Thoughts on junior golf
Golf Things Considered column by John Rogers
People frequently ask me about the age that they should start their children at playing golf. The easy answer is that it is not really a question of age, but of interest and attention span, which is obviously different from one child to the next. I have given lessons to children as young as 3 years old, but in general, it seems that young golfers respond better from age 6 and up.
More important than the age is the way that kids are welcomed into the game. Too many times I see a well-meaning, though slightly overzealous father trying to teach swing mechanics to a kid who just wants to hit the ball. At an early stage, it’s probably more important for the junior golfer to just have fun, and I have found that, far and away, the most important thing for getting a new golfer hooked is to make him feel good about what he is doing. A child who receives validation and positive feedback about golf is a child who will love the game for a lifetime.
There is plenty of time for a kid to learn mechanics. I prefer to deliver golf techniques in small doses, with lots of analogies and mental imagery. I will teach a child to hold the club with his “Tiger grip,” teach wrist cock by making a “letter L” out of the lead arm and club, and to finish the swing in a “magazine pose.” Sometimes it’s really amazing how well a young golfer will do with only a few fundamentals, and some praise to make him feel good.
I had a boy, 8 years old, start lessons last summer. His parents were trying to get him involved in various activities, and he had tried soccer and karate, but nothing seemed to catch his imagination.
At the driving range, plenty of things got his attention, though – like the broken tees scattered around the practice area. Sometimes the priority was digging through his miniature golf bag for his favorite ball, and other times, golfers on the first tee were a distraction. But eventually I’d nudge his attention back to our practice, and he learned very quickly once he focused. And when he did well, he became hooked. His folks say that he loves golf, and he can’t wait to return to the course in the spring.
Similarly, I think of a young lady from Staunton who started in golf several years ago, when she was 8. At her first lesson, I asked the girl if she enjoyed other sports and hobbies. She rolled her eyes and said that she had taken “lessons on lessons,” trying, I guess, to find an activity that suited her. I thought, “Oh, boy, this one could be a challenge.” But the two of us stuck it out with patience and hard work, and in 2004, the young lady was named the All-American Girl (basically the national player of the year) on the Plantations Junior Golf Tour. Now she takes approximately 50 lessons per year, and plays in tournaments around the country.
One thing that has really helped to make golf more accessible to young players in recent years is the development of very good junior golf clubs. Gone are the days of cutting down a heavy, steel-shafted blade iron, which was no more useful to a small kid than a driver’s license. Now there are short, lightweight, graphite-shafted clubs that even come color-coded to fit various age groups. It is much easier for a junior golfer to learn the fundamentals when he doesn’t have to waste all his strength just getting the clubhead off the ground.
And many golf courses are catering to the needs of junior golfers as well. National programs like The First Tee have opened up the world of golf to kids living in all kinds of conditions and places, including the inner cities.
At Lakeview, junior golfers can play unlimited golf for $250 a year. And there seem to be more and better tournaments for youth who want to compete as they learn the game.
As a teaching professional, I find few things more rewarding than watching young golfers grow up while making the traditions of golf – things like integrity and fellowship – a part of their lives. And you never know where golf might lead a junior golfer. One of my former students is now an LPGA instructor in Florida, teaching junior students of her own.
As I get older, I realize that many of my junior golfers are no longer juniors, which is strange, because it doesn’t seem too long ago that I was taking up the game myself. Sometimes this alluring game still makes me feel like a wide-eyed teen-ager. And as the years slip by, I know that I will look forward to new, young golfers arriving at my lesson tee.