“Number one! Pick your target, ” he said in the gravelly voice reserved for those with a two-pack-a day habit and too many days in the sun.
“Number two! Put your left hand on the club.”
The “he” was Jim Duncan, the PGA professional and head golf instructor at Morehead City Country Club. This was the first kids golf lesson I’d taken. I was eight years old.
“Number three! Put your right hand on it.
“Number four! Get your stance.”
Little did I know at the time, but this one hot North Carolina week in the summer of 1986 with Mr. Duncan teaching kids golf would change my life forever.
“Number five! Swing!”
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A parent’s guide to getting your kids into golf
Thirty four years later, after decades in and around the game as a junior player, collegiate all-American, and former mini-tour player, I find myself occupying a similar spot on a driving range as Mr. Duncan, not unlike the one where I learned to swing. Except today, I’m the one giving kids golf lessons and encouraging my two sons to “swing!”
My boys are eight and ten. This past summer they started to feel the itch so I bought them their first sets of junior golf clubs.
To say I was excited is an understatement. In some way, this is an opportunity for me to pass along the legacy of my dad and granddad, who introduced me to the game.
As a former golf professional who taught junior golf and witnessed many parents shoving their love of golf down their child’s throat, I’ve taken an intentional hands-off approach.
Even though I have the training to teach my kids golf, my strategy as a parent for introducing my kids to golf is two fold:
- Give them exposure to the game and make the sport as fun as possible — leaving the hard work of skill development and instruction to a junior golf instructor.
- Instill golf’s principles and values into my kids
Here are a few practical steps I’m taking to execute this strategy for my kids that I believe will work for any parent.
Make it routine
My friend and former colleague, Chris Haarlow, is one of the top junior golf instructors in the country. He shared with me something he’s noticed with teaching golf to today’s kids.
“You have to take them to play. If you wait around, they’ll never ask. Make it routine. Other sports and activities have a set practice time. Basketball is on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 4 pm. Dance class is every Thursday at 5:30 pm, and so on. Golf needs to be treated that way in the beginning. The kids don’t have fun until they’re out there practicing and playing. Give them the opportunity to enjoy it on a routine basis.”
These wise words have completely changed how I recommend parents expose their kids to golf. Instead of asking, “Do you want to go hit some balls?”, I just tell my boys to grab their clubs and come on! In addition, we go out on Saturday mornings to play golf.
Get professional help
One thing that helps with the scheduled time above is getting kids golf lessons from a PGA professional. My thought process is for the kids to get comfortable swinging hard and hitting the ball for fun before adding professional instruction. As soon as they are comfortable and excited, find a good junior golf school (like Precision Golf School) in your area where your kids can get solid fundamental teaching in a social environment with other kids. Golf is an individual sport, but being around other kids of varying skill levels will help them develop faster and enjoy it more.
The three things I look for in choosing an instructor are:
- They’re committed to helping your kids reach their goals.
- They’re excellent listeners and communicators. The instructor will talk to your kids (not at them) in words they can understand.
- They get along with your kids and you like their style.
With, not through
As I mentioned above, many well meaning parents do more harm than good. They live vicariously “through” their kids instead of being there “with” their kids to support them. This happens most often when their child begins to show signs of progress and good performance.
Check out Dr. Rob Bell. He’s one of the best I’ve seen at helping parents navigate relationships with their athlete children.
Find their fit
Investing in golf equipment can be expensive. Start adding up kids golf clubs, golf bags, golf shoes, golf balls, and other accessories and the price can get up there.
Start small. Buy a few clubs and see where it goes. I’d recommend a Driver, 7-iron, wedge, and putter. The most important thing is for the clubs to be the right length and weight. Ask your kid’s golf instructor to help fit them for the right clubs.
When I was learning to play, the common practice was to cut down an adult set to kids length. Unfortunately, this made the clubs too heavy for a child to swing correctly. Today, they make clubs specifically weighted for kids so they can learn how to position the club properly for a good golf swing.
I’m sure there are other great companies, but U.S. Kids Clubs are the best I’ve found. Plus, they have a good trade-in program for when your child gets taller and stronger and needs new sticks.
Focus on progress
Results in golf are fleeting. Play well today, and tomorrow it’s as if you never did. Golf helps your kids focus on the process of getting better and thinking differently. It is technical and artistic. Playing golf requires physical skill and mental toughness. It allows your kids to embrace and implement both of these to solve problems and visualize opportunities.
More than a game
I realize the sport of golf has, at times, not been the most approachable and available game for the masses. However, now golf is more accessible today than ever before. Organizations like The First Tee, Operation36, Youth on Course, PGA Jr. League, Girls Golf, and others are leading the way for the next generation of golfers.
Who knows if my kids will ever pursue golf seriously or play throughout their lives like I have. Regardless, I’m confident the process of learning how to hit a little white ball around with friends will teach them so much about themselves, and the world around them.