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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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Equipment

Coming out of the haze: What to expect from the OEMs in the second half of 2020

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As we slowly come out of the lockdown haze, it’s going to be interesting to see which OEMs are primed to come out swinging. From where I sit, there are a few companies that either kept the foot on the pedal or found new ways to interact with the masses. I have been tracking the major companies for different reasons, and I am optimistic on most fronts. Now, it needs to be said that everyone has been keeping the respective momentum going in their own ways—this has been a challenge for everyone, so this analysis is simply a commentary on what may come in the second half of the year.

Many good folks were either furloughed or laid off during this lockdown—that’s where we all lost. It needs to be acknowledged that we are talking about golf here, but the underlying reality of this is still devastating. I so look forward to getting into the trenches with these folks again either back where they were or at new companies.

TaylorMade became educators…and kicked off live golf again

Big giant club company or big giant marketing machine…it doesn’t matter what you label them as. TaylorMade Golf, in my opinion, turned the heartbreak of stalling one of the biggest first quarters in company history into an opportunity to start talking…and teaching. With the help of the tour team and TM athletes, TaylorMade focused hard on talking to us all during the lockdown. With multiple initiatives through social media, the Driving Relief event, and the tour staff engaging way more than usual. I believe TM created a runway to start moving quickly once stores and pro shops open up again.

Let’s face it, with the social media presence, the most robust tour staff maybe ever, and the driver everyone seems to have reserved for the top big stick of 2020, what’s not to be confident about? On the flip side, a company that big could have really taken it on the chin hard, but how they handled the lockdown—from my chair—was fun to watch and will ultimately ensure a quick restart. There is something to be said about having guys like Trottie, Adrian, and Hause in the fold informing and keeping things fun.

Rumor has it new irons are dropping in the fall/winter, which could spell two awesome bookends to a bittersweet 2020.

PXG leaned in

Why online sales for all OEMs spiked is no mystery. Boredom, desire, and a credit card are keys to any great online buying experience, but PXG made certain that if you were not a buyer previously, you may be now.

The price tag has always been a key topic with Bob Parsons’ Scottsdale-based company. It’s no secret that the clubs aren’t cheap, but during this lockdown, they did multiple strategic initiatives to not only crank up direct-to-consumer buying but also expand the PXG conversation into different areas, namely fashion.

Price cuts across the board started early and, rumor has it, enabled PXG to achieve sales numbers unlike any other period in the company’s short history. Yes, cutting prices helps unit sales, but in the case of PXG, it brought in the club customer that ordinarily shied away from PXG for financial reasons and ultimately made them buyers. That’s where PXG seems to shine, once they finally get you in, they are very effective at keeping you in the family. Mercedes-Benz AMG is like that: once you have had a taste of the Kool-Aid, it’s hard to go back to Hawaiian Punch.

In addition to the aggressive price-cutting, PXG fashion, spearheaded by President Renee Parsons, launched a new collection that is designed and manufactured by PXG. Fashion in times like these is always a risk from a financial standpoint, but this launch has been on the calendar since the BOY and the current lockdown did not disrupt that. It speaks to the confidence that Bob and Renee have in what they are doing. Now, is it a guarantee that PXG garments will fly off the shelves? No. but that’s not the point, it’s the fact that this current climate didn’t scare them into pivoting or holding off.

Point to this pick is PXG looks healthy coming out of this and it was possible to believe that perhaps this would have taken a toll on the custom fit brand. There is even a commercial produced during lockdown to attract even more club builders to the fold. Not normal behavior in times like these, but is anything that PXG does normal? No, and that’s what makes them fun to talk about.

The company also released its Essential Facemask with 50 percent of proceeds going to Team Rubicon.

Ping was quiet…but don’t be fooled

Yes, they did some rare social media engagements with Kenton Oates and the tour staff, which were fantastic. But the real magic here was the quiet way in which Ping slipped into 2020 and the mystery they have in hand and what’s to come next.

There hasn’t been really any new Ping product in a good while, and I anticipate a big winter for the Solheim crew. Sometimes, silence is golden and from what I can gather, what Ping has coming in irons and woods will be yet again a launch that gets people talking.

Ping from a business standpoint is a company that gets one percent better every year. Never any dramatic shifts in strategy or product. It’s always good, it’s always high-performance, and it’s always in the “best of” category across the board.

Watch out for them over the next six to nine months…a storm is brewing. A good one.

Cobra introduced the “Rickie iron”

Cobra Rev 33 Irons

Compared to 2019 and the runaway success that was the F9 driver, Cobra Golf seemed to cruise along in the first quarter of 2020. The SpeedZone metal wood line was an improvement tech-wise from the F9 but seemed to get lost in the driver launch shuffle with an earlier release—and frankly everyone in the industry took a back seat to TaylorMade’s SIM.

It’s not placing one stick over the other actually, I have been very vocal about my affections for both, it’s just some years, the story around a club can generate excitement, and if the club is exceptional, boom. Cobra was that cool kid in 2019.

What Cobra decided to do in the downtime is slowly tease and taunt with a “Rickie Fowler” iron. Players blades aren’t typically the driving element of any business model, but what Cobra did was introduce to a beautiful yet completely authentic forging that will not only get the gear heads going nuts but also entice the better players to start looking at Cobra as a serious better players iron company. No small feat.

Point is, Cobra has generated buzz. It helped that Rickie’s performance at Seminole was just short of a precision clinic. Beyond the Rev 33, its rumored Cobra has a new players CB coming and some MIM wedges.

It should be an exciting last half for the Cobra crew.

The Titleist train chugged on

I mean, what else is there to say about Titleist? They are as American as apple pie, have a stranglehold on multiple tour and retail categories, and one of the best front offices in golf. The company is a well-oiled machine.

So what do I expect from them in the last half? Well pretty much what I would expect on any other year, solid player-driven equipment. A metal wood launch is coming, the SM8 was a huge hit in stores and on tour, and the ball portion is the biggest 800-pound gorilla in golf.

It was also nice to see a little more social media interaction beyond the traditional. Aaron Dill has been very active on the social media front and a good portion of the tour staff, namely Poulter, JT, and Homa were proactive in engagement. Might seem trivial to some, but specifically, Titleist and Ping are not super active in the organic interaction game, so it was nice to see both companies dive into the fold.

Cleveland/Srixon should have a lot to look forward to

Let’s be honest here, 2019 was a quiet year overall for Srixon. Shane Lowry won The Open, but in the golf mainstream it was a leap year for them in regards to any launches. The anticipation from me personally of what is to come is quite strong. I adore the irons. I have yet to meet one I didn’t love, and fitters across the country will speak to that in sales. The Srixon iron line has become a popular yet-sort-of-cult-classic among fitters and gearheads and rightly so. They are phenomenal.

The recently teased picture of the new driver on the USGA site more or less teased us of what is to come for the overall line. New Cleveland wedges are coming shortly and the golf ball has always been a solid component to the Huntington Beach company.

As much as anyone in the market, I believe Srixon could finish the year with some serious momentum going into 2021. The irons and ball have always been firestarters. My only wish for them, selfishly, is a more aggressive tour strategy in regards to landing one of the perennial top 10. It seems like a dumb thought, but I have always felt Cleveland/Srixon was always a serious hitter that at times seems to get lost in the conversation. Having a big gun on staff or a couple of them will remedy that quickly.

Callaway has an eye on big things for the golf ball

Callaway, a company that seems to do it all well, was actually a bit quiet since the lockdown started. After a solid release of the Mavrik line and some momentum in the golf ball area, I’m sure this lockdown probably felt like a kick to the shin.

However, this company is shifting in a good way. The idea that they were a golf club company that happened to make golf balls is slowly turning into a company with multiple major components that stand alone. TaylorMade is on a similar shift, and honestly it’s very interesting to watch. Do I think that anyone will ever catch Titleist in the ball category? No, I don’t. All of these mentioned golf balls are ridiculously good, but 75 years of trust and loyalty are hard to compete with. But that’s not the point, Callaway is a monster company that takes the golf ball conversation very seriously, and I believe this will serve them very well coming out of this craziness and help the momentum going into 2021.

 

 

 

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On Spec

On Spec: Is testing clubs bad for your game? Plus listener questions

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In this episode of On Spec, host Ryan talks about the Match Part 2 and then goes into a discussion about whether testing clubs is detrimental to your golf game or not.

After that, it’s time for the ever-popular listener questions to finish off the show.

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Opinion & Analysis

Is 2020 golf’s big chance?

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At the present moment, when discussing the game of golf, I use the word “opportunity” with great caution and understanding that golf is the least of many people’s worries in 2020. With that in mind, just like other industries around the world, there are millions of people both directly and indirectly who make their living working around golf, along with countless more that enjoy playing it for any number of reasons.

Outside of the four major championships, golf is generally a fringe sport that takes a viewership backseat to other team sports like basketball, football, and baseball. But as the only game in town, this past weekend golf brought in a lot of casual fans who don’t normally watch it. The TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins game to benefit COVID-19 frontline workers featured some of the world’s top-ranked golfers, including World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, carrying their own clubs, getting their own yardages and playing in shorts—exactly how the majority of golfers enjoy the game.

It made the golf look and feel so much more approachable to the casual fans that normally tune in to see professionals debate over yardage with a caddy dressed in a white jumpsuit while patrons quietly murmur amongst themselves (in the case of the Masters).

If “watercooler” sports talk is the way we measure the success of a sporting event, then the skins game was a triumph.

The news sports landscape

Golf is in a unique position since it is one of the few sports that can currently be played with modified physical distancing measures in place. Golf is played outside, in small groups, and allows for players of all abilities to enjoy the game, and this is where the opportunity lies.

People want to be outside, get exercise, and spend time with their friends, and golf is the one game that offers all three of those—along with the ability to fill a competitive void left from the current absence of recreational team sports.

The proof that more people have already made this conclusion can be felt around the industry

  • Pushcart sales have been so unprecedented, many companies have been sold out for weeks.
  • As golf has been regulated to open within the United States, Canada, and the UK tee sheets have been loaded from dawn to dusk. Having spoken with operators of both private and public golf facilities, they have witnessed a huge influx of eager golfers including many who are much more infrequent players. In one case, a public course that I spoke to has seen membership triple from the previous year.

When you think about how many people enjoy sports as a way to be around friends and friendly competition, golf has the opportunity to provide a gateway for many who have never considered playing the game. Within the industry, there have been many well-thought-out-but-failed attempts to counteract declining participation numbers over the years, and one of the best ways to introduce anyone to a new hobby or activity is to do it with friends.

Here’s an example: a regular golfer has three friends they normally play a rec league sport with, with that league not operating, and those friends wanting to enjoy time outside in the company of one another, that one golfer becomes the catalyst to bring three new golfers into game. I realize it sounds simple, but it’s already happening, and this is golf’s opportunity to grow participation more organically than any 30-second commercial.

As a lover of golf and someone who has witnessed the declining participation over the last decade, this is our opportunity as a sport and as individuals to welcome people in with open arms, be supportive, and helpful. We have the chance to permanently change the perception of golf to the masses, and it all started last weekend with the top-ranked golfer in the world carrying his own bag.

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