Once thought of as only an "old man's sport" or a sport where everyone wore funny pants and silly hats, the sport of golf has taken its place in the limelight of great American pastimes – and everyone is getting involved, old and young.
Extending the theory that a golfer's first shot can set the tone for an entire round, golfing great Tiger Woods is doing all he can to help many children, preteens and teens set the tone for an entire lifetime spent enjoying golf. And as the sport picks up in popularity, the age at which kids first get involved has gone from 14 years old to 11 and 12 years old – a new generation of golfers in the making.
Equipment Just for Kids
Callaway, a major name in golf equipment, makes special club sets for girls and boys aged 5-8 and 9-12. Other popular manufacturers like Maxfli, TaylorMade, and Nike make clubs that are either appropriate for or specifically for kids.
Just the Beginning
"The challenge for a parent is to not get too instructional," says Frank Shaw, director of instruction for Nike Golf Learning Centers in Las Vegas, Nev. "Up to about age 12, learning golf skills is less important than just having fun. Once they have that enthusiasm, they'll work on it themselves." Shaw shares that one of the best methods is to break any instruction into five- to 10-minute sections, with breaks for hitting or just playing around in between. Any longer than that, and interest may be lost.
Instructors and pros alike agree that parents can introduce a child to golf as young as 4 or 5 years old, but beginning in the preteen years yields good results as well. According to Shaw, regardless of what age your child begins, this time is more about teaching the basic concepts of hitting the ball, keeping it fun and building excitement, not about drilling them on missed shots or the proper grip for putting. "They're really eager to hit the ball," says Shaw. "It can be frustrating for both the parent and the new golfer if they're just knocking it into the ground. But once you get them hitting the ball in the air, they're hooked."
Once the love of golf is born, true golf instruction can begin. Shaw states that this can be as early as age 6 or 7 or anytime through the teen years. "When [he or she] is old enough to hold a metal object in a group of 10 of their peers without clobbering anyone, it's a good time to start," says Shaw. "Start with chipping, encouraging a downward swing at the moment of impact. It seems contrary to the desire of lifting the ball into the air, but it is the key principle in the golf swing. Work up to the full swing."
Shaw continues by saying that when instructing a preteen golfer, it is best to keep the following basics in mind:
"[Beginning golfers] naturally want to kill the ball," says Shaw. "By standing on a 2-by-4, if they fall off when they swing, then they learn through immediate feedback. They're learning balance the same way as when they were learning to walk."
Other than the mechanical skills of the game, Shaw shares that there are mental and emotional aspects that need to be taught, learned and practiced. These include life skills training, working on patience, anger control and integrity. "Those are the areas that are going to allow them to get out and play competitively with others," says Shaw. "We'll ask them to come up with real-life examples, such as behaving in school or waiting their turn."
Just as Woods found and built on his love and passion for the game of golf, many youngsters are following in his footprints. "Our ultimate goal is to create passion for golf," he says. "Talent is good. Practice is better. Passion is best."