Youth development drives Polson Golf Professional’s work
By Mary Auld
for the Valley Journal
POLSON - Cameron Milton was named the Polson Chamber of Commerce 2018 Citizen of the Year. He was also recognized on the national golf scene earlier last year, with the 2018 Professional Golfers’ Association Youth Player Development Award. Both awards recognize Milton’s commitment to building inclusive youth programs at the golf course.
“We’ve just made youth programming a priority,” he said.
Milton’s life’s work and his recreational obsession are one and the same. “Golf is my life,” he said. “A lot of the time when I’m not working I’m playing the game.”
Milton has been the head golf professional at Polson Bay Golf Course for 11 years. In that role he runs the golf course, supervises staff, and facilitates youth programming. It’s the “kid part,” that Milton says is his favorite aspect of the job. The youth programs Milton heads have earned him significant attention, both locally and nationally, in the last year.
Milton doesn’t see the golf course as a training ground for a sport. Instead, he approaches his programs as providing support for an array of children’s needs. “Every kid that walks through the door knows that there’s someone there who is invested in their life, not just in golf,” he said.
According to Milton, youth programming had always been a focus of Polson Bay Golf Course, though he took the programs to a new level. “As we became more successful we needed to find more funds to support our programs,” he said. He was instrumental in creating the nonprofit Mission Valley Junior Golf Association a few years ago. With nonprofit status, the golf course can accept grants and donations to support its youth programs.
Milton said he wants to teach kids to play golf because it’s “a lifetime sport.” Unlike high-impact team sports, people can play golf at any phase of their life as long as they have access to a golf course. Golf gets people outside and allows them to enjoy being active, according to Milton. He stressed that all skill levels are welcome and encouraged at Polson Bay Golf Course.
Milton wants the golf course to be a safe space for any child in the community. “A parent can drop a kid off and they can be here all day outside, off of screens, learning,” he said. Kids learn integrity by keeping their own score and navigating social interactions on the course, Milton said.
According to Milton, the culture of embracing youth on the golf course is unique to Polson Bay Golf Course. At other courses, youth golf programs are often relegated to hours when other patrons aren’t using the facility. “It’s the opposite here; we’re happy to see them any time,” he said.
Milton heads a variety of youth programs. Through the Golf in Schools program, he teaches about 600 Polson and St. Ignatius middle school students about golfing during their physical education classes each winter. He collaborates with schools’ PE teachers to instruct students on technical skills around golfing using indoor golfing equipment.
“A lot of these kids have never been exposed to golf. It’s a whole new thing,” he said. He added that many students who he introduces to the sport during the Golf in Schools program go on to participate in activities at the golf course. A select few students visit the golf course through the Golf in Schools program each spring.
The PGA junior league, which Milton calls “Little League for golf,” allows children to learn about the game while competing. Seventy-two children participated in the league last spring and summer.
Polson Bay Golf Course also provides a free junior golf clinic for children in kindergarten through eighth grade from the Polson area each summer. The tradition, which started before Milton took over at the golf course, invites all children to a weeklong golf camp. The entire week operates on donations.
Milton’s love for golf began in his hometown of Roundup, MT. His grandfather introduced him to the game at eight years old. His love for the sport was immediate, Milton said. “I played in summer and after school, all day every day, and it turned into a career,” he said.
Milton played golf in high school and went on to study organizational communications at the University of Montana. During college, he heard about becoming a Professional Golf Association golfer, and he knew it was the career for him. “I could be in the golf business, use my organizational communications skills, be around people, play golf and teach golf,” he said. Milton completed the training to become a PGA Golf Professional while in college.
After college, Milton lived and worked at a golf course in the San Francisco Bay Area for years. He wanted to move back to Montana to start a family and decided to take the job of head golf professional at the golf course in Polson.
Milton is insistent on expanding programs to provide local youth with greater access to facilities at the golf course. This spring Mission Valley Junior Golf Association will start fundraising for a capital improvement project that will create an indoor learning center for the golf course. One- third of the space in the building will be a locker room where kids can store their golf equipment. This will allow them to golf even if they don’t have access to transportation for their clubs. An indoor golf simulator will give kids the opportunity to practice their skills during the winter. Adults will be charged for use of the simulator, and the proceeds will go toward future youth programs. The MVJGA will have to raise about $100,000 for the project.
In addition to golfing in his free time, Milton spends time with his wife and eight-year-old son, he said. He likes to be outside. He spends his winters in the mountains and his summers on the golf course.
Milton said his awards from the Polson Chamber of Commerce and the PGA have been the highlights of his career. He credits the support of the community with the success of his programs.
“The community as a whole has been incredible to our programs and for that I’ll be forever grateful,” he said.