Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The state’s golf courses enjoyed a memorable summer despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of rounds played soared in part because the sport lends itself to social distancing when compared to other activities.

One segment of the golfing population that experienced a significant spike in interest was juniors, players ages 6-18. Maine State Golf Association executive director Brian Bickford hopes to build on that momentum.

The MSGA has entered into a partnership with Youth on Course, a California-based nonprofit dedicated to creating affordable golf opportunities for young people.

Through the program, golfers ages 6-18 will be able pay an annual membership fee of only $5 and then play rounds of golf for $5 or less at courses that partner with Youth on Course.

“We’re starting now with 10 courses and we’d like to turn that into 20 and then to 50 courses,” Bickford said.

The Maine courses that have signed on include Bangor Municipal Golf Course, J.W. Parks Golf Course in Pittsfield, Barnes Brook Golf Course in Enfield and the Mars Hill Country Club. Other participants are Apple Valley Golf Course in Lewiston, Turner Highlands Golf Course, Val Halla Golf Course in Cumberland Center, Riverside Golf Course in Portland, South Portland Municipal Golf Course and Dutch Elm Golf Course in Arundel.

More courses will be added in the coming months.

“First Tee moves the needle, but this is more golf-course-based than classroom-based,” Bickford said. “We’re pretty excited by this type of program.”

“This will be a great way for young families to get out and play,” he added.

Juniors can sign up for a Youth on Course membership at www.youthoncourse.org/join or can visit the MSGA website beginning on Feb. 15.

The program also extends the $5 deal to nearly 1,400 courses in other states.

“Maine has a proud history in supporting junior golf in the state and this partnership is the next step for making the game affordable for the next generation of golfers,” said Michael Lowe, vice president of programs for Youth on Course. “We’re proud to welcome the Maine State Golf Association into the YOC family and excited to expand our reach and available opportunities to the junior golfers in the state.”

Bickford said Youth on Course will subsidize the rounds by paying the difference between the normal greens fee for juniors and the $5 fee. So if a course normally charges a junior $15, YOC would pay the course $10.

Courses may designate set times for juniors to play to avoid an overload on the course.

The MSGA annually gives out $6,000 scholarships to 10 to 12 junior players and Bickford hopes the Youth on Course program can eventually be self-sustaining if courses can increase their junior membership.

“This is a good first step,” he said. “We want to keep the momentum going.”

The MSGA encourages juniors to play more rounds in April, May and June before the normal upswing in play after school ends in June.