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Opinion & Analysis

Growing Up Golf Part 7: The Right Club

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Let’s journey back to my daughter’s third birthday. If you recall in Growing Up Golf Part 2, my wife and I ran into a minor problem with our daughter’s first set of real clubs.

“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.”

So how do we find the right club for our little golfer? Golf equipment designed for kids has come a long way. Long gone are the days when young golfers had to use adult clubs that had been cut down to size. Most manufacturers create clubs for specific age ranges–typically, 3 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 11–as a general guideline. The age ranges are for different club lengths, and the clubs get longer as the age ranges increase. However, height is more important than age, as we discovered with our daughter. With all the different types of clubs to choose from, there are a few things to remember when buying them.

Length

Length is the first consideration. Find a set of clubs that is the right length for your child, but also a set that they can grow with. It is OK for them to choke down or grip down on the club. You just don’t want them to move their hands down the grip too much. The basic rule is this: Choking down more than 1.5 to 2 inches too much. Choking down more than two inches can change children’s whole swing, requiring them to manipulate the swing to get the club around their body. A set of clubs whose length requires them to grip down only one inch allows them to make a normal swing. There will probably be enough length to get a second year out of the set.

Shaft Flex

The main problem with cut-down clubs of yesteryear  is the stiffness of the shafts. When you cut 4 to 5 inches of length off a golf club, it becomes very stiff. Using flex that is too stiff can promote a very low ball flight. Manufacturers are now making shafts that are the right flex for kids’ swing speeds by using light-weight steel and graphite. The shafts on these kid-friendly clubs are so flexible, you can bend them with your hands. So check to make sure that your child’s set of clubs has a nice, flexible shaft.

Weight

If the club is too heavy, the child will struggle to take the club to the top of the backswing. When this happens, it causes a manipulation of the swing that results in inconsistency. A lighter club will help the child get the club in the correct position at the top of the swing, and lead to an easily repeatable swing. Companies are now making clubs with lighter heads and shafts. Weight was the main issue that we ran into with our daughter and her new clubs.

Following those simple guidelines will increase your chances on picking the correct club for your child.  With this all said, I have found a very simple solution to acquiring clubs that will fit your child. You need not look any further than equipment made by U.S. Kids Golf — a company with a fitting system that is based on a color-coded chart that is adjusted every three inches. When you grow out of one color, you move up to the next.

You simply measure your child and choose the appropriate club in the correct color. All the specifications of the clubs are listed in each color zone. If you desire to purchase your clubs elsewhere, this measuring system can be utilized when deciding the correct club length for your son or daughter. As I stated earlier, there are many equipment companies that specialize in kid and junior golf clubs. I am referencing U.S. Kids Golf  due to their simplistic club fitting system.

U.S. Kids Golf believes that having properly-fitted clubs is vital to young players’ development, so they  created the U.S. Kids Golf Trade Up Program. When you’re ready to move up to the next system, simply trade in your out-grown clubs at your participating retailer and receive a discount on your new ones. If you should decide to purchase your clubs form another manufacturer, check to see if they have a “trade up” program. Another benefit to using U.S. Kids Golf is they have developed the “6th Club Free” program to reward their frequent customers:

– Once you have purchased 5 clubs, you have the opportunity to receive a sixth club free.
– The program applies to clubs purchased as a set or individually.
– Free club can be an iron or putter. Other clubs may be available for an additional fee.
– Be sure to keep your UPC code from your packaging along with your purchase receipt.
– This program is open to residents of the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

We have made some changes to my daughter’s set of clubs. She no longer uses the heavier club (If you recall, I allowed her to use it because she was only chipping with it at that stage of her development) and what I have found to be a prefect fit is the U.S. Kids Golf Ultralite series. We were able to give her in longer club without extra added weight and the shaft flex is designed for younger players swing speeds. My daughter’s set includes a 7 iron a pitching wedge and a putter. There is no need to run out and purchase 14 clubs at this time. Your child can play with no more than a few clubs for a good part of the early years. As your child gets older, you can add a club or two. You may decide to graduate them into the five, seven or nine pitching wedge set, sometimes referred to as the odd irons. Most of the golfers I know learned to play using just the odd numbered irons in the set. This is very common and a good way to start. Having fewer clubs in the bag makes decisions a lot easier.

Now that we fit our youngsters, what about our juniors? I can not stress what I am about to say enough. If your child has decided to take golf to a more serious level and is approaching high school probably even earlier…

TAKE THEM TO A PROFESSIONAL PGA CERTIFIED CLUB FITTER!!!!

The benefits of a properly custom-fit set will make a difference at this level.  Now I am in no way saying you need to run out and purchase the most expensive equipment set out there. There are plenty of manufactures that make clubs for all price ranges.  Choose a budget and work from there. Even if you don’t buy new clubs, there are great deals on used clubs. But no matter what you decide on…

HAVE THEM FITTED BY A PROFESSIONAL PGA CERTIFIEDCLUB FITTER!!!!

Gator Golf

I would like to share some observations that I have made while working with my children. My son turned 2 on Jan. 10, and when your family knows that you and your wife are golf fans and are passing that passion on to your children, your kids are bound to receive a few golf toys growing up. One of the gifts he received was a putting game called Gator Golf. You may have seen this game before, it comes with two putters, two balls and a little alligator that you putt the ball through his mouth and it comes out by his tail and is popped back to you like a little catapult. Both my son and daughter love it. And if you have been following my articles than you know I am all about “Golf Association” and this is a great one.

The putters and golf balls are made of plastic. Here lies the problem. My kids have transitioned to using “real” golf clubs even my son now putts with a “real” putter. When they tried to play Gator Golf, we soon realized that the plastic clubs and balls were too light. After using a heavier metal golf club, the plastic ones really threw their swings out of rhythm.  My wife and I replaced the plastic balls with the foam indoor balls they have been practicing with and we gave them their regular putters. Needless to say all, is well in the Gator Golf front. The foam balls were light enough to be popped back and the game works just fine.

So if your children have transitioned to real clubs, there will be no need for any of the plastic toy ones that we all started them out with when they took those first steps towards growing up golf.

Click here for more discussion in the “junior golf” 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.

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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.

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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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TG2: What’s the most annoying breach of golf etiquette?

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What’s the one breach of golf etiquette that gets under your skin more than anything else? Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what drives them crazy. Also, Knudson talks about his first round with new irons and a new shaft in his driver.

Follow @tg2wrx on Instagram to enter the Bettinardi inovai 5.0 center-shaft putter giveaway.

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

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