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Opinion & Analysis

5 ways to offer junior golfers and beginners a better experience

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Kids have it tough these days, and their quandary is a legitimate one. With so much entertainment within arms reach, it’s easy for kids to hole up on the couch and forget the real world in favor of a virtual one. The leap from their iPad to the first tee is not only about distance; it’s a function of access and incentive.

In general, the game of golf continues to face two very real obstacles: time and money. These aren’t unique to adults, because they apply to kids as well. In fact, I’d assert kids and beginning golfers face additional hurdles where courses, interested primarily in maximizing profit, have tee times every 7-8 minutes in an effort to get as many people on the course as possible. The result is a cluster of golfers of varying levels of ability and patience all wading through the same holes with the same snail-like pace. It’s generally somewhere in the middle of the first hole, after my daughter’s fifth shot, where I think to myself, “There has to be a better way.”

There’s a reason ski resorts have bunny hills where beginners are free to fall and take as long as they need to get down the hill. The runs are wider, less sloped and no one cares if you ski one run or 10 throughout the day. 

There are those golf curmudgeons who could give a rip whether or not kids are picking up the game, but it seems that the overwhelming majority of golf course owners are struck trying to balance profit with improving the experience of their customers — with profit usually winning out. For the future of the game, there has to be something better to give kids and new players a fun and engaging way in which to experience the game — and grow to love it.

As a high school golf coach and father of young, aspiring golfers, there are few activities I enjoy more than working with someone who is learning how to play the game. One of my kids likes to remind me, “Dad, the struggle is real.” She’s talking about the Wi-Fi strength in her bedroom, of course, but I’m talking about meaningful ways to introduce beginning players to this game we love. 

Never one to identify a problem without providing some helpful ideas, here’s a list of 5 ways to get your junior or beginner golfer on-course experience with minimal frustration and maximum fun!

3-hole and 6-hole rates

This is a no-brainer. There’s no reason a beginner needs to be subjected to 2+ hours, 70 swings and the inevitable embittered end of 9 holes of golf. In fact, enjoying 3 holes of play is far more motivating than feeling discouraged and beaten up after 7 or 8. 

Reduced fees for juniors and adults when they play together

One of our local courses cuts both green and cart fees by 50 percent when the junior plays with their parent/guardian. Juniors who can’t drive aren’t going to show up at the course alone, and what a great incentive to get parents and kids to spend more time together. If you want to get more parents involved, make it more affordable for both of them.

Special times for juniors/beginners

I’m not suggesting the Seinfeld “Muffin Stump” deal. People know when they’re not welcome, and allotting an hour in the middle of an afternoon sends the message that “we’d like you here, but only when it costs us as little as possible.” Why not get several courses together and offer juniors a block of weekend morning tee times on a rotating basis? Juniors would get to play at different courses the financial impact would be would be shared.

Create a credit system

One where juniors can earn points toward certain playing privileges or pro shop merchandise. Juniors could earn points by passing rules tests, taking etiquette exams and learning seminars with course staff/professionals. They could also get points by attending lessons/clinics, etc.

Promote non-traditional golf games on the course

Rather than keeping score and recording every stroke, how about:

  • Tee it up the 150-yard marker on every hole and see how many drives get to the green.
  • Play a modified Stableford scoring system. Depending on the level of player, award different points for the score in relationship to par.
  • If you’re a better player than your junior, play alternate shot. This keeps up pace of play and allows the parent to lead by example.

Especially now, it’s more important for the golf industry to engage in a meaningful conversation of how it can continue to provide access and opportunity to anyone who would love to learn how to play. What this requires, more than anything, a shared perspective that sees junior and beginning players as vital opportunities to grow the game.

My list is just a starting point. What are your thoughts? I encourage you to post them below.

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I didn't grow up playing golf. I wasn't that lucky. But somehow the game found me and I've been smitten ever since. Like many of you, I'm a bit enthusiastic for all things golf and have a spouse which finds this "enthusiasm" borderline ridiculous. I've been told golf requires someone who strives for perfection, but realizes the futility of this approach. You have to love the journey more than the result and relish in frustration and imperfection. As a teacher and coach, I spend my days working with amazing middle school and high school student athletes teaching them to think, dream and hope. And just when they start to feel really good about themselves, I hand them a golf club!

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Roo

    Sep 14, 2015 at 9:47 am

    I think these ideas are excellent, and the game is needing to help the way we introduce juniors/beginners to the game. Coming from a golf club just outside St. Andrews, i was shocked that we have 0 junior members! And the municipal course next door has 1 member under 21! Now as a 22 year old who has grown up playing with large groups of juniors, this is very worrying! How are any clubs going to continue if there is not a next generation coming through. These ideas i have put to our club and will work hard to try and get them executed in a way which drives the numbers of junior golfers up in my area! We are 10 minutes away from the “Home of Golf” and no juniors are interested! Something needs to be done! any more ideas/suggestions on how to increase junior participation/membership would be greatly appreciated!

  2. Jordan

    Sep 14, 2015 at 9:02 am

    I think one of the most important points was made early in the article… that profits drive how beginners (adults and kids) are welcomed at courses. Why isn’t the USGA involved in managing short courses around the country or incentivizing private operators to offer beginner programs and tee times? There ought to be a beginner-friendly place within a 20-30 minute drive from home for everyone (obviously some exceptions in particularly rural areas), as close as you would find places to play football, baseball or basketball. Golf won’t get much traction in the general public without some convenience. Face it, short courses are not going to be very profitable and will need public and private donation to stay afloat.

    • Mat

      Sep 14, 2015 at 11:40 am

      I think we need to start making more executive courses with a 0.3/Bermuda ball in mind. It’s kind of crazy if you consider that most Par-4 and Par-5 golf holes essentially expect the first 200 yards to just be “flown over”. That’s a lot of wasted land.

  3. Jang Hyung-sun

    Sep 13, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    Great ideas to help grow the game in the us, as I hear and read the kids just not in to golf so much in us. #3 would not be great as that interferes with businessmen weekend morning rounds. Weekend afternoons would be better for that as most businessmen/professionals would agree.

  4. NZ Pete

    Sep 13, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Very simple, Bigger Cup. Increase the hole size and all beginners whether they are juniors or adults will shot better scores, enjoy the game more, play faster and can keep up with any experienced golfer. I have seen lots of juniors hit plenty of good full shots tee to green, but have trouble holing out. This leads to frustration and unnecessary higher scores, kind of undoes all that good golf, (we all know that feeling). He,y even long time golfers golfers would have that chance of shooting that par round that they have been dreaming about, now that sounds like fun.

    • Mat

      Sep 14, 2015 at 1:23 am

      For those kids, and hell, many adults… you get two putts. Miss the second, and you pick up. Max 3 putts every time. Most adults don’t have to worry about this, so why make kids?

      • Cliff

        Sep 15, 2015 at 9:07 am

        Our weekend group rolls the ball everywhere and we pickup after double. Too many people take this game way to serious when they aren’t playing for anything. Some go as far as hitting out of divots in the fairway. Crazy!!!

  5. Chris Nickel

    Sep 13, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Great ideas!~

    Keep them coming!

  6. cdb

    Sep 13, 2015 at 3:12 am

    Get rid of carts from golf altogether. Then you won’t have to worry about them or the money or getting fat and lazy from playing golf driving cart and drinking beer. Yeah kids love to see adults getting belligerent while drinking beer driving carts and trying to play golf being total d1cks not fix divots not rake bunkers not fix ballmarks

  7. Mat

    Sep 13, 2015 at 1:39 am

    You know, I think the easiest modification for everyone is just simply putting the kids on a clock. Don’t worry so much about the score; just give them limited time. Or give them “par shots” to get on the green from 100-150. If you give them 3 shots from 100-150, and whether they get on or not, have them walk the ball onto the green and putt from 15 feet. They get two putts. Here’s the thing — the “score” isn’t total strokes. The score is out of 36 possible, how many “checkmarks” did they get.

    If only we could get adults on Stableford, the game would get better for everyone.

  8. Steve

    Sep 12, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    When I starting taking the kids out, they liked to keep score. But this presented a problem as there were a lot of double digit numbers on the card. I solved this by switching tee shots with my kids.
    They got to play into the green usually from 150 yards and dad got to work on scrambling to make par.

  9. golferjack

    Sep 12, 2015 at 2:34 am

    I have found that my Kids enjoy playing 9 holes on the main course but with every hole made to a par 3 for them, i.e. we Play from a distance they can hit the green from. This is also good with par 4 or just playing a challenge near to the green and giving Points for up and down etc. Obviously Walking a full 9 is a bit hefty for younger childern but it can be surprising how the Motivation rises when they get to ride in a golf car…..
    You can Play so many different games, we sometimes Play 1,2 or 3 Club challenge on the short course or Play 9 hole pitch/chip and putt where you can’t Change the first Club you use, so if you Play your first chip wih an 8 iron, you are stuck with it for the rest of the game. Play two balls and let the child Play the best chip to the finish. If you are a good Player Play against them with the same System but you Play the worst of your two…..sharpens you up believe me.

  10. Am

    Sep 11, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Young Juniors and beginners is a segment of golfers that are often overlooked. I’ve played the game since I was young but over the past 5-7 years I’ve helped more than a handful of friends go from 4-5 rounds a year to real players who play 40 plus rounds a year. The number one part of the game that beginners need to improve is their short games. Once they improve from 50 yards in the whole game becomes easier to score and they almost always get hooked on playing. When I grew up playing I was lucky in that we had a beautiful 9-hole par 3 course with hole ranging from 40 yards to 105 yards. It was a true pitch and putt but unlike many similar courses I’ve seen and played, it was in really decent condition. The golf community as a whole needs more pitch and putt/chipping courses where young kids and beginners can develop their games. Let’s face it, if you can learn how to properly hit a pitch shot/chip shot you will develop your long game much quicker as the fundamentals of the downward strike are basically the same.

  11. NotTiger

    Sep 11, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    The most fun I’ve had playing golf recently was with my 9 year old son during his first 9 holes ever. I was so amazed at his good attitude to playing. Every hole was a reset…a chance to do better. After the round he said he had fun and wanted to play again. What more could I ask?

  12. NotTiger

    Sep 11, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    The most fun I’ve had golfing since my hole-in-one round last year was with my son playing his first 9 holes last weekend. It was a nine hole course near me and I was so amazed at my sons good attitude to the game. Every hole was a reset. A chance to play better than the last. After the round he said he had fun and wanted to play again. What more could I ask?

  13. Beezly

    Sep 11, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    I like it! 1,2,& 3 are great ideas. especially like the idea of rotating courses that block off a weekend afternoon for juniors and parents! Kids get a chance to see different courses in their area!

  14. vjswing

    Sep 11, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    There’s a city-run facility in my area where the First Tee program is based. This place is as close to perfect as one might desire for beginners and junior golfers. A 3-hole layout, with the longest hole being right around 100 yards. A large practice green for pitching and chipping (up to around 70 yards), along with a greenside bunker. Full-size driving range with both mats and grass tees, and plenty of target greens, and finally, a nice nine-hole layout featuring short and medium length par-3 and 4 holes. Oh, and the practice green is actually nicer than the one at TPC Deere Run, where the John Deere Classic is played.

  15. Big Al

    Sep 11, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Great article and I think this is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed by the golf community. Not only with Juniors, but also beginner adults. My wife really wants to golf more but she isn’t ready for 9 or 18 holes yet, and is always so worried about upsetting the group behind us with her pace of play.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: From “secret” to 5 basics for a better wedge game

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First of all, thanks to all of you who read and gave last week’s post such high marks. And for all of you who have sent me an email asking for me to address so many topics. Keep those coming and I’ll never run out of things to write about.

In response to so many of those who asked for more on the basics, I want to start a series of articles this week to address some of what I consider the basics as you move your wedge game from greenside chipping, back to “full” wedge distances.

While I certainly do not want to try to replace the skills and contributions of a good instructor, what I hope to accomplish over the next few posts is to give you some of what I consider the most sound and basic of fundamentals as you approach shots from the green back to 100-130 yards, or what you consider “full” swing pitching wedge distance.

So, to get this series kicked off, let’s take the most basic of greenside chips, where the ball lies in a reasonably decent lie 3-10 feet from the edge of the green. I know there are many theories and approaches to chipping the ball, from a “putt-stroke” to hitting them all with a lob wedge, but I’m going to focus on what I consider the most simple and basic of approaches to chipping, so here we go:

Club selection. For golfers who are not highly skilled in this shot and who do not yet want to try to exhibit tons of creativity, my theory is that it is much easier to master one basic technique, then choose the right club to deliver the appropriate carry/roll combination. Once you have done a little practice and experimenting, you should really understand that relationship for two to four different clubs, say your sand wedge, gap wedge and pitching wedge.

Geometry. By that I mean to “build” the shot technique around the club and ball relationship to your body, as those are static. Start with your club soled properly, so that it is not standing up on the toe or rocked back on the heel. With the ball centered in the face, the shaft should be leaning very slightly forward toward the hole. Then move into your stance position, so that your lead arm is hanging straight down from your shoulders and your upper hand can grasp the grip with about 1-2” of “grip down” (I hate the term “choke up”). I’m a firm believer that the lead arm should not angle back toward the body, or out toward the ball, as either compromises the geometry of the club. The stance should be rather narrow and a bit open, weight 70% on your lead foot, and the ball positioned just forward of your trailing foot.

Relax. This is a touch shot, so it needs a very light grip on the club. Tension in the hands and forearms is a killer on these. I like to do a “pressure check” just before taking the club back, just to make sure I have not let the shot tighten me up.

The body core is key. This is not a “handsy” shot, but much more like a putt in that the shoulders turn away from the shot and back through, with the arms and hands pretty quiet. Because of the light grip, there will, by necessity, be some “loading” as you make the transition at the end of the backswing, but you want to “hold” that making sure your lead shoulder/forearm stay ahead of the clubhead through the entire through-stroke. This insures – like I pointed out last week – that the club stays in front of your body through the entire mini-swing.

Control speed with core speed. I think a longer stroke/swing makes for a smoother tempo on these shots. Don’t be afraid to take the club back a bit further than you might otherwise think, and just make the through-stroke as s-m-o-0-t-h as possible. Avoid any quickness or “jab-iness” in the stroke at all. Once you experiment a bit, you can learn how to control your body core rotation speed much easier than you can control hand speed. And it is nearly impossible to get too quick if you do that.

Again, I am certainly not here to replace or substitute for good instruction, and I know there are a number of approaches to chipping. This is just the one that I have found easier to learn and master in relation to the time you have to spend on your short game practice.

Next week, we’ll move back to those shorter pitches up to about 30 yards.

And keep those emails coming, OK? [email protected].

 

 

 

 

 

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Reviewing TaylorMade’s NEW SIM2 woods and hybrids!

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TaylorMade’s new SIM2 woods and hybrids are out and I have had them on the range to test. SIM2 seems to offer better shots on mishits throughout the line, keeping those shots in play better than last year. Everything seems to be improved in one way or another and I personally love the SIM2 Max driver and fairway!

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: What’s your takeaway waggle?

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Two wonderful examples on the PGA Tour are Sung Jae Im and Justin Thomas. We explain how this takeaway waggle brings your awareness full circle to how your backswing matches the direction you want to start the ball on. With awareness and confirmation that the backswing fits and that you don’t have to rush through it. You get a sense of calm that you can accomplish the task you set out and your chances at consistency have increased exponentially.

 

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