When getting a child started playing golf, there needs to be a plan that addresses certain issues. This article will help you come up with a plan and offers advice on these topics:
- When to Start. Ideas on what you can do to determine when a youngster is ready.
- Equipment. What is necessary and what is not necessary.
- Developing Skills. Learning by watching and formalized instruction.
- Playing Partners. Getting friends involved is vital.
- Courses to Play. What to look for in courses that are best for juniors.
- Parental Involvement. Thing parents need to do and thing parents need to avoid.
- Helpful Resources. Organizations that can help a junior golfer get started.
1. When to Start. Dave Kendall, director of the Kendall Academy at Miles of Golf, feels the time to start is when the child appears interested in playing. I know of some youngsters, besides Tiger, that are totally taken by the game at a very early age, like 3 or 4 years of age. For most youngsters this is too young with most starting in the 8-12 range. For some, the right time is never because they just have no interest in the game. I am convinced that at a very early age most of us know sports we like and sports we do not like. Things you might do to help determine when and if a youngster should start are:
a. Take them to a golf tournament or watch golf on TV to see good players playing the game.
b. Give them an opportunity to hit a golf ball without giving them your ideas on how it should be done. Just let them try it.
c. Take them to a course and have them watch you play. Let them hit some shots.
If there seems to be an interest, you need to make a plan that addresses equipment, playing partners, courses to play, and lessons.
2. Equipment. The equipment to get started need not be a big expense. You can get a junior set that includes a bag and enough clubs for $80-$200. These sets will start with a lofted wood, a mid iron, short iron, and putter. Most companies have three sizes of junior clubs depending on the youngster’s height. The biggest company in junior golf, US Kids Golf, has 9 sizes. If a junior is on the fence about playing, even one or two clubs are plenty to get started. I personally would rather see a youngster with a few clubs that are the right size and moderately priced versus a full set of expensive clubs that are too big or too small. Golf is a hard game to learn and clubs that are not the right size can make it impossibly hard. When just starting things like golf shoes and gloves are not essential.
3. Developing Skills. Most youngsters learn athletics at a young age by mimicking what they see. Give a kid detailed instruction about the golf swing and watch their eyes glaze over and their excitement about the game fade away. If a child watches good players, most times they will pick up the game in the same natural way kids learn, by watching and trying. I like this plan. Take a child to a golf tournament, and it really does not matter if it is a junior tournament, professional, or amateur. Then take them to a range or course and let them hit shots saying little or nothing to them about how to hit the ball. My stomach gets upset when I think of all the bad golf advice I have heard given to a child from a parent. Probably the best formalized instruction for a child getting started is to have the person they will be playing with have a lesson so the child will have something good to emulate. At some point, if a child is interested in the game, you should consider formalized instruction. There are plenty of good programs in the Ann Arbor area that offer juniors instruction. See 7. Helpful Resources for information on instruction in the area.
4. Playing Partners. If a child is going to become a good player and enjoy the game, the most important thing that must happen is that he or she has buddies to play with. Parents or grandparents are OK, but they must also have golfing buddies their age. If you have one priority in getting a kid started, this is it. Get a group of kids interested in the game playing with each other and developing friendships and rivalries.
5. Courses to Play. The “best” courses in the area may not be the best place for junior golfers to get started. In the Ann Arbor area, many of the best junior players started playing at Georgetown, Huron Hills, and Brookside. What makes them good is that they are not real difficult so a young golfer can be successful relatively early in their playing career and they become accustom to shooting good scores. At these courses, kids “rule”. They can play in relative equality to adults and they can play a ton for not much money.
6. Parental Involvement. As mentioned, I am not crazy about parents giving their child golf instruction. Parents need to give thought to developing the plan for getting a child started in golf. As far as playing with your child, here are some suggestions: (1) Let them play without a lot of helpful hints or instructions. (2) Sometimes go out with your child and act as a caddie, letting your child be the boss and having the joy of being the center of attention of a parent. (3) If you play with your child, use limited flight golf balls so everyone hits it about the same distance. Almost Golf makes my favorite limited flight balls. (4) Set up your own course. It may be only 2 holes and you may tee off 100 yards from the green.
7. Helpful Resources.
a. Kendall Academy – offers after school, spring break camp, summer camp, beginner clinics, and private lessons. http://www.milesofgolf.com/kendall.html
b. City of Ann Arbor – offers junior golf programs through the City Recreation Department. www.a2golf.org
c. First Tee – a national organization teaching kids golf plus life values. http://www.thefirsttee.org/Club/Scripts/Home/home.asp
d. Michigan PGA – tournaments and instructional programs. http://www.michiganpgagolf.com/junior-golf/
e. Kensington Junior Tour http://www.kensingtonjuniorgolf.com/
f. Callaway Junior Tour http://cjrtour.com/
g. Meijer Junior Golf Tour (Ages 7—19) http://meijer.juniorgolf.org/