How to Foster a Child’s Lasting Interest in Golf
Golf Reimagined Business Analyst Justin Lukacs looks into how to get kids hooked on golf.
Many golf courses are looking at ways to continue the success they experienced over the 2020 season. While the pandemic brought opportunity to the sport, there are no guarantees that the boom in popularity will continue on its own. One of the best ways to build loyalty and repeat business is enticing youth to play and enjoy the sport. With proper involvement and structure, courses can be very successful at inspiring kids of all ages to pick up the clubs for a fun and safe way to play.
Popular PGA tour pro Jason Day weighed in on his methods to keep his son, Dash, interested in the game. “I was kinda pushed into golf as a kid, so I vowed never to do that with my son…my rule is, Dash has to ask me to go to the range.” I think this is a vitally important comment that is applicable to almost every sport. If you force your kids into a sport, they will likely learn to dislike it or at the very least they won’t be passionate about it. Jason tries to let his son pick if he wants to hit balls at the range, and accommodates his desire to play, rather than force it. Day’s next point is patience, and he explains that when you become a parent, you are constantly finding more patience. Golf is a hard sport for any full-grown adult, allow the failure to come and let the kids figure some of it out themselves. It may take longer than expected to be able to drive the middle of the fairway or get a chip out of the sand; “once his hands began to migrate closer together, it took over a month for them to finally touch”, said Jason on his son’s grip progression. His next two points seem to go hand in hand. Fundamentals and ‘kid drills’ are an important facet to look at as you need to keep things interesting and entertaining for the kids to stay focused, while still working through the proper technique. Day says he gives his son targets to shoot for while on the range so that he is swinging with a purpose and has a goal in mind. Another drill he runs with Dash is hitting multiple balls in succession, after the first follow-through, you go immediately into your next backswing and hit another. This is a fun and fast-paced drill that Day believes also teaches good rhythm and control. Of course, dealing with toddlers can also be very difficult. Make sure they have had their nap and you have snacks and water to keep them energized. Let them dictate their own practice and try to accommodate them having fun over being the best, especially at the younger ages.
Golf.com also gives their 7 tips for encouraging young ones:
- Group Instruction – kids have more fun and are more engaged when learning in a group, the younger they are, the more important this point is.
- Make it fun – kids don’t need to be doing everything properly in their golf swing, they are still learning, if the emphasis is on fun overcorrection, the kids will be more motivated to play.
- Have proper equipment – the worst thing a child can start with is hand-me-downs that are old and too heavy to lift, get age-appropriate clubs so the simple act of the swing isn’t a chore.
- Let it be their idea/do not push – this aligns with Jason Day’s point to let it be their idea which will keep them excited about it.
- PGA Junior League – team atmosphere and match play, this sees your kid paired with a more experienced golfer, this teaches them etiquette, rules of golf, and golf skills in a friendly environment.
- Allow for athletic development – many children are not able to kick or throw a ball, this means they will have a hard time hitting a golf ball, having a coach that allows them to develop as athletes will increase their success overall.
- For girls, make it social – girls are incredibly social, as they enter their teen years it is important, they have friends who play the game, or they likely won’t continue playing.
Long-time golf professional, course owner, and Golf Reimagined consultant Al Lovell also gave his experience getting both his and other kids into golf. His first point aligns with Jason Day’s mentality as he explains “We never forced the kids to do anything they didn’t want. If they didn’t want to chip or putt, on that day we wouldn’t do it.” He then goes onto an interesting point that I didn’t expect to hear from a golf instructor; “We let our kids try it their way first off…I gave (my son) a club and he said what should I do? The only thing I showed him is that his right hand should go below his left hand on the grip. I told him to stand up the best way he thought and to swing the club to hit the ball out into the range as far as he could…he’s hitting some good, some bad, and some ugly. My friend comes over and actually asked me what I was doing and why I wasn’t teaching him anything. I told my friend I was helping him, and he improved a lot between the first and last swings…he had a blast”. Letting the kids try to figure it out for themselves will give them more satisfaction when they do something well, especially when they are younger. Al’s son was only four years old when this happened, so it makes sense to avoid drilling fundamentals into children when they first try out the sport. When it comes to lessons Al had this to say; “I 100% agree that kids should take group lessons, preferably with friends or acquaintances. I prefer a maximum of 4 kids in a group otherwise the pro won’t be able to handle the kids and get them the instruction they came for.” Golf can be an isolating activity at times, it is important to have the social aspect for kids to keep them excited about playing. Al also has a strong opinion when it comes to parent involvement in lessons. “show up, keep quiet, and preferably watch from a distance of 30 meters or more.” Al feels that a big struggle for kids’ development is too much parent interjection. Let the instructors do their job and if you aren’t happy with the lessons then find another instructor. His last point also aligns with an earlier and important rule, “MAKE IT FUN! Have targets to hit at, have contests, try and hit the guy driving the ball picker. Praise loudly, give corrections quietly and personally. Make them proud. Make them feel like they’ve accomplished something. Give them the want and desire to come back.” I think this is my favorite point of Al’s as I really resonate with giving praise loudly and corrections more personally. The last thing you want to do is make the child feel embarrassed when they make a mistake. Keep it light-hearted and make the kids want to come back.
Personally, I have been interested in golf from a young age, something I attribute mostly to two things. The first being the light and fun atmosphere my parents held while I was learning the sport. I come from a very competitive family and while I wanted to get better at the game right away, it was always more about enjoying the activity when I was young. My parents seemed to have a similar mentality as Jason day and Al Lovell when introducing me to the sport. The second attribution was a summer camp with my sister (who also still enjoys the sport) that I think did a great job of fostering our understanding, skills, and enjoyment while learning the game. We would start the morning with some simple drills to get used to the proper grip and technique while at the same time learning about the etiquette and rules surrounding the game. This gave us a good opportunity to start learning about the game while keeping a fun environment. We would then move on to playing a 9-hole round on a short par 3 course. At the time most of the kids in the camp couldn’t drive or hit the ball very far, so the short course was a great way of making the game seem achievable. The 9-hole format was also a great amount of time for a round of golf as we likely didn’t have the attention span for a long 18-holes. After our morning drills and round we would then have lunch and have the afternoon to do more traditional summer camp activities like making friendship bracelets and swimming. This meant that the whole day wasn’t focused on golf but more on having fun. This was no doubt a golf camp but did a great job of keeping the interest and enjoyment of the kids to ensure a positive perspective on the sport. This sort of atmosphere also kept my interest in the sport as I viewed it as a fun experience and not just a difficult sport that I had to constantly improve at.
While some of the traditions and mentality around golf lend to its notorious difficulty both mentally and physically, it is important to realize that kids don’t view it the same way. Kids want to play and focusing on the ‘play’ aspect of golf is likely the key to keeping their interest long-term. Be accommodating and understanding of your children as they are learning this sport because it is difficult and frustrating. Keep it social so the kids enjoy spending time on the course with their friends. Maybe most important of all, don’t push them into it. If the sport is forced on the kids, they will likely resent time on the course later. Let it be their idea and it will grow into an internal appreciation and enjoyment of the beautiful sport.