Working With Kids
There’s tons of talk about the future of golf, declining participation, the state of the game, etc. Most of it is doom and gloom, as rounds are down, courses are having trouble or even closing, and the equipment industry seems somewhat alarmed. To me, the future of the game lies in the youth. We need to find a way to make golf cool, and as much fun as the entertainment alternatives these kids can choose from in today’s world. Golf is competing with the team sports – little league, soccer, etc., as well as the movies, video games, hanging at the mall . . . It’s a tough sell, to be honest.
But the fun begins when a kid hits that shot that just flies dead true. Or a putt or chip that goes in the hole. And if we can just find a way to make it as social for the kids the team sports, we’ll begin to win the battle.
I’ve always felt like the “low hanging fruit” is with the kids whose parents or grandparents already play, a member of a club or regular at a public course. The First Tee is admirable, I’ll admit, but if we can’t get the country club kids to embrace golf, what chance do we have on the fringes?
I’ve spent some time with a few of our young players and am always excited when I see them have an “ah ha” moment. You can see the thrill in their faces when that drive or iron shot flies true, or that chip nestles close to the hole, or they drain a few 8-10 footers in a row on the putting green.
I showed one of our young lady future stars a little change to her takeaway a couple of weeks ago and she goes out and shoots her career low 36-hole score and wins the district tournament! She placed second in regional the next week.
A 14-year-old son of a friend, who’s and also a tennis player, just needed to be shown that this is a left-handed game, and toning back the use of his right hand was the key. Boom. Longer, straighter drives, crisper iron shots and golf is back in his equation of serious application of time and interest.
One of our members has a young son who will spend hours chipping and putting. He’s eaten up with it, so I built him a sand wedge that fits, showed him how to use it and his whole world changed. The smile and excitement was worth a fortune!
Golf has tough competition for these kids’ attention. Some say the game moves too slowly. C’mon, baseball offers the kid 2-3 at bats and maybe 3-4 uses of his glove in 2 hours. That’s a long way from fast-paced excitement. Soccer has them running around for an hour or more, maybe getting a few kicks in, but seeing very few scores. That’s edge-of-the-seat stuff?
What we need in golf is a true team approach for the kids, especially the little ones. How about scramble format, instead of playing their own ball? Give them teammates to cheer along. How about a “kids’-only” green and hole in front of all the bunkers and away from the water, with a cup that is 6-8”in diameter? Why should a kid, or any beginner for that matter, have to navigate the same protected green, with its fast and breaking putts, and damn small hole as we accomplished players do?
But one of the things that I think also draws kids to these sports is the dedicated attention they get from the adult coaches. Kids crave attention and acknowledgement. So, when you see some kids at the course this weekend, take the time to for them, maybe give them a tip or two, a new ball, one of your old clubs – something simple. Encouragement is what they need, so let’s be the mentors and supporters for these kids. Golf will make them better students, friends, sons and daughters, grown men and women.
That’s what I think.
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Bryan K says:
I agree Terry. This was an awesome post.
I have a dilemma inside of me. I love kids. I love mentoring kids. I love interacting with kids. And I love watching kids grow up. Society doesn't exactly approve of such a demeanor from a 36-year old single guy. To most people, I'm a creepy stranger. And that sucks.
But most people hate kids, especially on the golf course, and that drives me nuts. If I get an opportunity to play a round with a group of kids, I'll take it. And even though I'm probably not good enough to give them lessons, I can help them learn some important factors of etiquette. Like why is it so importnt to play quickly? Why should we let that foursome of arrogant asses behind us play through. And I firmly believe that if we make golf a positive experience for these kids, they will grow up to be adult golfers that keep the sport alive.
The scramble idea for kids is perfect. I'd love to see a kids golf league that is nothing but scramble format rounds. You get the best of the solo game of golf, while still adding in the benefits of a team sport as well.
The kids only green and hole I could do without, that's tinkering with the "rules" of the game a bit much.
@ HotBacon - All sports adjust their rules to make the game suitable for younger kids. Soccer has smaller goals shorter fields, the youngest little league age groups start with T-ball and then have their coaches from lob pitches to batters. Football has the flag version as well as adjusting the field and size of the ball to accommodate them. I can go on and on.
Every golf club should ave a few holes tailored for the kids and start nurturing their love for the game. If not, golf will be relegated to a niche game.
Sadly, It's really hard to find a place to play in public that's not a course. When I spent some time in England as a kid, they would have parks with a club rental stand. You'd get one old iron and one old ball, and go out and hit at flag sticks randomly placed on some hilly grassy areas. No holes, no putts, no drives. You'd pay 50p at most for a very loosely policed 30 minutes or so. Crikey, that was fun, and how I got my start. I got home to the USA and put a tuna can in my dirt road and played up and down the street, around the houses. Once you catch one sweet, you're hooked!
It's a tough road. I have 3 daughters and as kids they'd yawn if I asked them to go golfing, or the few times they agreed to go, they wanted to bring a dozen friends with them. I have a 3 year old grandson who we take out on the course every once in a while and if we get ahead of the group behind us, we let him smack a few balls around with his kid clubs....hopefully he'll want to play when he gets older. Here's the thing IMHO...when they are 3 to say 13, the games too hard for them and they get bored with it. From 13 on, the hormones kick in and they are more interested in chasing skirts then a golf ball. Everyone I play with started this crazy game when they were in their 20's, had the money to play, and the desire to get away from it all on the weekends. The only really young kids that are playing are playing because their parents are basically making them play....I don't think it's going to change much
I think Terry is on the right track about making things a bit "easier" for kids. In all "team" sports - all kids are at the same development level so it's easier to succeed. In golf, it's you vs. the course, so we can't expect every kid to excel at the same courses we play. There is an executive near my house which is set up well fro kid's toplay fromt he ladies tees. No forced carries, no extreme hazards in the way, etc. But I think it could go one step further, and that "kid's cup" might be the trick. Problem is obvious, the big cup would make the course nearly unplayable for everyone else.
But too many kids grow upt he way I did, with clubs that are too hard to hit, shafts that are too long or too stiff, and a game that seems too hard. Club manufacturer's and teachers have made great strides, but will course owners take the next step?
My youngest son has been holding a club since he was 12 months old. He played his first nine holes almost 3 years ago. He loves it! During the winter months he asks if we can drive by the course to see if there is snow on the ground. I oblige and take a drive him there just in case we can play. It's a good time, for sure.
There are some funky pitch n' putts around ($9), that you can play on as you see fit when there's nobody else around - awful greens, but great for scoring clubs. Practice balls have gotten loads better, but my kids like hitting baseball sized wiffles or tennis balls around the yard. They like putt-putt, but play it more like field hockey.
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