Making Golf Cool for Kids
I fell in love with golf from watching my grandfather play. These 10 tips can help parents get their kids excited about the game.
As a kid, I remember watching golf matches on television with my grandfather. He would play a lot of golf on the weekends, and I would occasionally accompany him (when I was motivated enough to crawl out of bed at 6 Am on a Saturday or Sunday morning).
I wanted to learn the game so I could play with him. I was born blind, so finding someone who was willing to teach a blind person how to play golf was a bit challenging. I could have learned from him, of course. But he felt I needed instruction from a pro, or at least someone who knew how to teach the game.
My chance finally came in college, where I took a golf class as part of my physical education requirements. The teacher also coached the men’s basketball team, and he became very close to me and my grandfather. He would help me line my club up with the ball and make sure I was set, then let me do the rest.
Several months after I took the course, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer. It eventually spread to his liver. His health began to deteriorate significantly. I wasn’t sure if I would realize my dream of playing a round with him.
But on one of his good days, he agreed to take me out to the nine-hole course at the college and play as many holes with me as he was physically able. I don’t remember what my scores were the first two holes, except they were bad. But I made par on No. 3. It was at that point my grandfather had to stop. He was too tired to continue.
But I was OK with that. I had finally gotten the chance to play golf with the man who helped raise me as a child. Besides, why not end on a positive note?
My grandfather passed away a few weeks after that. But my love of golf remains to this day, although I haven’t played in years. Every time I watch a PGA event, I think of him. He’s the one who turned me on to sports. He also encouraged me to play adaptive sports like baseball and golf, believing that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to despite my blindness.
Golf can teach many of the same life lessons as other sports: discipline, building relationships, and perseverance. But it’s even tougher to get kids into golf today than when I was growing up. How many kids do you know who will spend hours glued to the television or their mobile devices watching golf? I can’t think of one, and I was probably an exception during my childhood.
But all hope is not lost. If you love golf and want to pass it along to your kids, here are 10 tips that can help.
Start Them Early
Club professional Megan Padua, who teaches at Florida’s Bonita Bay Club, believes it’s important to get your child interested in golf as early as possible.
“I am all for getting kids to start at any age,” Padua told Jessica Marksbury on Golf.com. “As early as age two, you can have them swing a plastic club. It’s never too young. I hear a lot of parents say they don’t want to start their kids until they turn a certain age, but that time has come and gone.”
Get Them Into Group Instruction
Just because golf isn’t a “team” sport like football or baseball doesn’t mean kids can’t learn as a group.
Golf instructor Nathalie Filler says the younger the child, the more they will thrive under group instruction. It’s no different than other sports, really. They will have a lot more fun and will learn to engage with other kids more in a group setting than with an individual teacher.
Filler suggests finding an instructor in your area that emphasizes group classes, or get a group of your child’s friends together and sign them all up.
Keep It Fun
There’s no reason to make learning a sport like a chore to your kids. If it’s no fun, they won’t stick with it anyway.
There are lots of mini-golf and other courses that offer fun variations like FootGolf, which combines the elements of soccer and golf. There’s also disc golf, where players throw a disc at a basket using rules similar to golf.
Padua likes to have her kids hit water balloons to teach them the basics of a golf swing.
“If a kid explodes a water balloon, it makes them laugh, because they’re soaking wet at the end, but it also shows them they can do that,” she explained.
Keep It Short
Just because you love playing 18 holes for half the day doesn’t mean your child will be as enthusiastic.
GolfSupport.com suggests using courses that are specifically geared toward kids. If one isn’t available where you live, adult courses can be used. Just don’t be upset if your child is ready to stop after a few holes. After all, you’re not looking for them to earn their PGA Card, just learn the game. It’s perfectly fine to let them enjoy the game in smaller bites.
Use Proper Equipment
It’s tempting to give kids your old, worn-out set of clubs you no longer use, especially since new ones can be pricey. But the last thing your child needs is a club that’s too long or heavy, making it difficult to swing.
Filler suggests starting out simple, with just a yard club and a putter. They’re more lightweight and have a grip guide and larger clubface. Once they have success and get older, full sets from brands like U.S. Kids are the best option for junior golfers.
Get Age-Appropriate Coaching
Padua reminds parents to make their children feel good about playing the game when starting out, then gradually focus on developing specific skills.
“When kids are first starting out, you want them to feel like they belong playing golf, that it’s a sport they can do and enjoy,” she said. “Then, focus on skill development, but not necessarily technique. As they get a bit older, they can start doing some technique.”
Give Them Time
Learning golf is no different than any other sport. It takes lots of practice and repetition. GolfSupport.com points out children usually learn a sport faster at a younger age. Make sure to give them enough time to hone their skills. You might be better served taking them out to a course later in the day or at a time when it’s not crowded, so you don’t hold up other groups playing behind you.
This is true no matter what activity kids take part in. Just because you’re passionate about golf doesn’t mean your child will automatically love it in the same way.
Filler recommends letting it be your child’s idea to go to the range and hit balls. Don’t push them into it. There were numerous times I had agreed to go with my grandfather to watch him play, then rolled over and went back to sleep the next morning when he came to get me up. He never got upset or tried to force me to go.
Let Them Try Other Sports
Padua is one who doesn’t believe in a one-sport-only mentality.
“Letting kids do a bit of everything, playing other sports, developing values in all different areas and not focusing solely on golf helps kids become better athletes,” she explained. “(This) pays off in the long run.”
Make It a Family Thing
OK, this tip is my own. Golf can be a great family activity, whether it’s playing mini-golf or just going out to a range and hitting balls.
If you demonstrate you’re having fun playing, perhaps that will filter down to the rest of your family. You could even invite some of your child’s friends and make it a bigger outing, and go out for a treat afterward.
Ultimately, the decision of learning and playing golf should be up to your child. I saw how much my grandfather enjoyed playing a round with his buddies almost every weekend, and I wanted to share that with him. Perhaps your children will do the same. But if not, maybe they’ll develop a passion for something else. Either way, it’s OK.
Hot Takes and Great Reads
Five years ago, Alex Shea was in the hospital battling cancer. Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds paid him a visit.
Fast forward to last weekend. Votto met up with Shea again. This time he was healthy, and currently pitches for the University of Cincinnati. His fastball has been clocked at 95 mph!
Votto might not want to get in the batter’s box against him. In all seriousness, what a great story.
If you believe baseball is boring, you’ve obviously never attended a Savannah Bananas game. They play in the Coastal Plain League, a summer league for college players.
But the Bananas (you gotta love the name) aren’t just a baseball team. They’re an unforgettable experience complete with male cheerleaders, a senior citizen dance team, players dressed in kilts, and coaches who parade around the ballpark on horseback.
Check out my FloBaseball.com story on this fascinating franchise that’s putting the fun back in baseball, and the man behind the vision.
New York Times bestselling author John U. Bacon has written a book I need to get my hands on.
The title itself is enough to make me want to buy it: “Let Them Lead: Unexpected Lessons From America’s Worst High School Hockey Team”.
Now, before you think it’s just another book about hockey, think again. Bacon details his experiences as a hockey coach at his high school alma mater and turning around the Huron River Rats from a 0-23-2 team to a contender. He also details the lessons he learned by turning the power over to players and assistant coaches.
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