Despite an overall downturn in the number of rounds being played, junior golf remains hot. According to the National Golf Foundation, there are nearly 3 million junior golfers in the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 17.
Whether they’re playing for fun or with an eye toward a possible college scholarship or career, there are things that parents can do to make the game more attainable and enjoyable for their children.
Southern California has a great infrastructure for junior golf, and some of the players to come out of regional programs have excelled because of proper guidance — both on the course and at home.
Here are 10 things parents should know before getting their child into the game:
make it a family affair
One of the best ways to introduce your child to the game is to play golf with them.
“I started out caddying for my dad, tagging along and just watching where the ball went,” said Steve Knirsch, who works for U.S. Kids Golf, a company that offers equipment, instruction and competition for kids.
Playing golf as a family is a great way for parents to bond with their children and a good chance for youngsters to develop a respect for the game and its traditions.
“If a kid has fun playing golf with mom and dad, they’re going to have fun playing golf without mom and dad,” Knirsch said.
proper clubs lead to proper swings
Times have changed in the junior golf club industry. Gone are the days when a set of Patty Berg ladies clubs were cut down, regripped and given to a child as a first set. These days, manufacturers such as La Jolla Club, U.S. Kids and Nike are designing clubs specifically for children.
“Cutting down clubs is not the way to go if you want to get your kid into golf,” said Paula Olsen, head of instruction at Tregnan Golf Academy in Los Angeles.
“If a golf club is too heavy or too stiff, a junior will try to manufacture a swing to hit the ball, thus decreasing their chances for success,” he said. “But a club that is properly fitted and weighted for the individual will allow them to be more successful.”
get on course with a summer job
Whether it’s caddying at a country club or washing a golf cart at a public facility, a summer golf job is a great way for children to gain exposure to the game.
“I learned so much from people when I worked at a course,” Knirsch said. “In fact, I’d say it was the most beneficial experience I’ve ever had.”
learn from the best
Taking lessons is a good way to ensure that your child will learn the fundamentals at an early age.
“If you learn bad habits right out of the gate, then it’ll take a while to unlearn them,” Knirsch said.
Olsen said that children between the ages of 2 and 5 “can get plastic clubs and parents can give them the concept of knocking the ball around. But once they reach 5, 6 or 7, they should sign them up for professional instruction.”
have a positive outlook
How parents speak to their children is important. That includes body language. Crossing your arms, rolling your eyes or sighing when your child does something that displeases you is a sure way to convey negative feelings.
If you’re going to introduce your child to golf, make sure to keep your expectations realistic. The game is hard enough, so positive reinforcement is a must.
“The dialogues we have with ourselves were learned at a very early age,” said Dr. David Wright, an instructor at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club. “If your general outlook on life is positive, you were most likely raised in a supportive, nurturing environment by parents who limited their negative feedback. If, on the other hand, your perspective errs on the negative side you probably spent much of your developmental years surrounded by pessimistic, critical, problem-focused people. A lot of people fall into this category. It’s hard not to.”
go to the head of the class
Even Tiger Woods wasn’t allowed to play golf until he finished his homework. If your child shows a love for the game, use academics as a motivating tool for them to excel. Studying takes focus and mental discipline, and both traits are essential on the golf course.
Plus, it could pay off in the long run. Come scholarship time, an application filled with A’s and birdies could reward your child with a full ride to a good college.
playing well takes commitment
According to the National Golf Foundation, only 8 percent of all golfers are able to break 80, and about 1 percent are capable of shooting or breaking par.
If your objective is to develop your child into a competitive junior, the time (and money) it takes to do so will be significant. Also, shuttling them around to lessons, tournaments, and practice sessions is a huge commitment.
show some competitive spirit
Competition is vital if your junior golfer has professional aspirations, but there are other reasons why parents should encourage their children to compete regardless of skill level.
“Competition is something that’s going to be around us in professional life and in our casual life,” Knirsch said. “If you’re introduced to competition early, it can only help you in the long run.”
Olsen said that local golf tours and The Golf Channel’s annual “Drive, Chip and Putt” contests, which made stops in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties earlier this year, are great ways to get a young golfer’s feet wet.
playing golf will open many doors
The National Golf Foundation reports that 27 million people tee it up each year, and you can bet that many of those rounds strengthen business or personal friendships. Four hours on a golf course is the perfect setting to talk candidly, joke around, seal a deal or learn how to deal with others.
As the legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice said: “Golf gives you an insight into human nature. Your own as well as your opponent’s.”
With a lot of adults displaying etiquette shortcomings on courses, learning young is the time to ingrain good habits. What better way to impress your boss (or future boss) with your manners and integrity?
it’s never too late to start
Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie were successful at a young age. While they’ve inspired many children to pick up a club, they may have made some parents pressure their children to play — and succeed — at a young age.
“Nowadays if a child takes up the game at the age of 12, it’s considered a late start,” said Burbank-based sports psychologist Rick Sessinghaus.
When children play golf and are routinely beaten by younger opponents, it often discourages them from continuing.
“Twelve is a great age to start because you’re more mature physically,” Sessinghaus said. “But sometimes parents wonder why their [12-year-olds] aren’t as good as an 8-year-old. Well, chances are that 8-year-old has been playing for three years.”
It’s good for parents to keep in mind that starting later might lessen the chance of burnout and develop a more-rounded individual, he said.