Junior fitting is often taken for granted and unfortunately in certain fitting situations, can cause the junior golfer to loose interest in the game quickly. Over the years I have discussed junior fitting with literally hundreds of clubmakers, parents and grandparents. Based on what I have heard, I would like to share all this information at one time. Hopefully you will be able to understand all the complexities associated with this special group of golfers.
Look at how junior clubs are traditionally marketed; they are based on broad age groups. If Levi’s had marketed their jeans based on age groups when I was a teenager, in my opinion they wouldn’t be around today. All the tall kids would have been running around with the stripes on their tube socks showing. The shorter kids would have had their pant legs rolled up so far that they would have had to walk bow-legged. The fortunate few would have their jeans fit correctly. Levi’s simply had you measure your waist and inseam, look at the tag, and the jeans would fit regardless of which store they were purchased. Age based fitting just doesn’t allow for a proper fit because of the disparity of heights in certain age categories. The same is true for jeans and golf clubs.
Length should be based on height and the athletic ability of the junior golfer. I know there are kids out there who have good hand-eye coordination who can make good contact with their parent’s clubs, but they are far and few between. Most junior golfers choke down automatically on adult clubs so the length will be proportionate to their height. We offer a height based fitting chart on our website as well as our Total Clubfitting book as a reference. Obviously body builds and athletic ability may allow for slightly longer clubs than the charts would suggest. For instance, a chubby child has more body mass to swing around than a thin tot does, and may need a longer shaft. Youngsters with excellent hand-eye coordination could potentially use a longer club too.
Some parents are concerned that their children will outgrow their clubs over the summer and that the clubs will be too short for the upcoming season. This is a valid point. However, if the parents want the clubs much longer than their kids really need so that they will last a few years, this may serve to create bad swing habits for the kids. If the clubs are too long, the kids are more likely not to hit the clubs as solidly and become discouraged very quickly. Kids are very result oriented. If they are not succeeding, they are more likely to try something different if they can. If you want some room for growth, suggest no more than an inch over what they should use presently.
In the case the child does outgrow the clubs; there are two things that can be done rather inexpensively. First, the clubs can be extended. Since most junior shafts have a .500” butt diameter, you need to be creative with the extender since that is not a standard stock extender size. You can use hardwood dowels or portions of used steel shafts to extend the clubs. The second method, reshafting the clubs, is more expensive but may be necessary if the strength of the juvenile golfer increases or if he or she grows quickly.
If the child has younger siblings, the undersized clubs could be hand-me-down clubs to them. We have heard of companies and individual clubmakers who have lease or rental programs with junior equipment. Instead of purchasing the clubs that children will outgrow, the clubs are traded in for a longer set as the child grows. The old set now could be used by another junior golfer.
Most junior clubs today are die cast, being made from aluminum for the woods and zinc for the irons. The materials are less expensive in order to keep the overall cost down. The materials are also softer and will get nicked up more than stainless steel heads. The junior heads are generally a little more lofted to allow for the ball to get airborne quicker and may weigh slightly less than adult clubs do also. In some cases, like the Hireko Acer Protégé and the Dynacraft Avatar Junior sets, hybrids are incorporated are part of the set to allow the youngster to excel.
What age range is the cross over from junior to adult club heads? Don’t necessarily look at age as much as ability and dedication. If you are buying clubs for a junior just to see if they are going to like the game, then the junior heads will be just fine. Once the child has committed to the game and has the correct fundamentals established, there is no reason they couldn’t use an adult head. Also be cognizant of the fact that the juniors entering the junior high age group may not want the junior heads because their friends may be playing name brand clubs or adult clubs. The image of using junior clubs may hold them back from playing competitive golf.
What is the best set make up for the junior golfers? Typically for the very young golfer, a single lofted iron to the 5-piece set (3-wood, 5, 7 and 9 iron and putter) will suffice. Don’t add too many low lofted clubs in the bag because youngsters won’t have the clubhead velocity to get them airborne. As they become better and start to master the lofted clubs, then it is time when you can add the longer, less lofted clubs to the junior set.
For the committed youth who wants adult clubs, sit down with them and let them be part of the decision making process. After all, it is their clubs; not yours. Even if you decide on a partial set to play with, buy the rest of the clubs in the set. This way the junior will eventually have a matched set that they can grow with. Another reason to buy the remaining set is to reward the child with a new club when they do something good. For example, did they bring home an A in math? Make up the 8 iron. Did they take out the garbage without being told? Make them the 6 iron. Is their birthday coming up? Make them the 4 iron. Be creative in rewarding junior players for jobs well done.
I had one heated discussion with a parent who wanted his 5-year-old son to be a better ball striker. The father’s idea was to put his son in a set of forged blades so he would learn to hit the ball in the center of the face. Please, don’t “punish” the youngsters. Give them a cavity back club instead. If you want them to be better ball strikers just give them formal training with a local PGA teaching professional.
Long before junior shafts were available, it was common for an existing man’s sets of clubs to be cut down to the length the child needed. Although this is an inexpensive way of introducing the kids to the game, it may not be the most appropriate. Men’s shaft may be on the stiff and heavy side for the junior golfers, plus the fact the lofts may be stronger and make it harder to get the ball airborne. This situation may not be in the best interest of the junior golfer as it may be difficult to gain confidence and have fun at the same time. If you are going to cut a set shorter, let it be mom’s set because the shafts are generally lighter and more flexible. In addition, the increased lofts of women’s clubs are a benefit. Just remember to make a new set for mom in this situation.
There are many options in shaft choices for junior golfers. There are junior shafts, ladies and senior flexes and standard men’s flexes that can be appropriate in the right situation. There are also choices of steel, graphite and fiberglass that have to be considered as well.
For very small toddlers it may be a benefit to look at some very flexible fiberglass shafts such as the Cadence and the Apollo Shadow Junior models. The small child does not have the physical strength to use something very heavy. In addition, when cutting a shaft that short, the flexible fiberglass shaft will provide some feel and increased loft where a steel shaft does not. You are starting to see more of these types of shafts in name brand junior clubs like La Jolla Club, Taylor Made and U.S. Kids Golf. The best part about the fiberglass shafts is they cost about the same or even less than steel. Do be aware though, for juniors above 4 ½ feet tall, these shafts can be a little too flexible.
The junior steel shafts will be appropriate for a wide range of youths. Some manufacturers are starting to devote some research into providing the proper amount of flex for the junior golfers. The smaller butt diameters allow for matching up an appropriate grip while at the same time making the shaft more flexible. As the child grows to near the 5-foot range, the junior shafts may no longer be an option due to the shorter lengths that they are manufactured. When the child has reached that height range then ladies and A-flex (amateur) shafts are better choices for the average child. However, you are starting to see some children in the 5 foot height range that are very powerful and could handle men’s flex shafts. Use your discretion wisely.
The most creative aspect of building junior equipment is in grip sizing. Even though many junior shafts have a .500” butt diameter and the grip are available in the corresponding diameter, you may still need to add build-up tape in order to hold the grip in place. Shafts will only have a limited parallel butt section. Once you cut the shafts to very short lengths, you could conceivably need to add quite a bit of masking tape, especially under the lower hand. Experiment on one club first until you get the right dimensions. Keep good notes so the rest of the set will not require a whole lot of time.
As the child becomes taller, their hands and fingers will become proportionately larger as well. What shaft are you working with? Is it a junior, ladies, senior or standard men’s shaft? What will be the final butt size after you have cut the shaft to the desired length? Can you use junior grips still or will you have to find ladies or even men’s grips to come out to the right size? Do your homework ahead of time.
Does the junior golfer play a lot of baseball or hockey? If so, the grip areas on these are much larger than typical junior golf grips. You may want to build the grip larger to accommodate the right feel in the junior’s hands. As we said before, you need to be creative with proper grip sizing.
Do not be overly concerned with swingweight, but rather more with overall weight. In some cases with very short clubs, the swingweight may be lower than A0. The only concern we would have in swingweighting is to make sure that the clubs within the set are relatively close to one another. Overall weight is more important. In some cases this will take care of itself by using lighter weight shafts. For very short youngsters, keep the overall weight down so they can swing the club efficiently. As juniors grow, then the weight of the clubs should go up correspondingly as their muscles develop. For taller and stronger juvenile golfers, do not try to make the clubs too light, otherwise the junior golfer can develop bad swing habits by getting quicker than their natural swing allows.
Building and fitting junior clubs is rewarding as well as challenging. Just remember to fit club length based on the child’s ability and height, rather than age. If you make the clubs too long, too heavy or too stiff, the ability of the junior golfer to get the desired results will diminish. Chances are if you fit the youngster right the first time, then they will have fun and make this game, a game for a lifetime.
by Jeff Summitt
Hireko Technical Director