At 6-foot-6 and about 280 pounds, Mark Haugejorde chuckles at the use of the word “nimble” to describe his efforts in making youth golf tournaments a successful reality amid the pandemic.
“Nimble isn’t the word most people would use around me,” says Haugejorde. “But in business it’s what we’ve done and what we’ve been.”
Haugejorde is a former executive for the Nicklaus Companies who started Caddie U in 2018 to provide teen caddies, players and students with disabilities with innovative programs that advance their social, workforce and competitive aspirations. During a time of confusion and uncertainty created by the coronavirus, Haugejorde and his team have become exemplars for how youth golf tournaments can not only be run safely, responsibly and efficiently, but perhaps provide a blueprint for how some golf charity events might operate in the future.
“We realized there were a lot of committee-driven associations watching what they could and couldn’t do, plus a lot of people in government offices who are well-meaning but looking for guidance too,” he said. “We asked what can we do to give back, have some fun and do some good.”
Haugejorde has been instrumental in the success of the Minnesota-based LumpCo Pop-Up Tour, named after former PGA TOUR player Tim Herron, a Minnesota resident who is also actively involved in the effort. The events include both high school and college boys and girls, providing opportunities to players who had their school seasons cut short.
With more than a handful of tournaments now in the books, the results have been encouraging and invigorating.
Adjusting to safety restrictions in effect due to the coronavirus, players went out in threesomes and participants were given limited prep time: 10 minutes to putt, 10 minutes to hit balls as a warmup and then were called to the tee 10 minutes before their tee time. Kids are ready to play, with limited gathering and standing around. Pace of play has been exceptional; at a recent event, the slowest threesome finished 18 holes in three hours and 32 minutes. The fastest played in three hours, 10 minutes. Scorekeeping is kept through a mobile app, which limits physical touch-points, keeps an updated leaderboard and makes it easy for parents to follow with no spectators permitted on course.
The next venture for the group, Phase 2 if you will, is the Minnesota Legends Match-Up Tour featuring Herron along with fellow captains Tom Lehman and Rocco Mediate. It will feature 10-player teams of high school and college players — the top 30 from the Pop-Up Tour — with threesomes competing at leading venues throughout Minnesota. The participants will raise money through pledges for “Birdies for Food Banks.” In addition, it will involve 12 teens from the Sanneh Foundation in St. Paul who will learn how to caddie and incorporate financial literacy practices through Caddie U’s business school.
Over the past several months, Caddie U’s donors have gotten a first-hand look at the organization’s learnings and how their resources have been applied to plan that wasn’t on the drawing board for 2020.
“We have a template now that works so well,” Haugejorde said. “To me, this is absolutely transferable to the non-profit golf outing.”
Kids who participated in the youth tournaments served as “group caddies” at the organization’s annual fundraiser, the LumpCo Invitational at Windsong Farm in Minneapolis on June 8. While they didn’t touch any equipment and adhered to social distancing requirements, they helped to keep the event running smoothly by lending assistance to the participants, including using the mobile app to regularly input scores as well as shooting yardages, finding lost balls, fixing divots, repairing ball marks, reading greens and using their own rake to rake bunkers.
“They know exactly what to do,” Haugejorde said. “They were the leaders and teaching those players, the adults, that this is the way we do it and this is what we’ve learned through the LumpCo Pop-Up Tour.”
The result was a golf outing with traditional foursomes that finished in an almost unheard of four hours. For Haugejorde, it’s added validation that the measures they’ve “nimbly” adopted and implemented out of necessity are not only working, but can be a pathway for others to follow. It helps that his organization is a little “lighter on its feet” than some other established groups, which has meant a buy-in from various associations and PGA professionals, not to mention facilities that have implemented some practices.
“We were able to respond, it’s working and we’re going to keep going,” said Haugejorde. “We have a reset that’s been put in place.”
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