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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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Courses

Hidden Gem of the Day: La Purisima Golf Course in Lompoc, California

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These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member EllaRose909, who takes us to La Purisima Golf Course in Lompoc, California. Developed in 1986 by Kenneth Hume Hunter, Jr, the track sits 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, and in Ella’s description of the course, she highlights the challenge that La Purisima will serve up should you tee it up here.

“The course is next to the ocean near Santa Maria CA. You play the front nine out East with the wind to your back. The back nine is played west back to the clubhouse in the teeth of the ocean breeze/wind. When you get done playing 18, you feel like you have played 36 holes. It is a great track, a former US Open qualifying course. I once played with a 60-year-old hacker; he quit after 14 holes!”

According to La Purisima Golf Course’s website, walking 18 holes during the week will cost from $34 to $59, while to play on the weekend the rates range from $42 to $73.

@rdcapelli

@GolfNomadBAA

@kotashaan1

Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Podcasts

On Spec: A talk with TXG’s Director of Club Building Mike Martysiewicz

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TXG’s Director of Club Building & Fitter Michael Martysiewicz joins host Ryan Barath to talk about club building, equipment for 2019, WITB, favorite artisan companies, and what got him to where he is today. You can follow Mike on Instagram, and you can follow along with TXG there, too.

Remember that you can always follow along with host Ryan on Instagram and follow the show there are well. Never be afraid to reach out!

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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Courses

Daytona Beach: Golf’s fastest destination

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Speed is the topic of conversation in Daytona Beach from late January through February as the sports world turns its attention to the Great American Race, aka the Daytona 500. Golfers, of course, are always in search of their own version of speed: courses with great pace of play.

With that in mind, Daytona Beach might be the game’s fastest destination.

As surely as Daytona Beach is a mecca for auto racing enthusiasts, the area is equally appealing for golfers in search of a sub-4.5-hour round. How can we be so sure? Because Daytona Beach is home to courses that were designed to provide a complete golf experience at a pace that would make a NASCAR driver jealous. And even though they get you around fast, these tracks offer all the beauty and challenge you’d expect from Florida golf.

So, if playing in four hours or less sounds like a winning proposition, here are three Daytona Beach golf courses where the caution flag is never waved.

Hidden Lakes Golf Club

Hidden Lakes GC

As a  par-69, Hidden Lakes is an ideal course to play on the first day of a trip, as it provides everyone a chance to score. The layout is 5,454 yards from the tips and doesn’t have a par-4 that plays 400 yards, so players should almost always have a comfortable club in hand. A round at Hidden Lakes gives skilled players and beginners to make some birdies and have some fun. Try to arrive early and take advantage of the area’s best practice facilities.

Crane Lakes Golf Club

Crane Lakes CC

Crane Lakes, a par-66 that plays 5,186 yards from the tips, has eight par-3s and a pair of par-5s, but it isn’t a short course. A 435-yard par 4 and a 495-yard par-5 ensure the need for a good day with the driver, and the par 3s range in length from 156 to 200 yards (back tees). Always among the area’s best conditioned courses, Crane Lakes will test every part of a player’s game and do so in a timely manner.

Riviera Country Club

Riviera Country Club

Despite its intimidating name, Riviera Country Club is a public course that welcomes everyone.  It is the longest layout on the list at 6,250 yards from the tips, but it’s an old-school course designed with pace of play in mind (local legend has it that the course design was influenced by Robert Trent Jones Sr. when the Rockefellers owned most of the land in the area, including the land where Riviera now sits).

There is ample room to hit the ball front to back, but the fairways, greens and tee boxes are in close proximity so keep your head on a swivel and don’t forget to yell “Fore!” if you hit a shot offline. The course is maintained in a way that guarantees golfers won’t spend all day looking for balls, i.e., low-rough and puttable green speeds. The holes are straight forward but the greens are sneaky. The course is nicknamed “the friendliest club in the world”, and you’ll see why as the staff and patrons greet first-timers like old-timers. Be sure to check out the “Wall of Fame”, where you’ll see golf legends like Jim Dent, Bob Goalby and Slugger White memorialized as past event winners at RCC events.

Daytona Beach is home to nearly 30 courses including the Jones and Hills courses at LPGA headquarters, and all of them emphasize pace of play, but for overall enjoyment Crane Lakes, Hidden Lakes and Riviera are definitely on the front row of golf in Daytona Beach.

For more information, go to DaytonaBeach.com/things-to-do/golf

 

 

 

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