SUGAR GROVE, IL — For many, golf is much more than just a sport.

It can be a vehicle to make new friends, a way to grow a player both physically and mentally, and it can be used as a powerful tool in the business world. In a day in age where almost all careers rely on networking, the Kids Golf Foundation works to equip their participants with real world skills to lead them to success for the rest of their lives.

Developed in 2009 to advance the Foundation’s mission of providing kids with opportunities for personal growth and career enhancement, the annual boys mentoring event, the Other Side of the Green, provides hands-on networking and communication experience for twelve participants from the state. The 2016 event took place on May 21.

Young men from Foundation programs from across the state are nominated by their Site Coordinators. The Foundation then chooses twelve to be invited to Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove for a day-long event. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pairs each Program Participant with a local Business Professional who shares similar career interests and/or hobbies.

“My Business Professional and I both shared a background and love for the US military,” said Joseph Douglas, a Program Participant. “I’m in junior ROTC Corps and he is retired from the military, so we had a common love for what I do and he did. We also both had similar golf ability. We are both nowhere near [professional status], but we both had fun and he taught me a lot about the business world like how to act, different things about character, and gave me a lot of tips about life and it was amazing.”

The day began with the Business Professionals and Program Participants meeting for the first time, as the pairings were kept secret until that day. After meeting, the groups warmed up at five activity stations (stretching, full swing, chipping, putting, and networking) designed to highlight the connection between golf skills and life skills. The stations are a great time for the Business Professionals and their Program Participants to learn more about one another as well as learn from each other.

“[My business professional] was a great mentor and he helped me out through the whole day – he really helped me see where the break was on each green,” said Jason Runbom, a Program Participant.

After completing the stations, each group then headed to the links for a nine-hole scramble.

“We talked a lot about sports and school because that’s the most relevant in his life right now. He’s into football, boxing, and he’s picking up golf which is great,” said Grant Stoffle, a Business Professional. “It was great connecting with a younger person and learning what’s relevant to them.”

In addition, each group included a student athlete from Aurora University, Northern Illinois University or the University of St. Francis which added another golf perspective to their round.

With the ages of the Program Participants ranging from 11-17, the discussion and interactions between each pairing varied based on where each Program Participant was in his own life.

“[My mentee] was looking for some direction, but obviously college isn’t right around the corner for him,” said Paul Rackouski, a Business Pro who works in engineering for ComEd. “We had things in common as far as sports and he is interested in engineering, so I got to talk to him about that. He is a very well-spoken kid so I can see a great future for him. I do want to keep in contact with him, email or call him a couple times a year, and maybe help him get a job later after he graduates college.”

Some Program Participants event credited both this event and the Foundation’s programming for reigniting their love for the game.

“I have the tendency to beat myself up [when I golf],” explained Douglas. “Golf is very mentally straining and challenging for me and this is actually the first time I played consecutive holes where I really didn’t put myself down. It’s really put me back into the game of golf. I beat myself up and I was thinking about going to football, so [the Kids Golf Foundation] really brought me back into the fun and rush of being a golfer.”

Above all, the purpose of this mentoring event is to help the Foundation participants learn how to use golf as a vehicle for career enhancement – something the Business Professionals once learned from their mentors, and were delighted to share with the next generation.

“That’s the ultimate dream. Growing up, you see all these people you aspire to be like – successful business men and women,” said Stoffle, who earned the Chick Evans Scholarship by being a stand-out caddie, which helped pay for his college education. “They were huge role models for me and now I can slowly see myself transitioning into that role and it’s a great feeling. It’s very cool.”

“The connections you can make here and the things you can teach someone else is just a way to give back. You have to know that when you are a business professional and you are successful – that doesn’t come all by yourself. There are definitely people around you who helped you get there,” said Paul “It’s great to recognize that, humble yourself, and be able to pay it forward.”

Thinking Outside the Tee Box, the girls equivalent, will take place October 8, 2016. The Kids Golf Foundation always encourages interested Business Professionals to get involved by submitting an application to mentor a youth participant.

For more information on the mentoring events or other Kids Golf Foundation programs, contact the Foundation either via email at or by phone at (630) 466-0913.

Check out photos from the day here: