Growing Up Golf: Part 2 -- Play Time
By Kadin Mahmet
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 “yea 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 3rd 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, lets 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”
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.