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The five types of caddies you’ll find at the golf course

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Next time you’re out for a game and considering using the services of a caddy, there are a few things to keep in mind. Remember, this decision could make or break your round.

Caddies have been around since the game first began. They range from the humble bag carrier to the higher end of the food chain — tour caddies, or “yardage and wind consultants” as they prefer to be called. They come in all shapes and sizes, from all sorts of backgrounds and display a wide array of talents. But what makes a good caddy and how should you choose yours?

Well, I guess that depends on who is answering. From a caddy’s perspective, a good caddy has the ability to land a “top bag,” one that pays a premium price, and gets around quickly while doing the least amount of work and putting up with the minimum amount of hassle. And from the player’s point of view, it really depends on the balance of what you want versus what you actually need. Golfers are a fickle bunch so perception often beats reality.

“Tim”

A low-digit player looking to shoot a decent score will benefit from a knowledgeable and experienced caddy like Tim. Tim is as close to a pro tour looper as you are likely to get. He is enthusiastic without overstepping the mark and will give you accurate yardages to the pin, good reads on the green, local knowledge and course management advice all day long. He is dressed like a pro with a tour hat and wraparound shades and he knows every blade of grass on the course. He’ll tell you that he just missed out on landing Jordan Spieth’s bag but is still hopeful at looping on the PGA Tour next year. He is pretty confident that he could beat you with one arm tied behind his back and he has no respect for hackers whatsoever.

“Bob”

If you are an occasional golfer with low expectations and you are playing a fun game with friends on a prestigious course, then you will probably want Bob. He’s one of those older veteran loopers, and if he actually turns up, you are in for an experience.

Bob is one of life’s colorful characters. Yes, he may have a slight drinking problem, but he’ll navigate your round and give you and your partners something to laugh about and remember. He’ll regale you with stories and tales, tell you fascinating and mostly fantasized insights into the history of the course, mock your lack of ability, high five your better plays and at the end, you’ll tip him well and shake his hand. But you’ll make sure to wash your hands afterwards.

“Bruce”

If you are out with important clients then you’ll want Bruce. He reads situations very well and knows when to shut up and back off. He is incredibly efficient and courteous and will keep you and your fourball on track. He will carry tees, pencils, a rangefinder and will know today’s weather forecast. He will clean your clubs and call you sir all day long. He wants to please and appreciates that a good round may land you some business. He may actually commit murder for you; you only have to ask. So treat him well.

“Jim”

If you are a regular then you will probably get Jim. Jim is like your wife; he’ll tell you what to do and is not afraid to speak his mind. Don’t question his club selection or reads or he’ll walk off on you. And don’t get on the wrong side of Jim; you are lucky that he decided to loop for you at all. Jim is a lifer and looping is his chosen career. He doesn’t put up with any nonsense and will tell you that he is the best jock on the ranch. He knows his worth and will probably demand a tip at the end. Just hand him your wallet and let him decide how much he takes out.

“Lenny”

If you don’t care or you are a newbie, then you will probably get someone like Lenny. Lenny is a bag carrier and he also works down at the factory or is out of school for the summer. He cares less about you and your game and can normally be found at least 20 yards behind you throughout your round. His expectations are low, so yours should be as well. If you ask him if a 5 iron will be enough club, Lenny will give you a vacant, soulless stare that confirms that you are on your own. Just make sure you count your clubs afterwards as he may have left a few in a bunker on No. 16. But if you just want a servile and semi-mute bag carrier, Lenny’s your man. You’ll probably feel sorry for him afterwards and tip him so he can buy a burger to put on some weight.

A tip in helping you choose

Build a relationship with the caddymaster. Don’t underestimate the importance of his role. He is the recruitment consultant in this process. Yes, it turns out you are an employer for the day. Tipping him in advance to give you a good caddy will make a world of difference. Get on his wrong side and he has a host of Lennys to offer.

Remember that a good caddy is like a good waiter or landscaper. Choose wisely, treat them well and they will look after you. Treat them like garbage and they’ll give you the service you deserve.

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. DB

    Mar 1, 2016 at 9:29 am

    I am a caddie, currently. I have worked as a caddie only as an adult, from 22 until 33 currently. I worked at Whistling Straits, a private club in Naples, FL, back and forth between those two for 7 years, then to a private club in NJ, on NY harbor, then a private club on the north shore of Long Island, and now at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. I am very much a professional, I can be the “tour” caddie that a low single digit player wants, with as much or as little knowledge and advice as you want, I can be the scramble format fun gun drinking and telling jokes all day, I know when to shut up and when to laugh and have fun. I will openly admit that I don’t get every single read correct all the time, however there are WAY more d-bag players that want to blame a read for a poorly struck putt. Many many times those missed putts are the players fault, not the read they were given. That is maybe the only frustrating aspect of this business. I love my job, and love helping average golfers play their best rounds on the courses I’ve worked. I have had countless “best round of my life thanks to you” comments from satisfied guests/members. That makes it all worth while. I have seen 12 holes in one. I personally called the club for the player on 8 of them. There is a lot of pride in being a great caddie, knowing the course, knowing ball flights and how wind and elevation will affect shots, and syncing with a player and dropping putt after putt. There are 3 lines to make any putt on, the die line, the firm line, and the “normal pace” line. Knowing which style putter you are makes me a better caddie. If I say a ball out firm, and you die it, its gonna break across the hole and miss low EVERY SINGLE TIME. Same with a cup and half outside dying, if you firm it on that line, there is no chance it will move a cup and a half. Very few players will acknowledge this, those that do earn my utmost respect.
    End of rant haha 🙂

  2. Caddy K

    Feb 11, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Since you were a Shinny boy, its sounds like you wrote about Norm, Ray, and Alaskan Bob. As a long time looper on the East End of Long Island, remember to tip your starter, if you do, you will not just get a bag humper that is useless. Also, choose your guests wisely. The fast track to getting a terrible bottom of the barrel looper is to bring out a d-bag. Based upon this article, I guess that I’m a cross between Tim, Bruce, and Jim. It truly is the greatest summer gig that you can have as a youngster. You come across so many characters that it is a summer full of cash, craziness, and laughs.

  3. Scooter McGavin

    Feb 9, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    Caddies still exist?

  4. Sean

    Feb 9, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    I’ve never been on a course that has caddies, so I will have to take your word for it. 🙂

  5. Andy

    Feb 9, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Personally I tend to hate caddies at high end public courses. Almost every one of them thinks they know a players game before the round even starts, especially the younger guys. Many of them are just plain arrogant and have no problem saying…”you pushed that one a bit” when they totally miss a read. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some decent ones but they tend to be retired guys who want to get outside and work a little. At my home course we use forecaddies all the time and sometimes walking caddies. I prefer the high school/college kids that work hard to find balls, rake traps, and repair ballmarks over the high end course types that try to read putts and tell me what club to hit. I also hate when members treat the caddies like garbage by ignoring them or getting mad about a lost ball. If you play at a course where younger kids caddie make it a point every few holes to talk to them, find out about them, and make them feel included in the group just a little bit. It takes one walk to the fairway from the tee every four holes to show a kid some general respect. If they are making mistakes during the round try to help them by giving them a little feedback in a nice way so they can get better.

  6. Matto

    Feb 9, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    What about “Steve”
    Carries your bag and your 2 mobile phones; one for business, one for the ladies.
    Later on, pretends he knows nothing of this. Type A personality.
    May get a little racist amongst his piers or write a book about you.

  7. Tim

    Feb 9, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    This seems to be the 4 types of good caddies you get and the 1 bad caddie. You could identify the 5 types of terrible caddies in a separate article: Four-Eyes, Walter, Josh, and Bennie (who wont shut up about giving you his line right as you are standing over a putt and already know he’s wrong cause he blew the read on one)

  8. Allen

    Feb 9, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    What about Jill, Karen and Mary? Not all caddies are men.

  9. alexdub

    Feb 9, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    Caddying was my first job. Started when I was 11 years old. I wish everyone who golfed had the opportunity to caddy. It teaches you to care—care about where you’re standing, care about being polite, and care about taking care of the course. It fine tunes your ability to be considerate. Wish these things were more common in the game of golf today.

  10. Double Mocha Man

    Feb 9, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Caddy story: Two days at Bandon Dunes Resort… same caddy. Day one was sunny, perfect. He gave good clubbing advice and could read the greens like Brandt Snedeker. Shared my flask of single-malt scotch with him. He still wouldn’t let me walk 5 feet into a sensitive ecological area to retrieve my brand new Titleist. Forgave him.

    Next day winds are 30 mph and the rain is coming down sideways at Pacific Dunes. Only 7 golfers venture onto the course, only one finishes. Caddy wanted to quit after 15 holes and walk in. Chastised him and said I would carry my own bag. He stuck it out. It was the Christmas season… tipped him $100.

    • Tom

      Feb 9, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      BRILLIANT!

    • dan

      Feb 10, 2016 at 9:48 pm

      $100 on top of the his regular pay i hope?! Cuz if it was”christmas season” that means the windchill was what? Somewhere near freezing?

      • Double Mocha Man

        Feb 11, 2016 at 9:20 am

        Yes, on top of. And in addition to the tip from the day before. Surprisingly, with all the rain and wind it was quite mild… in the 40’s, I’d guess.

  11. Former Pro Jock

    Feb 9, 2016 at 11:36 am

    I started Caddying when I was 11 and did it all the way through college. I cannot put into enough emphasis on how awesome those experiences were and how they influenced my life. I would love to be faced with more options to even GET a Caddie- Unfortunately these are as rare as US Ryder Cup victory these days. Can we get an Article or the catalyst of a movement to bring Caddying back!? yes I know too much revenue passed up by the courses etc. but the upsides far out weigh the negatives. Please take a caddie when ever you can! Someone has to pay for “Bob’s” vice!

  12. Tom

    Feb 9, 2016 at 11:28 am

    I always seem to get a hybrid between Lenny and Bruce

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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Oh, To Be An (Oregon) Duck

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A few weeks ago I flew into Eugene, Oregon on a mission. I’d come to work with one my students who is a member of the Duck’s varsity golf team. I had never been further south than Seattle or further north than Monterey, so this part of the world was new to me.

What I did know was that the Bandon Dunes area had become a destination for some of the greatest golf in the world, rivaling other famed resorts around the country. The resort is just outside the quaint town of Bandon, which is a good two-hour drive from Eugene. The resort’s four courses — Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, and Old McDonald — each have their own personality, but at the same time they have one thing in common: the four architects that designed them took full advantage of the natural topography, deftly weaving holes in and out along the Oregon coastline.

I was looking forward to playing two of the courses before leaving: Pacific Dunes and Old McDonald. You may find this hard to believe, but those two rounds would be my first and second of the year after a busy summer season on the lesson tee. And for that very reason, I had no expectations other than to make a few pars and enjoy the scenery.

After retrieving my luggage from the turnstile, I made my way toward the exit with luggage in tow. My rental car was just across the street in an open-air lot and as I pushed through the airport doors, I was greeted by a gust of wind and a spray of rain. “Welcome to Eugene,” I thought to myself.

The sudden burst reminded me of playing in Scotland, where the rain gives way to sun only on occasion. I surmised that the weather in the Eugene would be similar. “Don’t forget your rain suit,” a fellow professional reminded me when I told him about my trip. As it turned out, that was good advice. He had been there before around the same time of year. “You’ll be lucky if you get one good day out of three,” he said.

As I drove through the area to my hotel, what struck me the most were the large hills that commanded the landscape and the thick white clouds that seemed to cling to them like giant cotton balls.  I found a comfortable hotel just outside Eugene in the small but quaint town of Cottage Grove. In charitable terms, you could characterize my hotel as “a tribute to the past.”

I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, dressed and made my way downstairs to the lobby. The rain had continued through the night and as I prepared to leave the hotel,  it started to come down even harder. I stood in the lobby, waiting, while listening to the rain drops pounding on the roof,  a steady beat at first, then rising and falling like a conga drum.

I’d agreed to meet my student at 10 a.m. for a practice session and then he was slated to play nine holes with the team later in the afternoon. Based on the weather, I was concerned that the day might be a total rain-out. What I didn’t know at the time was that the school has a portable canopy that allowed the team, rain or shine, to practice on natural grass. I ran to my car ducking rain drops. The forecast called for a chance of sun in the afternoon. And this time the weather man was  right.

That afternoon I was invited to watch my student and the rest of Casey Martin’s boys play a quick nine holes at Eugene Country Club, the team’s home course. The layout is one of the most unusual that I’ve ever seen with giant trees bordering every fairway. The tips seemed to stretch up and up into the sky, piecing the low-hanging clouds above, as if they were marshmallows on a stick.

The Ducks have fielded a strong team the past two years, winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship in 2016 and then finishing second this year. A good deal of credit for that accomplishment goes to Casey Martin, who has coached the Ducks since 2006. For those who are too young to remember, Casey Martian was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford University. He later competed on the Nike Tour. Casey earned his PGA Tour card in 1999 by finishing 14th on the Nike Tour, but his earnings through the 2000 season were not enough for him to retain his card, relegating him to once again to playing on the development tour. He played sporadically up through 2006. The following year, Casey assumed the job of Head Coach, which brought him back to his native Eugene.

In earlier years, Martin’s play career as a professional was hindered by the fact that he could not play 18 holes without a golf cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. The PGA Tour Board ruled against his use of a cart, maintaining that the physical act of walking was considered an integral part of the competition. Believing that he was in the right, Casey filed a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. His case made its way to the Supreme Court where he won. As for his competitive record, by his own admonition, he is disappointed that he didn’t play better as a professional. A primary focus of his coaching then, as he conceded, is to teach his players not to make the same mistakes he did in his own career. What struck me as unique was the passion and intensity with which he coached. I would venture that it’s the same level of intensity that he brought to the golf course when he competed.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a closed-door, defensive-team practice at Duke University with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) on the floor. He had divided the team into two groups with one at either end of the court competing against each other. His legs straddled the center line as if he were Colossus with his head swiveling back and forth as if on a stick. The impression was that he saw everything and be never missed anything. And then when he saw a player make a mistake, he would blow his whistle sharply. The players would immediately stop moving as if they were frozen in place. And then, in peg-leg style, he would hobble across the floor favoring one leg over the other. He was clearly in need of a hip replacement at the time.

I’ve had both of my hips replaced, so I could easily imagine the pain that he was experiencing as he peg-legged it from the center of the court to either end. I suspected that he had decided that surgery would have to wait. The season was just a few weeks away, and given that his team was largely composed of freshman, he could not afford to miss a day. Casey Martin doesn’t blow a whistle, nor does he run a defense practice, but as he climbs out of his cart, deftly working his way to a vantage point where he can see his players from every angle, I’m reminded of the halting walk of Coach K.

There is something else that these two man share in common — an intense desire to win. They settle for nothing less than great. And when you look into their eyes, you can see that there is an intensity that burns from within that is vastly different from the man on the street.

As you might remember, I was scheduled to play a round on Pacific Dunes and another on Old McDonald. The two courses are both spectacular layouts with ocean views. And the weather… I drew two perfect days, defying the odds my friend had laid down. It was sunny and 65 degrees with just a hint of wind. How did I play? Let’s just say that I made a few pars. What I found was that striking the ball well is no guarantee that you will score low on these courses. The green complexes are diabolical. The best advice I can give you is to throw you scorecard away. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The next morning, I was on an early morning flight back to Minneapolis only to discover that we were experiencing Indian Summer with temperatures 20 degrees warmer than usual. But as Minnesotans, we all know what is waiting for us just around the corner.

I’ll leave you with this thought. After watching Casey Martin and the players on his team play and practice, I’m sure of one thing. And that’s when next year’s NCAA Championship comes around, Casey Martin will have all of his Ducks in a row.

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The Kids Are Alright: Spike in Junior Golf Participation a Good Sign for Game’s Future

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This week, eight 10-player All-Star teams representing regions from across the country will converge upon Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., to compete in the 6th PGA Junior League Championship.

The teams – New Hampshire (Northeast), California (West), Georgia (Southeast), Ohio (Mideast), Illinois (Midwest), New Jersey (Mid-Atlantic), Arkansas (Mississippi Valley), and Texas (Southwest) – will be divided into two divisions where they will face off in round-robin, 9-hole matches using a two-person, scramble format of play. Teams are captained by PGA/LPGA Professionals.

Since the PGA of America launched PGA Junior League in 2012, participation has skyrocketed from about 1,800 players the first year to a record-setting 42,000 boys and girls age 13 and under participating on 3,400 teams across the country this year.

“Junior golf is a key priority of the PGA of America and we recognize that increasing youth participation in the game is essential to the future of our industry and sport,” said Suzy Whaley, PGA of America Vice President and PGA Director of Instruction at Suzy Whaley Golf in Connecticut.

“PGA Jr. League is a fun and welcoming opportunity for boys and girls of all backgrounds and skill levels to learn, play, and love golf under the expert instruction and guidance of PGA and LPGA Professionals. It’s team-oriented and kids wear numbered jerseys. It’s transforming traditional junior golf and the numbers prove it.”

Whaley believes the team concept and scramble format are major factors in PGA Jr. League’s rapid growth over the last five years. In fact, she says, the program is re-shaping the golf industry’s view of the way junior golf is typically learned and played.

“Other youth sports have been utilizing the team format for years and it’s a natural fit for golf,” said Whaley, who has taken three teams to the Jr. League Championships. “The scramble format provides for a low-pressure environment. We’ve created a team atmosphere that has broad appeal. Parents and kids enjoy being a part of the community that PGA/LPGA Professional Captains create. In this team setting, older, more experienced players mentor the younger, beginner golfers. There’s no pressure on any one player, and it’s great to see kids pull for one another versus the individual focus generally associated with golf.”

“It is a program that creates a family-centered atmosphere that encourages mom, dad, brothers, sisters, and grandparents to become involved, as well. During PGA Jr. League matches, the parents are part of the match keeping score, posting photos on social media and encouraging all players. PGA Jr. League grows lifetime interest in the game across multiple generations.”

Matthew Doyle of the Connecticut team gathers for a photo with team captain, Suzy Whaley during session three for the 2016 PGA jr. League Golf Championship presented by National Rental Car held at Grayhawk Golf Club on November 20, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Traci Edwards/PGA of America)

Fourteen-year-old Cullen Laberge from Farmington, Conn., is a student in the Suzy Whaley Golf program and has competed at the PGA Jr. League Championships for Team Connecticut. Laberge has been playing for four years and says his Jr. League experience really sparked his interest in the game and his desire to become a better player and ultimately a golf teacher one day.

“It has taught me so much about golf, while keeping it fun and interesting,” Laberge said. “The thing I enjoy the most is playing competitive golf without the stress that tournament golf can sometimes bring. No matter age or skill level, Jr. League keeps it fun and no matter how a player is playing there is another player to pick them up. That national championship was the best experience of my life. It was like I was playing on the PGA Tour. I loved the amazing competition; those players were good.”

And it’s not just golf’s executives and Jr. League participants who have taken notice of the program’s growth and the ultimate importance that growth represents for the future of the game. PGA and LPGA professionals including Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie have all joined as ambassadors for the program.

“I want to do everything I can to be a positive influence on kids who are interested in the game and serving as an ambassador for PGA Jr. League is a great fit,” said Wie. “There are so many lessons that kids can learn and that adults can reinforce through the game of golf – good sportsmanship, honesty, integrity, work ethic. Golf can help you learn how to react when things don’t go your way which I think is a really important skill to have in life.”

“Golf can definitely mirror life. You can work incredibly hard and still fall short, but how do you bounce back? How do you overcome a mistake or a bad break and still succeed? It’s important for kids to grow up with a good work ethic and the right attitude to face challenges. Golf is a great game to teach those lessons.”

Copyright Picture : Mark Pain / IMG (www.markpain.com)

Wie says the more inclusive and welcoming the golf community in general can be, the better.

“Especially as a young female, I have experienced plenty of times where I did not feel welcome or felt like I had to prove myself more than the guys did,” Wie said. “Golf is a game that should be available to everyone and I think it’s important to make it accessible to kids whether they are a future tour pro or a future 20-handicapper.”

The folks over at the USGA know a thing or two about growing the game and making it more accessible and they should, they’ve been doing it since the association’s founding in 1894.

The inaugural three USGA championships – the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1895 – did not have age limits, each simply aiming to identify the champion golfer. In 1948, the USGA held the first United States Junior Amateur solely open to players under the age of 18 and just one year later the association conducted the first United States Girls’ Junior Championship.

In addition to helping fund The First Tee, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, and the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships, the USGA recently introduced its “For the Good of the Game” grant program to promote a more welcoming and accessible game at the local level with millions of dollars offered to local communities to build programs.

“The greatest misperception is accessibility,” says Beth Major, Director of Community Outreach at the USGA. “Two-thirds of all golf courses in America are open to the public. Kids and parents still believe it is a country club sport and we need to change that.”

Founded in 2013 as a joint initiative between the USGA, the Masters Tournament, and the PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free nationwide junior golf competition for boys and girls ages 7-15 aimed at growing the game. Participants who advance through local, sub-regional and regional qualifying earn a place in the National Finals, which is conducted the Sunday before The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying is offered in all 50 states and participation in the event has increased each year.

“We have a great partnership with our friends at the PGA of America and the Masters Tournament,” Major said. “Our leaders realized that by pooling our resources at the national level while activating at the local level, we could quickly scale the program and get more kids involved.”

“Going into our sixth year, it is amazing to see how far the program has grown and the entry point we’ve created together to keep our youth engaged. We look forward to continuing to evolve the program to welcome more youth to the sport.”

The USGA, in partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, and the PGA TOUR, founded The First Tee in 1997 specifically to answer the call for diversity and inclusion. The program has welcomed millions of new players to the game in the past 20 years by focusing not only on teaching golf skills but life and social skills such as etiquette, honesty, respect, confidence and responsibility.

Founded in 1989, the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program is aimed at girls ages 6-17 and has played a critical role in not only welcoming girls and women to the game, but perhaps equally importantly keeping them in the game.

“Statistics continually show us that the social aspects of the game drive girls and women to play golf,” Major said. “That sense of camaraderie and building friends greatly outweighs their need to compete at the entry level. LPGA-USGA Girls Golf, quite simply, has made it fun and cool for girls to play – and play together. And the results are astounding. We have traced more than 100 girls who started in an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program that played in a USGA championship last year. They have not only introduced the game to girls and young women, they kept them in the game, and that is very exciting and inspiring.”

One company is tackling growth of the game from another angle – the equipment side.

Since its very beginning back in 1997, U.S. Kids Golf has been focused on its mission, “To help kids have fun learning the lifelong game of golf and to encourage family interaction that builds lasting memories.

To that end, the company began developing youth clubs starting out with just three sizes and one product line initially.

“Over time, through watching youth golfers, we came to realize that we were not serving them as well as we would like,” said Dan Van Horn, U.S. Kids Golf founder. “Looking at how the best players in the world – LPGA and PGA Tour – are fit for clubs, we discovered the proportion of their drive length to height was from 60-70 percent. From that we created what we term the ‘2/3 solution.’ Simply put, for every 3 inches a player grows, we offer a set that has a driver that is 2 inches longer.”

Importantly, it is not just the length of the clubs that increase as the player grows but also the overall club weight, grip size and shaft stiffness. At the same time, the loft on woods decreases providing additional distance.

“One of the key benefits of correctly fit clubs that are lightweight is the ability for players to learn a correct and powerful swing at a young age,” Van Horn said. “Clubs that are too long and/or heavy slows the golf swing itself and creates bad habits that are difficult to change later in life.”

Beyond the importance of young golfers needing properly fit equipment, Van Horn believes strongly in the need for juniors to compete in tournament play to facilitate aspirational goals and to measure progress. Going hand in hand with this is proper instruction from coaches who understand how young players learn and develop.

“After a few years of producing equipment, we realized more needed to be done to serve our market so we formed a nonprofit foundation,” Van Horn said. “Immediately we created our World Championship in 2000 so that young golfers would have an aspirational goal, much like the Little League World Series is to baseball players. We also realized that golf professionals and coaches lacked an organized incentive-based learning program to truly engage players in the game so we created one that same year.”

A longtime proponent of having players play from appropriate yardages, U.S. Kids Golf developed the Longleaf Tee System which uses a mathematical formula to “scale” any golf course for up to eight different tee locations per hole so all players have options based upon how far they carry the ball with a driver. Yardages start at 3,200 yards for 18 holes and increase up to Tour distances of 7,400 yards.

“What we need is a focus by all golf facilities and coaches to provide quality, enjoyable experiences to our youth,” Van Horn said. “This means incorporating game-based learning with a measurable, learning program so that players and their parents know how they are progressing. And, of course, shorter tees need to be available so we can get kids on a ‘field’ that fits them like other sports. There’s no question it can be done.”

The National Golf Foundation’s annual report for 2016 revealed that participation in junior golf programs remained steady at 2.9 million likely due in part to the success of the programs mentioned above and others just like them. Importantly, the number of female junior golfers has increased to a third of all participants and the number of non-Caucasion players has risen to a quarter, four times what it was a couple of decades ago.

While time will ultimately judge whether these programs and offerings serve not only to retain current players but continue to attract new ones, the state of junior golf in the country appears strong and on the right track for now. 

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