Minnesota unveils another specialty license plate, tees up golf-themed plates for sales

Published 9:37 am Thursday, April 2, 2015

ST. PAUL — Minnesota golfers will soon have a new way to reflect their seasonal passion year-round: By slapping a special golf-themed license plate on their cars.

After some back and forth with plate promoters, state vehicle services officials have signed off on a design and say sales of the “Play Golf Minnesota” tags could begin in August. It’s the latest offering in a batch of dozens of specialty plates that act as state-sanctioned billboards and fundraising tools for various causes.

In this case, car owners who buy them will be expected to make a minimum $30 donation to a golf foundation account to promote youth involvement in the sport. That’s on top of typical registration costs and a $10 specialty plate fee.

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Jon Tollette, executive director of Minnesota Section Professional Golfers Association, said the resulting donations will be used to build up junior golf programs at Minnesota courses or help schools buy equipment for gym classes.

“By putting a club in their hands, hopefully they’ll understand that is an opportunity to play a sport the rest of their life,” Tollette said.

Despite its limited season, Minnesota ranks high among the states in golfers and golf courses per capita. And it will be the game’s global focal point in fall 2016, when Hazeltine National plays host to the Ryder Cup, a team-oriented tournament played on U.S. soil once every four years.

State Rep. Gene Pelowski, a Winona Democrat and golf fanatic whose Capitol office is stocked with memorabilia, said he wished designers would have put a nod to the Ryder Cup on the plate.

But Tollette said that would have required obtaining special rights to logos, which wasn’t a certainty and could have the rollout. Instead, the plate features the silhouette of a player mid-swing with a golf ball in place of the “O” of Minnesota and “The Game For A Lifetime” motto at the bottom.

Lawmakers are revisiting the plate offering this year, but only to clear up a timing problem from the authorizing law. Last year’s law allowed sales of the golf plates to start this year, but deferred the connected donation requirement until 2017. A measure before lawmakers would enact the donation requirement this year as sales begin.

In some respects, Minnesota has been slow to the game. Neighboring Wisconsin first issued a golf plate in 2006. They’ve also been available to vehicle owners in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, South Carolina and Texas.

In Florida, which created a golf plate in 2002, sales of them generate hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for youth golf activities.

“It is very common to see the golf tag littered through the golf course parking lots,” said Darin Green, senior tournament director at the Florida State Golf Association.

All of those states guide proceeds to youth golf programs, though the expected donations differ from place to place. The Illinois version makes the most direct appeal, with the image of a young golfer and the words “Support Youth Golf” on the plate.