As far back as he can remember, Thomas Haller recognized the impact that his hometown – Evanston, Illinois – has had on him. He first got into golf because his Dad was a golfer. Now, as an avid golfer himself, he believes that the exposure he had to golf at a young age is the main reason that his love for the sport stuck.
“My Dad got me into golf when I was younger, I would see him play and I was interested, so I would want to go play with him. He enrolled me in a golf camp when I was 6 or 7. As I got a little older I got really into it because my neighbor was a big golfer and we would play a lot.”
When his Dad heard about Youth on Course he quickly signed him up with CDGA Youth on Course – Thomas was actually the first YOC round played at his local course, Canal Shores! Eventually, as a member of his high school team and a caddie at Evanston Golf Club (following in his Dad’s footsteps), Thomas became a very active member of the local golf community. He played a lot with his Dad, his friends, and his teammates, but he also enjoyed going to the course by himself and being paired up with strangers.
“I’ve met a lot of really cool people playing golf, and it has helped me get out of my comfort zone, talking and playing with people I don’t know.”
Thomas says he is so thankful that he had people in his life that introduced him to golf, a community that gave him a welcoming place to play, and access to affordable golf with his Youth on Course membership because the game of golf has positively impacted his life in many ways. However, he realized that there was a big lack of minority interest in golf in his town and an even bigger lack of diversity in the sport as a whole. He thought that maybe if minority youth in his community had similar opportunities with golf like he had growing up, he could help make a change.
“Golf is such a great game that I love and I want to be able to share it with as many people as possible. There’s so many benefits that you can get from it – it’s a game that you can play for your whole life. It teaches you so many life lessons, like perseverance. But it’s clear that there is a big lack of diversity in the game of golf and a big part of it is just lack of exposure. So many kids don’t have dads that play golf like like mine does – that’s how I got introduced to the game – so they would never have that opportunity to get introduced.”
Talking with his parents one day about this very topic, Thomas got an idea that his Dad says was inspired by his experience with Youth on Course.
“I was telling my parents how we should try to do something about the lack of diversity [in golf].
My mom is a Head Start teacher in Evanston and teaches a lot of minority kids, so she told me that she could get a group together and I could play golf with them. It started really small, but then she talked to another teacher and she said that I should apply for a Community Building Grant. After that, there was another woman on the board of Canal Shores Golf Course who wanted to help me out. We decided that the best way to go would be to create an introductory golf camp for minority kids around Evanston. We applied for the grant and we got it so we could pay for a 4 week, twice a week camp for all these kids at Canal Shores! We also paid for polo shirts for the kids, and memberships at Canal Shores for free!”
Thanks to this snowball of support, 18 minority youth in Evanston were signed up to attend the golf camp, and Thomas was thrilled. He says after the camp, if even 1 or 2 participants wanted to continue to play golf afterwards, then it was a success.
“One of the kids is actually going to be trying out for his high school team because he’s so into it now! It was a big success in my opinion. We want kids to keep going, not just play for 2 weeks in the summer and forget about it. So that’s why Canal Shores gave them memberships to the course so that they would be able to keep playing. We want there to be some longevity with this. Almost every adult that I’ve played [golf] with, most of them didn’t play as a kid. And I always hear that they wish that they had played more as a kid or started playing younger. We want to give these kids that opportunity that these people didn’t have.”
Thomas says that without the help he received from his community, his vision for the youth golf camp would never have been possible.
“I was feeling overwhelmed at the start and I didn’t really know exactly how it would play out, so getting help was big. Cradle 2 Career and Advocates4Action were the ones who gave me the Community Building Grant so I could make this possible. Without their help I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it.
I also would not have been able to do this without Canal Shores – it’s a great community golf course. I think it embodies all of the values of Youth on Course. It’s affordable and welcoming to everyone. They were super collaborative with everything that we were doing and helped us out a lot. They provided the space where we were able to do our camps, they provided memberships so the kids could continue playing golf, and it’s just a really great thing that we have in the community. It’s such a great place to learn the game, like I did and so many other kids in the community did.”
I think it’s really fitting that we were trying to do something to help benefit the community, and at the same time I’m getting a ton of help from people in the community, so that was great.”
“What Thomas did to introduce golf to kids in our community says a lot about his character,” says Tony Frandria, General Manager at Canal Shores Golf Course. “While a lot of young men his age are off playing video games, he took the time to think of others and to promote the great game of golf.”
Thomas recognized a lack of opportunity in his community and took action to make a change. He hopes to continue the camp in the future and says that community service is definitely something that he sees as a part of his life going forward.
“Evanston is a great city and this community has given me so much. I think it’s my obligation to give something back. I want to try to help as many people as I can.”
We are very proud of Thomas for his accomplishments with this youth golf camp, and equally as proud to have him as a Youth on Course member. Our team was thrilled to be able to help Thomas get YOC memberships for all the participants in his golf camp.