ROUND LAKE BEACH – On a recent afternoon, a couple of dozen older golfers were gathered around a few tables in the clubhouse at Renwood Golf Course, some drinking beer. They belong to a senior league.
A little while later, a couple of young fathers – one with a small girl, the other with a small boy – entered the clubhouse. They then hit the links.
Bob Newport, executive director of the Round Lake Area Park District, pointed to the young families as the type of people his district is trying to attract to the golf course, which the district acquired in 1982.
Every month during the summer, the golf course offers a low-cost family day and footgolf.
Footgolf? It combines the features of soccer and golf, with people kicking soccer balls into wider holes. Players are asked to call ahead to reserve space.
Such efforts have yet to lead to a dramatic increase in young golfers, Newport acknowledged, but the programs help people learn the sport’s etiquette. He said the district is trying to end the misperception the course is only for experienced players.
“You have to bring new people in,” he said. “Before, dads went to the golf course. We’re trying to break that down. It’s a family sport. It’s a sport you carry with you your whole life.”
Brad Rouse, the golf pro and general manager, said it’s a challenge attracting younger people.
“Across the country, the biggest age group that is slowing down in golf is 18 to 35 years old,” he said.
At Renwood, about 60 percent of golfers come from outside the Park District, which may be because it is so close to Grayslake’s Park District.
In 2001, the Park District opened the new clubhouse, replacing the one built long ago. To pay for the building project, the Park District issued a $1.9 million bond, with payments ending in 2019.
In February, the park district board decided to let the golf course remain a separate fund so the public could easily see how well it was doing financially.
A couple of years ago, the Park District tightened its policy for volunteers, who get free rounds of golf in return for their service.
“The volunteers were taking a lot of free golf,” Newport said. “There were some doing it for the wrong reasons. People weren’t bringing anything of value.”
Some only put in a few hours and got 20 free rounds of golf in return, he said.
Now golfers who volunteer four hours get a free round in return. As a result of the reduction, fewer volunteer, Newport said.
“The cash cow is gone,” Newport said. “Most of the volunteers who were here before aren’t still here. It takes a lot to be a volunteer. You have to look at the value received.”
Newport said he has heard questions about why park districts have golf courses because only a part of the public plays.
But he said the same thing could be said for swimming, indoor soccer, basketball and just about everything a park district does.
A district’s job, he said, is to create a well-rounded, healthy community.
“You can wake up in the morning on a Saturday and find something to do all day in the Park District,” Newport said. “We’re a family-oriented district.”