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Growing Up Golf Part 2: Play Time

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Click here to read more stories from Kadin’s series, “Growing Up Golf.”

As our daughter approached her third birthday, my wife and I thought it was time to move towards purchasing her some real golf clubs. Now when I say clubs, I am referring to an 8 iron and a putter. There really isn’t a need for anything else at this stage of development. So I headed out to our local pro shop and spoke with a PGA Certified Instructor on what he felt would be a good fit. He showed me what they had in stock for children. He asked me how tall she was and I told him 40” and he looked at me and asked me how old she was. I said “She is turning three,” and quickly followed with, “Yeah, I know she’s very tall for her age.” Our daughter falls into the 99 percentile for height. So we picked out an 8 iron and a putter that were the correct length for her height. My wife and I wrapped her new presents and were excited to see her open them.

The day of her third birthday arrived and she opened the clubs and smiled that big smile that all parents love. She pulled the 8 iron out, stood up and attempted her first swing with a real club. The problem is she swung this club like it was a sledge hammer. Now our daughter is far from being a frail little girl. She can pull herself up on monkey bars and hold her own weight on a climbing rope. I was shocked to see that the club was just too heavy. She insisted that she wanted to use it and she’s a “big girl” and wants to use real clubs like Mommy and Daddy. Ok, no worries. I said, “Come on sweet heart, let’s go to the store and pick out one that feels better to you.”

But the problem was that the next smaller club was too short for her — one was too short and the other one that fit her perfectly was too heavy. Now what? Well, we kept the club that was the correct length as I saw no benefit to having her use a club that was too short. The putter fit her perfect and wasn’t an issue at all.

The numerous attempts to find an iron that wasn’t too heavy for her proved to be an exhausting search. Every club that was the correct length was always too heavy. So I am now in the process of having some weight removed from the head of the club by a local machinist. Prior to that we let her use the club that was too heavy and our daughter would take short back swings and hit chip shots with it. We figured it was better than nothing, and what a perfect way it was for her to develop her short game. She still plays with the plastic clubs with her brother and will take full swings with him. All was not lost. She gets to use her “big girl” clubs and still has fun playing with the plastic ones.

Now that we have our children interested in the game of golf how do we keep them interested in it? That is an excellent question and one of the easiest to answer. Simply by keeping it fun! I know, it sounds so simple right? Before we get started I would like you to take note of the following words and phrases:

Practice, Work, Concentrate, Focus, Pay Attention, Try Harder, More Effort and We didn’t come here to play around.

I know what your thinking, the list seems ridiculous. But time and time again I will be on the range and there is some parent there with their child and this is what I am listening to:

  • “You need to practice and work on your swing”
  • “Concentrate and focus on what you are doing”
  • “Would you pay attention and try harder please”
  • “You’re not giving enough effort — we didn’t come here to play around”

If I was that child I couldn’t wait to get off the range and go do something else. Then the parent can’t figure out after a short time why little Johnny or Suzy doesn’t want to continue to play golf. Here is the key word that we as parents need to focus on: PLAY.

 

There is a reason why I titled this article “Play Time.” I want you to visualize a play ground. Now, if you will picture a golf course or better yet the practice area of a golf course what do you see? Well, at the play ground I see a bunch of fun things to play with or on. What do I see when I look at the practice area? I see a putting green, bunkers, flags, buckets of balls and maybe a rake for the bunkers. So now let’s take a look at it from a child’s perspective. What does the child see when they look at a playground? They see the same thing you did, a bunch of stuff to play with or on. Now what does the child see when they look at the practice area? Guess what? It’s not a putting green, bunkers, flags, buckets of balls or a rake. They see the same thing they saw when they looked at the playground. A bunch of stuff to play with or on.

Now the time has come to take that first visit to the range or short game area. I said to my daughter, “Do you want to go with Daddy and play golf.” I always use the word “play.” I never say, “Lets go work on our game” or “Lets go practice.” To a child, the words work and practice don’t sound like fun at all. Of course she couldn’t wait to get there, even though the course is literally is just a few blocks from the house. But she must have asked me five times, “Are we there yet?” She was more excited than I was.

We pulled up, got out of the car and of course she wanted to carry her bag like a big girl. We headed down to the short game area which consists of a putting green, two bunkers and two flags. It was a perfect set up for her — Not too much going on with other golfers hitting balls like at the range and it’s big enough for her to get a real feel for playing golf. We started off by placing our bags to the side and I explained to her we never put our bags on this smooth grass. “Why not Daddy?” I explained that is called the green and we never want to put our bags on it because it could leave marks or little dents on it. We want to try and keep it as smooth as possible. Kids for the most part have an inquisitive mind. Now I could’ve started off by explaining all that to her before we put our bags down but I want her to ask why. This way she doesn’t feel like I am giving her limitations or bogging her down with rules. Let them reach out for the information — you don’t always have to lay it all out on the table for them.

She took out some colored balls out of her bag and grabbed her putter and proceeded to putt around the green. After a few minutes she realized that if you take the flags out you can putt the balls into the holes. I didn’t take the flags out because I wanted her to feel like she was in control of what we were doing. After all, we were playing. I don’t tell her what toys we are going to play with at home, and I wanted her to feel the same way at the course.

o after playing for about 10 minutes she wanted to try and use her 8 iron. I teed up a ball for her and she hit a chip shot. I teed up another ball and she stopped what she was doing and was just staring at the bunkers. So I was just waiting for the question, “Daddy what’s that sand box doing there?” I smiled holding back the laughter and said those are bunkers. “No, Daddy look, the sand boxes.” I said, “Sweetheart those are not sand boxes they are called bunkers,” and she quickly said, “Can we go in them?” Now, you know I am sitting there thinking I would rather you not go in and get sand all over you and then all over the car, but I said, “Sure, we can go and play in there.” Again I used the word play and I use it as much as I can when we are playing golf.

She played in the bunker for all of 5 minutes and then she pushed the rake a little and realized sand isn’t all that fun without other toys mixed in it. After her trip to the beach she walked back up to the green picked up her bag and started walking around the green along the fringe in a big circle. Her clubs and balls were on the putting green still. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was carrying her bag like they do on TV. A few trips around the green, a few more putts and she was ready to head back home and play something else.

Our trip to the practice area lasted around 45 minutes. In that time she made some putts and took one swing all in about 15 minutes. The rest of the time she played with sand and walked around the green. At no point and time did I say to her that we had to hit balls or work on our putting. The point I am trying to make and this is probably the most important one that I am going to convey to you. When you are taking your child to your practice area you are there for them. When I say this I mean you can’t go expecting to work on your game and you can’t expect them to work on their game the entire time either. You need to let them explore and play in the sand or with the rake. Even if they just want to walk around the green carrying their bag so be it. Remember, this is play time to them and the practice green is just another playground. As long as you allow them to have fun they will want to keep going back.

When you decide to take them to the course the same is going to hold true there as well. You will need to keep in mind that they may only want to play one hole and be distracted by something else. Let’s revisit that playground again. When you watch children playing, ask yourself this, “When was the last time you saw a child play with the same swing the entire time or go down the same slide again and again?” My guess is probably never, because kids have short attention spans. They like variety when it comes to entertainment or playing. This holds true on the course as well.

In my first article a fellow member had posted a comment regarding his son not keeping an interest on the course to keep playing, he said, “I have a 9-year old son who doesn’t want to do much more than chase frogs or drive the cart when I take him out.” He also explained that his son had lessons from certified PGA Professionals. So we are not talking about a little boy who had no exposure to the game and was going out for his first time. The fact is this is pretty normal behavior for kids. I responded to his post with:

“Keep taking him to the course and let him chase frogs if he wants. He will still associate going to the golf course as fun and may eventually want to start playing. This goes without saying of course… no matter what he decides to do, he will always remember spending time with Dad and how much fun it was going to the golf course to chase frogs.”

Sometimes we as parents just have to let our kids chase frogs, play with the sand in the bunkers and so on. As long as we allow them to have fun they will always want to go back.

The keys to keeping your child interested in golf is by allowing them to play and have fun. Even if they are not swinging a club or putting on the green as long as there is an association with golf during the activity you’re doing ok. These activities can be as simple as allowing them to play with the head covers from your clubs. A lot of the covers today are animals and characters you could even put on a little puppet show with them. My daughter loves to color on my golf balls. Let them mark a few for you. My son has an obsession with wanting to go through all the zippered pockets on my bag. So from time to time I will bring my bag into the family room and let him rummage through it. You can color golf balls with any over-the-counter clothing dye. Try coloring some like Easter eggs. All these little activities have nothing to do with swinging a club but all are associated to golf.

So remember it’s “Play Time” and there is no difference between Candy Land and Golf to our children. Keep it fun and allow them to make the decisions just like when they are playing with toys at home. When the time comes to go out on the course they just might chase frogs instead of birdies.

In Growing Up Golf Part 3, I will share with you 25 activities that you can do with your child. I will also give a review of a product that I found while searching for solutions to lighter golf clubs.

Click here for more discussion in the “Juniors/College golf talk” forum. 

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Kadin Mahmet has a passion for golf. He has coached at the collegiate level and has worked as an instructor specializing in youth athletics. You can follow Kadin on Twitter @BigKadin. "Like" Growing Up Golf on Facebook @ facebook.com/Growing.Up.Golf for more content.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Kadin Mahmet

    Dec 18, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Thank you Alex! Sorry for the late reply.

  2. Pingback: Junior Golf, Golf lessons, golf tips and news for the week 10/20/2012 | Athletic Golf Training

  3. Alex

    Oct 20, 2012 at 8:37 am

    The early specialization of golf and indeed any sport is a dangerous game. With the work of the International Youth Conditioning Association and the message they spread to coaches and parents alike is the importance of play, enjoyment and including well rounded activites that focus less on the outcomes (results) and more on long term development.

    This is truly a great article!

    I will be sharing this for sure on the blog.

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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argo Golf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Let’s Retire Old Man Par: A Modest Proposal

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In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A modest proposal,” in which he suggested that the Irish eat their own children. As might be expected, the piece drew a great deal of discussion and controversy. He was of course not serious, but simply attempting to make a point. As you will read this piece contains “A Modest Proposal” as well, but it is not intended to be satirical. I am for the record dead serious.

The golf industry is wringing its hands, trying to find a way to bring new players into the game, while at the same time keeping those that are in the game from leaving. They have initiated any number of programs designed for this purpose. How successful have they been? I would venture that they have barely moved the needle.

Barriers to the game

What we do know is that today there are three major barriers that confront the industry. They are first, the time required to play the game; second the costs associated with playing the game; and third the difficulty of the game.

There are among those adults that start the game, three distinct different groups:

  1. Those who would like to start playing golf but for any number of reasons decided not to take up the game.
  2. Those who once played more frequently but have reduced the number of rounds that they play.
  3. Those who started to play the game but then after a short period decided to leave it.

Those who leave the game

Those in the golf industry, the hand-wringers, have developed any number of programs to bring new players to the game. I would ask the question, “What is the point, when almost an equal number of players that start playing the game each year, decide to give it up within a span of a few months.

Does it make any sense to continue to put water into a bucket when there is a hole in the bottom? Of course not, but that is effectively what is being done. The first question to be ask, why do these new players quit the playing after a short time? In my opinion, the number No. 1 reason is the method of scoring being used.

Were an exit poll to be conducted asking these people why they quit playing, I seriously doubt they would answer truthfully. Who would want to admit that they were discouraged by their inability to succeed at any endeavor? The two answers that would be given the most often would be 1) that golf is too expensive to play; or 2) that they simply didn’t have time.  In this case both answers serve to preserve the individual’s dignity. And who could blame them?

The concept of par

Why did these individuals find the game difficult? The short answer is that while golf is a hard game to learn, there  is a more compelling reason.  I would venture, that the underlying reason they quit the game is that it ceased to be fun because of how they viewed their performance. And for one central reason… the concept of par. The idea that an amateur golfer, especially a beginner, should measure their level of success against an imaginary set of numbers that represents what an expert player would score on each hole is on the surface ridiculous.

You might imagine a beginning player scoring an eight on a par-four hole after hitting six good shots and then two putting for an eight. In the context of their ability, they should be ecstatic — but of course they are not (because as their playing partner reminds them) they were four-over par on that hole. The time has come for Old Man Par to retire. And retire permanently. He is killing the game.

Perceived failure

In another scenario, the beginning player scores sixty for nine holes, which is an excellent score given the short amount of time they might have spent playing the game. And yet their nine-hole score was 24-over par. How would that make you feel? Would you be encouraged or discouraged? You might imagine yourself back in school and regardless of the amount of work that you put into a given class you always receive an “F.” At some point, would you give up?

Why should every golfer be judged by the same standard when there is such inequality in their ability? The equivalent would be placing a high school freshman in a graduate-level college course, expecting that they could perform at the same level as the other graduate students. The disparity in knowledge, based on age and experience, is precisely the reason why there are different grades in school. The same disparity exists among golfers. In this case, the difference being the ability to perform on the golf course as opposed to the classroom.

What about the second group of players that now plays less than they did in the past? Could it be that they are no longer having fun playing the game?And then there is the third group, those that consider playing the game but abandon it for another sport. Could it be that they are intimidated by the scoring system, knowing that as a beginner par is an absolute impossibility?

Old man par 

The legendary Bobby Jones was the first to coin, perhaps with the help of his friend O.B. Keillor, the phrase “Old Man Par.” Jones was, of course, the greatest amateur to have ever played the game. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, retiring then at the age of 28.

The time has come to retire “Old Man Par” and devise a new system for measuring a golfer’s progress in the game. I know that those in the USGA. would reject the concept immediately for fear of, and here is a $10 word used primarily by attorneys, “bifurcate” the game. What that word essentially means in this context in having more than one standard. The USGA is responsible for preserving the nature of the game, but at the same time it should be equally concerned with preserving the future of the game.

Personal par

What I would suggest is a system based on the principle of what might be termed “personal par.” This was essentially the system that was used to groom a young Tiger Woods. As a young child, he was not capable of reaching the longer holes in regulation, making par a virtual impossibility. Consequently, his coach wisely devised a system in which par was adjusted upward based on his ability at a given point in time. This served to keep the young child feeling good about his performance and subsequent progress.

This is the type of system that needs to be devised for the health of the game. The system would begin at a nine-hole level using a par of thirty-six as a basis. The actual numbers are not as important as the basic concept. There would be within the nine-hole and the eighteen-hole groups five different levels as follows with assigned par for each hole and eighteen holes roughly equal with the player’s ability.

As players improved, they would graduate from one level to another based on their total score. The handicap system would work in similar fashion as it does now with a single modification. The strokes give from one player to another would depend on the level in which they fall and the par assigned to that level.

The personal par handicap system would not be as exacting as it is presently used, but it would be sufficient to allow players to be reasonable competitive without any significant sacrifice. There would then be two scoring systems then, allowing players to choose which one they wanted to use. Or a recommendation might be given that until they reach a given scoring threshold that they use the personal par scoring system.

There would, of course, be the usual concern with something new being injected into the system, but the proposed change would be no greater than when the system of equitable scoring was introduced or when courses were first assigned a course rating number.

A few years ago, when life-long teacher and educator Dr. Gary Wiren was inducted into the Golf Teacher’s Hall of Fame, he wanted to pass along a single piece of advice to those teachers in the room. “Gentleman,” he started and then paused for emphasis. “We must find a way to make the game more fun for our students.”

I’m in full agreement with Dr. Wiren. The question is, “What is the best way to accomplish that goal?” I believe that that the first step in that direction is to change the scoring system so that golfers experience more satisfaction and accomplishment. That is what makes learning fun.

And so, I would have you consider “The Modest Proposal” that I have put forward. And rather than attempting to find reasons why a revised scoring system couldn’t never work, for the benefit of the game, look for the same number of reason why it could work. The time has come for Old Man Par, as we know him, to retire. He has served us well, but he has become an anarchism. He is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. Let’s hand him his gold watch and let him enjoy his golden years in peace.

And at the same time, let’s welcome the “new kid on the block” who will pave the way for the next generation of golfers pioneering a scoring system that promises to make the game more “fun.”

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