The number one thing to remember as a parent is golf is simply a game and as a game it should be fun to play. Golf is also one of the only sports that can be played almost your entire life. So if the child is full of fond memories that they shared with Dad or Mom out on the course, then most likely they will do the same when they become parents. If you as a parent spoil it for them early on there is a high likelihood that your potential grandchildren may never have that opportunity to play that you bestowed upon your own children.
I have spent over twenty years talking to parents about equipment for their kids. I remember talking numerous times to this one particular parent who insisted on making his 5 year old play forged blade irons so he could learn to work the ball and know when he miss hit it. I just shook my head and asked why? His response was so he could be the next Tiger. Well, there is only one Tiger and there are only a few hundred individuals that are skillful and privileged enough to play the tour each year. Based on the conversations with him, I would imagine that his son has long given up on playing golf and probably any other sport his father wanted him to participate in.
Another thing, don’t be pushy, let the youngster tell you when they have enough fun A good friend of mine who is an accomplished golfer was so stressful when he took his three young boys out he couldn’t play himself. He was too worried that the kids would hit one another with the club, drag their clubs around on the course or on the cart path, or leave one behind next to the green because they saw a butterfly. As they were different ages, each child had a different passion for the game and more importantly a different attention span that required varying the amount of time spent on the course.
When is it a good time to start? Really any age is acceptable. You can start by letting them ride with you in the cart (they may actually think that is the most exciting part of golf starting out). If it is not busy, usually late in the evening, let them hit a few balls on the course or take them to the range. But be considerate as not to hold up a group behind you. This will help by starting to teach your child the proper etiquette and at least a few of the rules when they are young. Even if they don’t continue to play golf later on, these will provide good life lessons that can follow them as the child becomes older.
Invest in a lesson, whether it be a group, a clinic or in a camp. Make sure to get them started off correctly instead of them developing bad habits. Kids are quick learners as they are able to mimic movements more easily than an adult. They also may be less intimidated being taught by someone other than the parents where the child would be just as concerned about pleasing Dad. If you do not want to start out with lessons for your child, at least start out showing them the simple fundamentals like how to hold the club, proper stance, etc.
What equipment should they use? Most parents will simply cut down a few of their old clubs to get them started. The downside to this is that these clubs they are starting out with may actually be too heavy and stiff for the child, especially one that has not developed much physical strength or coordination. Manufacturers such as Hireko produce lighter weight heads, more flexible shafts and smaller grips specifically for the smaller junior player. Cutting down Mom’s clubs might be the better alternative, but it is nice to know that kids clubs are rather inexpensive to begin with and may make a fun activity to build the clubs with your child’s help.
The number of clubs they will need should vary depending upon the age and commitment the child has. For children less than 5 years, one or two clubs is probably just fine. For children 5 to 8 years old, a starter set may include 5 clubs consisting of a fairway wood, 7 and 9 iron, wedge and putter. A set for intermediate juniors often include those same clubs plus a high lofted driver and 5-iron.
You can add clubs as a reward for your child for doing chores around the house or for obtaining a good grade in school. You will also know when to add as they become more proficient and once they start playing more frequently either by themselves, with peers or in competition. Changes to their equipment such as extending or re-gripping or the addition of clubs will at some point become necessary. But once they have started, continue to make sure that they have fun, even if they don’t excel at this difficult game. Remind them that golf is full of bad shots or even bad days. If you are fortunate enough, you just might be able to spend some quality time with your child as they grow up playing a sport they both of you can enjoy.
by Jeff Summitt
Hireko Technical Director