero-dollar price tag applies only to the green fee, though.
“If they want a cart or something, they have to pay for that,” said Walker, “but if they show up with their clubs and walk, the green fee is all taken care of.”
The normal early-season rate is a dollar per hole. The regular green fee is listed on the club Web site as $30 per round. If the students want to play during the weekend, they’ll have to pay for that, but a season youth membership is only $100.
Other clubs do have promotions of one form or another.
The Harris Golf Co. often offers specials for Sunday River Golf Club in Newry, Old Marsh Golf Club in Wells and Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.
The Big Daddy is an 18-hole green fee plus cart for $65 at any of the three clubs. The pass has to be purchased by May 31 and used by June 30. There are also multiple-play Big Daddys available.
Bangor Municipal Golf Course has come up with a couple of ideas that appear to be paying off.
Late last fall, the rate structure at Bangor Muni was altered, making a season pass more affordable to nonresidents.
The fee was set at $700 for an individual season pass for both residents and nonresidents, but residents get 10 percent off. It’s still a bargain for nonresidents, because the price last year was $890.
“If you raise the fees 5 percent, for instance,” said Bangor Muni pro Brian Enman, “a $500 resident fee would go up $25, but an $800 nonresident fee would go up $40.
“We felt things got kinda skewed. They were out of whack, and we were losing nonresidents as a result.”
The hope was the change would slow or stop the loss of nonresidents, maybe even bring some back. And it seems to be working.
“We sold 53 nonresident passes last year,” said Enman, “and this year we’ve sold 90 nonresident passes and we’re just starting to get in the season when people would be signing up normally.
“Who knows how many we’re going to sell?”
The other program that Bangor has is similar to the Va-Jo-Wa idea. College students, by showing their college ID, will pay $10 for nine holes or $20 for 18. That’s the same as the early-season rate available to the general public, but college students can take advantage of it all year.
“It was very popular,” said Enman.
The college traffic is heaviest in the fall and spring, when schools are in session, but “we see a lot of IDs in the summer, too,” said Enman.
“They go out and have fun, and that’s what the game is all about,” he added.
And that’s what the Walkers are hoping to show the high school students. The program applies to students who will be entering one of the six high schools in the fall right up through the ones who will graduate in June.
“We’ve got the room, so why not? We want to get [golf] in their blood,” said Walker.
The response has been strong.
“I’ve had a lot of calls from parents and principals. And a lot of questions on our Facebook page. It was quite overwhelming at first,” said Walker, who also plans to offer them group lessons in May and June.
Walker is hopeful that the program takes off.
“It’s hard to project how much play we’re going to get out of it. Some might come once, others might come more often.”
“I hope they take part,” said Walker. “There’s no excuse for them to stay home now.”
They don’t need to sign up in advance. They can make reservations or just show up at the first tee.
“It’s not real busy during the day, so they shouldn’t have to wait very long,” said Walker
Eventually, he would like to see continued participation in the years after high school.
“The hope is that we’ll gain some members down the road, but who knows, they might become members at another club, and that’s OK, too,” said Walker.
Enman was impressed with the Va-Jo-Wa program.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Enman said, adding, “Some things work, some things don’t. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Walker decided something needed to be done.
“Without future golfers, [golf clubs] are not going to survive.”