Growing Up Golf (Part 1)
By Kadin Mahmet
Like every parent who plays golf, I too want my children to love the game as much as I do. Besides the obvious benefits of playing golf, what I wanted more was something that my wife and I can share with our children for the rest of our lives.
I am about to lead you down the path of how our 21 month old son and 3 1/2 year old daughter were introduced to golf . When and how we caught their interest, from equipment to building skills. I will share with you what has and hasn’t worked. Let me make it clear this is not an article on mechanics or instruction, I am not a certified instructor. I do however have a collegiate coaching back ground and owned and operated a baseball &amp; softball academy. Working with children participating in sports is not an unfamiliar territory for me. I have learned from life experiences on what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to holding the interest of young minds.
My wife and I were both collegiate athletes. She played softball and I played baseball. We didn’t take up the game of golf until our late 20’s. With the exception of playing in a league, we don’t play competitively either. We play rather frequently and keep an unofficial handicap via a free internet service. She is more of the recreational player who enjoys the experience more so than the pursuit of greatness. Don’t get me wrong she does play to a 15 handicap and does strive to shoot low. Now I on the other hand take my game very serious. I am forever trying to shave strokes off my handicap, which at the time of this article is an 8.4 index.
Our journey began on April 27, 2011 the day of our daughters second birthday. Amongst the numerous presents sit’s the first official step towards becoming a golfer. Her fist set of plastic golf clubs. You know the kind I’m talking about, the over sized heads with the plastic carry bag and putting cup. Much to our surprise upon opening this “life time” gift she pulled a club out of the bag and swung it like I have been working with her for months. The catch is, I never showed her how to swing a golf club or even explained to her what a golf club was for that matter. How the heck does a two year old pull that off? It’s not like I was grooming her from the time of birth leading up to the day that she would receive a set of plastic golf clubs. The truth is, that’s exactly what I did without even making an effort.
When our children are taking their first steps towards learning how to use a fork or a spoon we as parents don’t sit there and give them a complex definition or instructions on what a fork/spoon is or how to use it. If your child was anything like ours chances are they just picked one up and tried to put it in their mouth. Why? Because they have been watching the act of eating from the time they are introduced to solid foods. Well that’s exactly how my daughter knew what to do with her new clubs. As I mentioned earlier I take my game very serious and like many other players I have a clubs all around the house. There’s a putter in our office, a wedge in the family room several balls in both. I’m always putting or chipping. I have a practice matt and net outside and when my wife would take her outside to play in the swing, I was just a few feet away taking swings. So our little girl was observing the golf swing from day one and when she finally had a chance to emulate me just as she did with the spoon and fork. That first swing was as natural as eating.
My wife and I believed that the age of two was a good starting point to introduce our daughter to golf. We had many conversations about it. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Let’s take a look back at that 2nd birthday party, our son was 4 months old at the time. From that day until spring our daughter was playing with her new clubs. She was making putting strokes, full swings, playing little games with the ball and cup. While she was playing there’s our son watching his big sister. During February of the following year we had very unseasonable weather. When the days were sunny we would take our kids outside to play like most parents do. Of course our daughter wanted to take her clubs outside and hit balls back and forth with me. Our son was 13 months old during this time. The second our daughter put down her club he walked over picked it up and took his first swing. Same as our daughter, we never told him what a club was or what you do with it. He learned the same way she did. By watching his big sister and I. So my wife and I look at each other and laughed, followed with a quick “Well I guess the theory we had about 2 being a good age to introduce golf is completely blown out of the water.”
Every time I hear or read about some pro athlete playing from the age of one it always sounded like they were some kind of prodigy. I know that our son and daughter are not prodigies or gifted athletes from birth. They are simply doing what all infants and toddlers do. They learn from watching and emulate what they see. My guess is if we would have placed a club in our son’s hand from the time he started walking (which was 8 months for him) he would’ve been hitting balls with it.
Let’s take a closer look at all this. You simply can not hand an infant who is capable of walking a plastic golf club and assume they will hit balls with it. There has to be certain factors to this equation. Lets start with our daughter. She had 24 months of exposure to a golf swing (remember it was her 2nd birthday when she received the clubs as a gift). How much exposure am I talking about? Well that’s a good question and one that probably needs to be understood. I can’t put an exact number on it, so lets speak hypothetically. I would putt, chip, pitch or swing a club on average 50 times a day at least 5 days a week and I am being very conservative on these numbers. Like most golf fans, I watch a lot of it on television, PGA, LPGA, and instructional shows. You name it I watch it. Lets say that golf is on our television on average 30 minutes a day 5 times a week. Now lets do the math and take a look at what we have.
50 Swings x 5 days = 250 Swings a week
250 Swings x 52 weeks a year = 13,000 Swings a year
13,000 Swings x 2 years = 26,000 Swings
30 minutes televised golf a day x 5 days = 2.5 hours a week
2.5 hours a week x 52 weeks = 130 hours of televised golf
130 hours televised golf x 2 years = 260 hours of televised golf
Therefore our daughter was exposed to 26,000 swings and 260 hours of golf leading up to her birthday. Our son was exposed to 13,000 swings and 130 hours of televised golf (based on 12 months) leading up to his first swing. Keep in mind I was very conservative on the number of swings I take in a day and the amount of golf I watch. Now before you say “Yeah, but your children are not sitting in front of the television watching golf”. The truth is yes, at times the television was tuned to golf while we were playing with various toys. Other times they would sit on my lap or next to me and actually watch it as if it was one of their cartoons. The point I am trying to make is that there is an exposure to golf even if it’s a passive one.
Even though there was no intention of teaching our children how take a golf swing it was engrained into their mind well before we even considered purchasing that first set of plastic golf clubs. Our children were well prepared to take that first swing probably more so than using an eating utensil for the first time.
In Growing Up Golf part 2 I will share my struggles of equipment fitting for very young children. I will include practice ideas and games to keep your child’s interest. Lastly, I will give you tips on what to expect on your trips to the practice green, short game area, and how to handle that first trip to the course.