Junior Sports Academy: A Needed Component In A New Way of Life

 As seen in Golf Business May/June 2021 

By Steve Eubanks:

Instructional programming has evolved in recent years. Camps and clinics, juniors and seniors, ladies’ “Sip and Swing” sessions with wine and hors d’oeuvres after group lessons: All of these add-ons do more than create additional revenue streams. They build connections and develop lasting relationships through the game while elevating the club and its staff beyond the role of facilitators and into the realm of experts. 

Desert Mountain has recently taken that idea to the next level. The Scottsdale, Arizona, club has created something called the Desert Mountain Junior Sports Academy, which it is billing as an “immersive” and “self-guided” experience. Geared for junior golfers and tennis players of all ages, the Junior Sports Academy “aligns perfectly with the club’s vision to provide outstanding experiences for members and be the finest private club and community for golf and recreational lifestyle activities in North America,” said Desert Mountain CEO Damon DiOrio. “With dozens of younger families investing in Desert Mountain and what we offer - along with more children and grandchildren spending more time here as they participate in remote learning - enhancing their experience became very timely and very exciting.”

Screen_Shot_2021-05-06_at_11_31_20_AM.pngThat last part is the crux of the matter and the bend in the demand curve that justifies this new program. Teleworking and remote learning (once called home schooling but now an integral part of every primary and secondary educational outlet) have created massive demographic shifts in the country. The impacts may not be realized for years to come. But it seems clear that the old days and parents and children leaving the house every morning for work and school are over. Workers at every level are commuting 20 feet from their bedrooms to their home offices, while school-aged children are opting for remote learning on either a full-time or part-time basis.  

This transformation is not without its problems. Parents throughout the country, as well as social scientists, note that children need connections outside the home. Teenage depression showed serious spikes in 2020 and early 2021. Programs like the Junior Sports Academy combat that.  

The golf portion of the academy opened in March and is being headed by Richard Franklin, who, in addition to being a noted junior golf instructor, is also a behavioral psychologist. He created a system called “DiscoverGolf,” which is game based, with much of the learning taking place on the golf course. 

“Golf is usually taught in a linear way: grip, stance, tempo, etc.,” Franklin said. “I believe in an approach that honors the non-uniform nature of childhood development. Leading young people requires us to adapt with culturally relevant programming that honors a child’s kaleidoscope of prior experiences, unique perspectives, emotions, and personality that is brought to bear on our lesson tee.”  


He incorporates games like “Croctology,” and “King Putt,” which, as the names imply, involve crocodile and ancient Egyptian themes. 

“Richard is an original thinker who is bringing a level of ingenuity and fun to our Desert Mountain families,” said Paxton O’Connor, the club’s director of performance and instruction. “We’re starting something very special and new to Arizona with lessons that guide our youth to think differently on the golf course.”

Youth aren’t the only ones thinking differently. Parents now have an engaging and safe golf and tennis outlet where their kids can get social interaction as well as the physical and psychological stimulation they need. And the club has a new program and revenue source. 

The Academy offers 90-minute sessions up to six days a week, timed to begin after kids are done with schooling, plus sessions on one weekend day. There is always a maximum of a four-to-one student-coach ratio. And learning is always sequenced, building to a big event at the end of each day. There are team-based challenges, goal-driven games and activities that develop problem solving skills and foster creativity. That programming is one of the reasons Franklin’s DiscoverGolf system is used at more than 250 facilities on five different continents. 

Desert Mountain has created a new non-equity Junior Sports Academy membership to accommodate referrals for the program.  

The academy also has a tier for students with tournament aspirations that includes more intense instruction and drilling but with the same goal of providing an engaging and socially and physically healthy option for this new virtual world. 

The club has a new membership category with a new revenue line, one it never would have expected in a pre-pandemic world.