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5 ways to offer junior golfers and beginners a better experience

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Kids have it tough these days, and their quandary is a legitimate one. With so much entertainment within arms reach, it’s easy for kids to hole up on the couch and forget the real world in favor of a virtual one. The leap from their iPad to the first tee is not only about distance; it’s a function of access and incentive.

In general, the game of golf continues to face two very real obstacles: time and money. These aren’t unique to adults, because they apply to kids as well. In fact, I’d assert kids and beginning golfers face additional hurdles where courses, interested primarily in maximizing profit, have tee times every 7-8 minutes in an effort to get as many people on the course as possible. The result is a cluster of golfers of varying levels of ability and patience all wading through the same holes with the same snail-like pace. It’s generally somewhere in the middle of the first hole, after my daughter’s fifth shot, where I think to myself, “There has to be a better way.”

There’s a reason ski resorts have bunny hills where beginners are free to fall and take as long as they need to get down the hill. The runs are wider, less sloped and no one cares if you ski one run or 10 throughout the day. 

There are those golf curmudgeons who could give a rip whether or not kids are picking up the game, but it seems that the overwhelming majority of golf course owners are struck trying to balance profit with improving the experience of their customers — with profit usually winning out. For the future of the game, there has to be something better to give kids and new players a fun and engaging way in which to experience the game — and grow to love it.

As a high school golf coach and father of young, aspiring golfers, there are few activities I enjoy more than working with someone who is learning how to play the game. One of my kids likes to remind me, “Dad, the struggle is real.” She’s talking about the Wi-Fi strength in her bedroom, of course, but I’m talking about meaningful ways to introduce beginning players to this game we love. 

Never one to identify a problem without providing some helpful ideas, here’s a list of 5 ways to get your junior or beginner golfer on-course experience with minimal frustration and maximum fun!

3-hole and 6-hole rates

This is a no-brainer. There’s no reason a beginner needs to be subjected to 2+ hours, 70 swings and the inevitable embittered end of 9 holes of golf. In fact, enjoying 3 holes of play is far more motivating than feeling discouraged and beaten up after 7 or 8. 

Reduced fees for juniors and adults when they play together

One of our local courses cuts both green and cart fees by 50 percent when the junior plays with their parent/guardian. Juniors who can’t drive aren’t going to show up at the course alone, and what a great incentive to get parents and kids to spend more time together. If you want to get more parents involved, make it more affordable for both of them.

Special times for juniors/beginners

I’m not suggesting the Seinfeld “Muffin Stump” deal. People know when they’re not welcome, and allotting an hour in the middle of an afternoon sends the message that “we’d like you here, but only when it costs us as little as possible.” Why not get several courses together and offer juniors a block of weekend morning tee times on a rotating basis? Juniors would get to play at different courses the financial impact would be would be shared.

Create a credit system

One where juniors can earn points toward certain playing privileges or pro shop merchandise. Juniors could earn points by passing rules tests, taking etiquette exams and learning seminars with course staff/professionals. They could also get points by attending lessons/clinics, etc.

Promote non-traditional golf games on the course

Rather than keeping score and recording every stroke, how about:

  • Tee it up the 150-yard marker on every hole and see how many drives get to the green.
  • Play a modified Stableford scoring system. Depending on the level of player, award different points for the score in relationship to par.
  • If you’re a better player than your junior, play alternate shot. This keeps up pace of play and allows the parent to lead by example.

Especially now, it’s more important for the golf industry to engage in a meaningful conversation of how it can continue to provide access and opportunity to anyone who would love to learn how to play. What this requires, more than anything, a shared perspective that sees junior and beginning players as vital opportunities to grow the game.

My list is just a starting point. What are your thoughts? I encourage you to post them below.

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I didn't grow up playing golf. I wasn't that lucky. But somehow the game found me and I've been smitten ever since. Like many of you, I'm a bit enthusiastic for all things golf and have a spouse which finds this "enthusiasm" borderline ridiculous. I've been told golf requires someone who strives for perfection, but realizes the futility of this approach. You have to love the journey more than the result and relish in frustration and imperfection. As a teacher and coach, I spend my days working with amazing middle school and high school student athletes teaching them to think, dream and hope. And just when they start to feel really good about themselves, I hand them a golf club!

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Roo

    Sep 14, 2015 at 9:47 am

    I think these ideas are excellent, and the game is needing to help the way we introduce juniors/beginners to the game. Coming from a golf club just outside St. Andrews, i was shocked that we have 0 junior members! And the municipal course next door has 1 member under 21! Now as a 22 year old who has grown up playing with large groups of juniors, this is very worrying! How are any clubs going to continue if there is not a next generation coming through. These ideas i have put to our club and will work hard to try and get them executed in a way which drives the numbers of junior golfers up in my area! We are 10 minutes away from the “Home of Golf” and no juniors are interested! Something needs to be done! any more ideas/suggestions on how to increase junior participation/membership would be greatly appreciated!

  2. Jordan

    Sep 14, 2015 at 9:02 am

    I think one of the most important points was made early in the article… that profits drive how beginners (adults and kids) are welcomed at courses. Why isn’t the USGA involved in managing short courses around the country or incentivizing private operators to offer beginner programs and tee times? There ought to be a beginner-friendly place within a 20-30 minute drive from home for everyone (obviously some exceptions in particularly rural areas), as close as you would find places to play football, baseball or basketball. Golf won’t get much traction in the general public without some convenience. Face it, short courses are not going to be very profitable and will need public and private donation to stay afloat.

    • Mat

      Sep 14, 2015 at 11:40 am

      I think we need to start making more executive courses with a 0.3/Bermuda ball in mind. It’s kind of crazy if you consider that most Par-4 and Par-5 golf holes essentially expect the first 200 yards to just be “flown over”. That’s a lot of wasted land.

  3. Jang Hyung-sun

    Sep 13, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    Great ideas to help grow the game in the us, as I hear and read the kids just not in to golf so much in us. #3 would not be great as that interferes with businessmen weekend morning rounds. Weekend afternoons would be better for that as most businessmen/professionals would agree.

  4. NZ Pete

    Sep 13, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Very simple, Bigger Cup. Increase the hole size and all beginners whether they are juniors or adults will shot better scores, enjoy the game more, play faster and can keep up with any experienced golfer. I have seen lots of juniors hit plenty of good full shots tee to green, but have trouble holing out. This leads to frustration and unnecessary higher scores, kind of undoes all that good golf, (we all know that feeling). He,y even long time golfers golfers would have that chance of shooting that par round that they have been dreaming about, now that sounds like fun.

    • Mat

      Sep 14, 2015 at 1:23 am

      For those kids, and hell, many adults… you get two putts. Miss the second, and you pick up. Max 3 putts every time. Most adults don’t have to worry about this, so why make kids?

      • Cliff

        Sep 15, 2015 at 9:07 am

        Our weekend group rolls the ball everywhere and we pickup after double. Too many people take this game way to serious when they aren’t playing for anything. Some go as far as hitting out of divots in the fairway. Crazy!!!

  5. Chris Nickel

    Sep 13, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Great ideas!~

    Keep them coming!

  6. cdb

    Sep 13, 2015 at 3:12 am

    Get rid of carts from golf altogether. Then you won’t have to worry about them or the money or getting fat and lazy from playing golf driving cart and drinking beer. Yeah kids love to see adults getting belligerent while drinking beer driving carts and trying to play golf being total d1cks not fix divots not rake bunkers not fix ballmarks

  7. Mat

    Sep 13, 2015 at 1:39 am

    You know, I think the easiest modification for everyone is just simply putting the kids on a clock. Don’t worry so much about the score; just give them limited time. Or give them “par shots” to get on the green from 100-150. If you give them 3 shots from 100-150, and whether they get on or not, have them walk the ball onto the green and putt from 15 feet. They get two putts. Here’s the thing — the “score” isn’t total strokes. The score is out of 36 possible, how many “checkmarks” did they get.

    If only we could get adults on Stableford, the game would get better for everyone.

  8. Steve

    Sep 12, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    When I starting taking the kids out, they liked to keep score. But this presented a problem as there were a lot of double digit numbers on the card. I solved this by switching tee shots with my kids.
    They got to play into the green usually from 150 yards and dad got to work on scrambling to make par.

  9. golferjack

    Sep 12, 2015 at 2:34 am

    I have found that my Kids enjoy playing 9 holes on the main course but with every hole made to a par 3 for them, i.e. we Play from a distance they can hit the green from. This is also good with par 4 or just playing a challenge near to the green and giving Points for up and down etc. Obviously Walking a full 9 is a bit hefty for younger childern but it can be surprising how the Motivation rises when they get to ride in a golf car…..
    You can Play so many different games, we sometimes Play 1,2 or 3 Club challenge on the short course or Play 9 hole pitch/chip and putt where you can’t Change the first Club you use, so if you Play your first chip wih an 8 iron, you are stuck with it for the rest of the game. Play two balls and let the child Play the best chip to the finish. If you are a good Player Play against them with the same System but you Play the worst of your two…..sharpens you up believe me.

  10. Am

    Sep 11, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Young Juniors and beginners is a segment of golfers that are often overlooked. I’ve played the game since I was young but over the past 5-7 years I’ve helped more than a handful of friends go from 4-5 rounds a year to real players who play 40 plus rounds a year. The number one part of the game that beginners need to improve is their short games. Once they improve from 50 yards in the whole game becomes easier to score and they almost always get hooked on playing. When I grew up playing I was lucky in that we had a beautiful 9-hole par 3 course with hole ranging from 40 yards to 105 yards. It was a true pitch and putt but unlike many similar courses I’ve seen and played, it was in really decent condition. The golf community as a whole needs more pitch and putt/chipping courses where young kids and beginners can develop their games. Let’s face it, if you can learn how to properly hit a pitch shot/chip shot you will develop your long game much quicker as the fundamentals of the downward strike are basically the same.

  11. NotTiger

    Sep 11, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    The most fun I’ve had playing golf recently was with my 9 year old son during his first 9 holes ever. I was so amazed at his good attitude to playing. Every hole was a reset…a chance to do better. After the round he said he had fun and wanted to play again. What more could I ask?

  12. NotTiger

    Sep 11, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    The most fun I’ve had golfing since my hole-in-one round last year was with my son playing his first 9 holes last weekend. It was a nine hole course near me and I was so amazed at my sons good attitude to the game. Every hole was a reset. A chance to play better than the last. After the round he said he had fun and wanted to play again. What more could I ask?

  13. Beezly

    Sep 11, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    I like it! 1,2,& 3 are great ideas. especially like the idea of rotating courses that block off a weekend afternoon for juniors and parents! Kids get a chance to see different courses in their area!

  14. vjswing

    Sep 11, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    There’s a city-run facility in my area where the First Tee program is based. This place is as close to perfect as one might desire for beginners and junior golfers. A 3-hole layout, with the longest hole being right around 100 yards. A large practice green for pitching and chipping (up to around 70 yards), along with a greenside bunker. Full-size driving range with both mats and grass tees, and plenty of target greens, and finally, a nice nine-hole layout featuring short and medium length par-3 and 4 holes. Oh, and the practice green is actually nicer than the one at TPC Deere Run, where the John Deere Classic is played.

  15. Big Al

    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Great article and I think this is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed by the golf community. Not only with Juniors, but also beginner adults. My wife really wants to golf more but she isn’t ready for 9 or 18 holes yet, and is always so worried about upsetting the group behind us with her pace of play.

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Opinion & Analysis

A different perspective

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to play a round with two of the greens keepers at a local golf course and it was a fascinating experience. It gave me a chance to get a behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to make a golf course great.

Many of us play at public courses, and sometimes its luck of the draw if the course we are at is in good condition. In my case, if I find a course that is well maintained and taken care of, I make it a regular stop. In this case, I was at Ridgeview Ranch in Plano Texas and it is a great public course and I play here at least once a month.

The two guys I played with were Tony Arellano and Jose Marguez. Both were great guys to share a round with. Tony shared what it’s like to make sure that all the greens are maintained properly and watered correctly. He showed me where there were some issues with one of the greens that I would never have noticed. We talked about how the invasion of Poa annua grass forces his guys to pull it out by hand with a tool that is smaller than a divot repair tool. It became clear to me that as a golf community, we need to lift up the people that do this labor-intensive work and thank them for all they do. Ridgeview Ranch is without a doubt one of the better public courses in my area, and it is because of the hard work these men do that keeps it this way.

As we watched the Masters tournament a few weeks ago we were awestruck by the awesome beauty of Augusta National and in my case I believe that is what heaven looks like. I think we take that kind of beauty for granted and forget the massive amount of time and hard work that go into making a golf course look good. These people have to deal with all of the different factors that Mother Nature throws at them and be prepared for anything. In addition to that, they also have to make sure the watering system is maintained as well as all of their equipment.

I have played at other courses in the DFW area that have a terrible staff and a superintendent that either don’t care about the course or don’t know how to stop it from falling apart. The course won’t spend the money to go get the right people that will take pride in their work. Some of these places will charge you more than $80 per round, and when you get to the first green that has dry spots that are without any grass you feel like you have been ripped off.

We all love this game not because it’s easy but because it’s a challenge and being good at it takes a ton of effort. We also love it because it gives us a chance to hang out with friends and family and enjoy time outside in the sun– hopefully without cell phone interruptions and other distractions of our modern day. We spend a ton of money on green fees, equipment and sometimes travel. We want to get what we pay for and we want to have a great course to spend the day at.

I wanted to write this article to thank all of those men and women that start work in the early hours of the day and work through the hottest stretches of the summer to keep our golf courses in great shape. They are people that never get the credit they deserve and we should always thank them whenever possible. Tony and Jose are just two examples of the people who work so hard for all of us. Ridgeview Ranch is lucky to have these two men who not only work hard but were fantastic representatives of their course. So next time you are out there and you see these people working hard, maybe stop and say thank you let them know what they do really makes a difference.

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5 most common golf injuries (and how to deal with them)

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You might not think about golf as a physically intensive game, but that doesn’t change the fact it is still a sport. And as with every sport, there’s a possibility you’ll sustain an injury while playing golf. Here’s a list of the five most common injuries you might sustain when playing the game, along with tips on how to deal with them in the best way possible so you heal quickly.

Sunburn

While not directly an injury, it’s paramount to talk about sunburns when talking about golf. A typical golf game is played outside in the open field, and it lasts for around four hours. This makes it extremely likely you’ll get sunburnt, especially if your skin is susceptible to it.

That’s why you should be quite careful when you play golf

Apply sunscreen every hour – since you’re moving around quite a lot on a golf course, sunscreen won’t last as long as it normally does.

Wear a golf hat – aside from making you look like a professional, the hat will provide additional protection for your face.

If you’re extra sensitive to the sun, you should check the weather and plan games when the weather is overcast.

Rotator Cuff Injury

A rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that surround the shoulder joint. This group are the main muscles responsible for swing movements in your arms. It’s no surprise then that in golf, where the main activity consists of swinging your arms, there’s a real chance this muscle group might sustain an injury.

To avoid injuries to this group, it’s imperative you practice the correct form of swinging the club. Before playing, you should also consider some stretching.

If you get an injury, however, you can recover faster by following RICE:

Rest: resting is extremely important for recovery. After an injury, the muscles are extremely vulnerable to further injury, and that’s why you should immediately stop playing and try to get some rest.

Ice: applying ice to the injured area during the first day or two can help. It reduces inflammation and relaxes the muscles.

Compress: bandage the rotator cuff group muscle and compress the muscles. This speeds up the muscle healing process.

Elevate: elevate the muscles above your heart to help achieve better circulation of blood and minimize fluids from gathering.

Wrist Injuries

Wrist tendons can sustain injuries when playing golf. Especially if you enjoy playing with a heavy club, it can put some strain on the wrist and cause wrist tendonitis, which is characterized by inflammation and irritation.

You should start by putting your wrist in a splint or a cast – it is necessary to immobilize your wrist to facilitate healing.

Anti-inflammatory medicine can relieve some of the pain and swelling you’ll have to deal with during the healing process. While it might not help your wrist heal much quicker, it’ll increase your comfort.

A professional hand therapist knows about the complexities of the wrist and the hand and can help you heal quicker by inspecting and treating your hands.

Back Pain

A golf game is long, sometimes taking up to 6 hours. This long a period of standing upright, walking, swinging clubs, etc. can put stress on your back, especially in people who aren’t used to a lot of physical activities:

If you feel like you’re not up for it, you should take a break mid-game and then continue after a decent rest. A golf game doesn’t have any particular time constraints, so it should be simple to agree to a short break.

If you don’t, consider renting a golf cart, it makes movement much easier. If that’s not possible, you can always buy a pushcart, which you can easily store all the equipment in. Take a look at golf push cart reviews to know which of them best suits your needs.

Better posture – a good posture distributes physical strain throughout your body and not only on your back, which means a good posture will prevent back pain and help you deal with it better during a game.

Golfer’s Elbow

Medically known as medial epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow occurs due to strain on the tendons connecting the elbow and forearm. It can also occur if you overuse and over-exhaust the muscles in your forearm that allow you to grip and rotate your arm:

A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug is the way to go to alleviate the most severe symptoms of the injury at the beginning.

Lift the club properly, and if you think there’s a mismatch between your wrist and the weight of the club, you should get a lighter one.

Learn when you’ve reached your limit. Don’t overexert yourself – when you know your elbow is starting to cause you problems, take a short break!

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TG2: Our PGA picks were spot on…and Rob hit a school bus with a golf ball

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Rob picked Brooks to win the PGA and hit the nail on the head, while Knudson’s DJ pick was pretty close. Rob hit a school bus with a golf ball and we talk about some new clubs that are going to be tested in the next couple days.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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