Jacobs’ Ladder:~Taking Golf to Kids

Joshua Jacobs launched TGA Premier Junior Golf in 2003 when he had the idea to cross the declining notion of teaching golf to kids with the fast-growing trend of after-school enrichment programs.

TGA, which stands for Teach Grow Achieve, convinces schools in its area to add a golf option to the slate of afternoon enrichment programs, and parents pay a fee for it. Both education Ph.Ds and accredited PGA of America and LPGA golf pros built a standardized curriculum, creating five levels of experience progressing from kindergarten to 8th grade. Students are transitioned from schools to golf courses, growing the game. There are currently over 50 franchises in 25 states, and the first international one just opened in Spain.

I spent some time with Jacobs to get to know him and TGA better.

Anna Rawson: Let’s go back to the beginning, Josh: when did you fall in love with golf?

Josh Jacobs: My grandparents put a cut down 9-iron in my hands when I was three, and I haven’t put it down since. I guess I am one of the few men who wants to be in a committed relationship at a young age.

AR: What do you love about the game?

JJ: It’s a lot like life, the game can be played a number of different ways and no shot or situation is the same. Plus you can wear a white belt and not be ridiculed…which I got enough of growing up with red hair.

AR: What is your current handicap?

JJ: Currently my index is a +1.1. My handicap is that the myth about being in the golf industry means you play more…it isn’t true. Last year was the first year since I was 10 that I didn’t play in a tournament.

AR: Who do you admire in golf?

JJ: I admire Joe Louis Barrow (CEO) of The First Tee, for the way he carries himself and has grown the organization. He’s utilized all of the resources available to him at the highest level, to build a fantastic program impacting youth.

AR: Do you have a mentor?

JJ: Darrell Crall, the new COO of the PGA of America. He’s a consummate professional, a great businessman and he knows how to build a cohesive team around him. I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot from him during my tenure in the golf industry.

AR: What were you doing before TGA?

JJ: I produced at Fox Sports after graduating from Emory University and then helped start up a projection screen technology company before starting TGA nine years ago.

AR: So many people love golf – and want to work in the golf industry. Was that always your plan?

JJ: My plan was to be a pediatrician and work with kids, but sports got in the way. I’ve been fortunate to be able to combine my passion for sports and kids while earning a living doing it. The golf industry was just an added bonus.

AR: What sparked TGA?

JJ: My little sister. She was six and signing up for after school programs at her school. When I noticed there was no golf on the menu, she said, “You should teach golf at my school, I would try it if I could learn with my friends.” I figured if I could get my little sister, who was six going on 13 and not athletic (sorry, Marlena), to try golf, I thought other kids would sign up also. TGA grew from there.

AR: I think the most rewarding businesses find the combination of helping others or helping an industry with economic success. Would you agree?

JJ: Agreed. We realized that we had a great combination of impacting youth, growing golf and engaging multiple age brackets (5-13 and 25-40) through a self-sustaining model that provides business ownership and employment opportunities in the industry. Do well by doing good.

AR: Tell me about your greatest challenge so far at TGA?

JJ: The greatest challenge, an existing one, is how to activate our new 501(c)3 TGA Sports Foundation and bring our infrastructure of introducing and keeping youth and adults in golf to all demographics. We don’t want to fall into the pattern of introducing youth to golf, but not providing them a pathway to continue down.

AR: Tell us about your most rewarding moment at TGA?

JJ: Being named to Golf Magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40.” It was the turning point for TGA and our model being recognized as a leading initiative growing the game.

AR: TGA only goes to 8th grade. Are there plans to continue with a high school program? How will the TGA kids continue to play golf?

JJ: We do not plan on running high school programs. What TGA is best at is servicing youth ages 5-13 in a fun, introductory setting while activating their parents ages 25-40. Once the students reach a certain skill level, we hand them off to facilities and PGA / LPGA professionals in their communities.

AR: You have been named to PGA of America’s Golf 2.0 Building Blocks Board. Are you the youngest person in the room? Do you think we need more youthful influence in golf’s governing bodies?

JJ: I believe I am the youngest person in the room, but I’m not as wise to the golf industry as my colleagues. They bring a level of experience I hope to have as my time continues in golf. Regarding getting younger, I think the golf industry is making strides to have more youthful influence. Just look at the new PGA CEO and COO, and the Back9Network’s founder and talent.

A younger influence isn’t always better; plus age is a state of mind anyway.

AR: What’s your biggest frustration with the golf industry?

JJ: Collaboration to grow the game has been sparse. From a player development perspective, if the organizations and associations figured out a way to put their strengths together to funnel new and current players to the golf course, the industry would grow a lot quicker. Another frustration is that equipment manufacturers are too concerned with short term growth, rather than long term vision to grow the sport that will ultimately lead to a larger pie. Kudos to TaylorMade for killing it right now though.

AR: If you could change one rule in golf, which one would you change?

JJ: I would make all hazards and OBs (except bunkers) lateral hazards. Basically no more stroke and distance penalties to speed up slow play.

AR: What is your day-to-day routine like?

JJ: Anyone who knows me would say my day-to-day consists of trying to balance work and life…and my love of aviation. In the office, my day-to-day is to find ways to increase the number of TGA franchises while supporting our franchises growth. In turn, we increase employment opportunities in the industry and boost the economic impact of golf by creating new golfers and retaining current ones.

AR: What advice would you give to someone just graduating college that wants to work in the golf industry?

JJ: Be prepared to pay your dues as the golf industry is one big fraternity/sorority. You can be a freshman for a long time. Also, make sure to constantly soak in knowledge on the many facets of the golf industry and don’t just concentrate on your bubble.

AR: What is your five-year plan, the best-case scenario?

JJ: Have 500,000 kids participating in TGA programs across the globe, while promoting golf to over 2,500,000 families in schools.

AR: What are you most proud of at TGA?

JJ: That my business partner, Steve Tanner and I pioneered how to make growing golf in a community a sustainable business that feeds the entire golf economy in that area. The United States was founded on small business and entrepreneurial people, the golf industry needs to grow that way as well, from the bottom-up.