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Opinion & Analysis

Junior Golfers: Ask Yourself These 4 Questions Before Picking Summer Tournaments

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The summer is quickly closing in, and surely junior golfers across the globe are busy picking out and finalizing their summer schedules. For some, this means hitting the road for tournaments, while others need to budget more wisely — both time and money — and should find competitive local options.

Trying to decide what’s really important for your game and your career can be very difficult. That’s why I’ve developed 4 important questions to ask yourself, or for the parents to ask of their juniors, when formulating a plan of attack.

1. Have you developed ball control?

Prior to any significant tournament play, it is my opinion that juniors should spend several years learning and practicing the motor control patterns of the swing. This skill is called ball control; the ability to deliver the club in a way the player can regulate distance, trajectory and shot shape. This should include hitting countless range balls, putts and chips.

According to the Royal Canadian Golf Association Long Term Development Plan, which is available for download here, players should be hitting upwards of 2,200 practice shots per week by middle adolescence. Their skills should be developed under the watchful eye of a strong technical instructor, and students should be encouraged to develop other skills through participation in a wide variety of sports.

If the junior is discovering golf in their teenage years, parents are wise to still engage in this process; a strong level of ball control is the foundation for scoring. Although it is tempting, taking a short cut will lead to problems later in the development of the player. When in doubt, keep practicing and playing as much as possible.

2. Can you consistently break 75 on your home golf course?

In my opinion, you’re not ready for national tournaments until this happens. Also consider that playing your home golf course is about 2-3 shots easier than playing in a tournament. This means if you shoot 78 on average at your home golf course, you are going to be lucky to break 80 in a national tournament.

My research suggests that in 2016, the average American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) qualifying required a score of 75.4 for boys to earn a spot and 77.6 for girls. Also, breaking par is becoming a common theme in junior golf. My research suggests that last year in the AJGA, boys shot in the 60s over 900 times and girls over 600 times. This means, based on my 2-3 shot rule, these juniors are shooting in the mid-60’s in practice!

If you average 80 or above in national caliber junior golf, my advice is to stay local until your game develops. The local PGA Sections in many regions run great tours, and the Mid Atlantic and The Met Section in New York are two of many great opportunities. It may be more damaging to your career, confidence and bank account to continue playing in national tournaments when you’re playing poorly or your game is simply not ready. Build confidence and round out your game in local tours before you move back up to the big leagues.

3. How do I make the most of my summer?

In my experience, the first and crucial step on the competitive golf ladder is spending considerable time on a home golf course where the junior learns the nuances of the game in a competitive environment. By the summer after their freshman year in high school, the junior should be playing multiple days of 18+ holes where they are ideally playing with others of a similar caliber and set consequences. The more matches that come down to the last hole, the better.

4. Do I need to take the travel money and sink it into a private club membership?

The quality of the golf course is far, far, far less important than the access to the facilities and the opportunity to play with other talented players on a daily basis. The trap of being a member can come when junior does not play enough holes or doesn’t have anyone to compete against.

Golf is about consistency over long durations. Playing nine holes a few times a week is not going to help. Juniors must extend themselves and try as often as possible to play 18. They must also learn to compete, ideally playing for something of consequence. This means responsible gambling; playing for something that they would hate to lose, but nothing ridiculous. A candy bar, or even push ups, can add enough incentive and pressure to win.

Too many juniors, fueled by misinformation, are in a hurry to build their tournament resume. Students who are willing to invest the time to build strong technical skills and then learn all the nuances of golf are going to arrive at tournaments prepared to shoot the scores necessary to earn trophies. Until then practice, compete and stay local.

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Brendan Ryan is a golf researcher, writer, coach and entrepreneur. Golf has given him so much in his life -- a career, amazing travels, great experiences and an eclectic group of friends -- and he's excited to share his unique experience through his writing on GolfWRX. He hopes you enjoy!

5 Comments

5 Comments

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  2. H

    May 5, 2017 at 2:14 am

    That #4 had me cracking up to no end. Private club membership pfffft. So funny. Whatever happened to can we make golf affordable at the grassroots level and not admit that it’s an elitist rich man’s sport. Play Golf America! PGA!

  3. Judge Smells

    May 4, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    So basically set junior up with 315 range balls per day, force them to play 18 holes every time they play, kick back and wait for that scholarship letter

  4. Ben

    May 4, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Great article!! I think when I first embarked on tournament golf, I wasn’t well prepared for the variety in golf courses. Course management is key; once you have developed the skills mentioned above. Going from a wide open, mid-length golf course, to narrower, shorter courses, nobody ever showed me the true meaning to course management (aiming for the middle of the green, hitting three wood to stay short of bunkers, etc.). Playing a variety of courses, will help you embrace the many challenges a golf hole, and also introduce you to a broader spectrum of course conditions (speed of greens, wind, thick rough, pine straw, tightly mowed fairways, etc.). I also encourage kids to play golf on family vacations, where the courses are comprised of different grasses (Bermuda took me a while to get used to in college).

    Best,
    Ben

  5. PETE

    May 3, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    Great, now my kid will have to track down the local loan shark because he’s down 250 snickers bars this month. It took guts to blatantly advocate gambling to minors.

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Legend Rees Jones speaks on designing Danzante Bay in Mexico

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