Growing the Game One Player at a Time
How Jim Tobin, PGA, invited inner-city kids into Boston’s first PGA Jr. League program
By Mandy Crow
Jim Tobin, PGA, loves golf. After all, as a PGA Professional and a past president of the New England Section of the PGA, he’s spent his career introducing others to the game.
From his PGA HOPE and PGA Jr. League programs at Patriot Golf Course at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts, to the First Tee program he runs at William J. Devine Golf Course at Franklin Park in Boston, Tobin has played an instrumental role in growing the game, one player at a time.
For years, Tobin has served as a co-leader of the only First Tee program within the city of Boston. The program is offered free of charge to participants at the city-owned William J. Devine Golf Course at Franklin Park. During the summer, more than 120 kids a week take part, more than half of them minorities.
“About 2013, the city and the Massachusetts Golf Association got together and collaborated on a First Tee program,” Tobin says. “They’d never had one [in the city of Boston]. It really has blossomed into quite the program for inner-city kids in Boston.”
Already running a league at Patriot Golf Course, Tobin saw PGA Jr. League as the perfect next step for his First Tee players in Boston—but there were more than a few obstacles.
“I’ve been trying to get PGA Jr. League in Boston for a couple of years, but money was a problem,” Tobin says. “I wanted to get these kids onto the golf course so that they wouldn’t lose interest in the game, but we had to figure out the funding.”
Last fall, all the details began to come together for Tobin to make his dream a reality. First Tee granted Tobin a little seed money to get the PGA Jr. League program off the ground, covering the green fees. Then, Tobin worked with Player Engagement Consultant Brian Bain, PGA and PGA REACH to get scholarships for his players, making it possible for them to participate without a financial burden and provided jerseys and hats.
“Now I had all of the pieces of the puzzle together,” Tobin says. “I could get 24 kids out on the course at 3:30 every Sunday afternoon.”
For many of Tobin’s players, that first Sunday PGA Jr. League practice marked their first time on the golf course.
“One kid was rubbing his hands on the green and asked, ‘You guys really play on this stuff?’” Tobin recalls with a laugh. “Many of my players live within blocks of the golf course and walk by it all the time, but they’ve never come and played here. I asked why and they said, ‘No one ever invited us.’”
Tobin’s fall league runs for seven weeks on Sunday afternoons. Practices and games are scheduled back-to-back with tee times starting around 4:10 p.m. Tobin adapted the format to work for his players.
“A foursome didn’t quite work because they’d never been on a golf course before, so we changed the format a little to fit our players’ needs,” Tobin said. “The kids really started understanding the object of the game and the partner concept. We’re moving them step-by-step into match play and foursomes.”
Tobin was incredibly purposeful in creating his matches. In addition to sending an adult—assistant coaches and engaged parents—with each group, he also tried to place more advanced players with beginners.
“It was incredible to see how that player would take on a leadership position,” Tobin says. “They talk about which ball to hit, which club to pick, and we just let them do it. We might talk more about why they might have made another choice later, but we’re teaching them life skills, and it’s just wonderful.”
Tobin is already planning for the fall 2023 PGA Jr. League season with co-leader Marcia Malone, PGA, and hopes to add a spring season in the future. More than anything, Tobin wants the greater Boston community to see the impact PGA Jr. League is already making in the inner city.
“At the end of our fall season last year, the parents surprised us with a big buffet table for the kids, just thanking everyone for getting the program going,” he says. “This is something the city really needed and wanted. PGA Jr. League has introduced these kids and their families to what golf is and what it can be for the kids. To see the kids in their uniforms, the looks on their faces—they are just so proud."