It’s no secret the biggest issue in golf (perhaps second only to slow play) is cultivating young golfers who will continue to play as they grow up. Believe it or not, this is our responsibility as adults and parents. We must introduce the game to our children in a way that sticks with them.
For example, kids need activities they can emulate in the backyard. Think about baseball, football, soccer and basketball – all games you can play in some form right outside your back door. You can throw the football around; kick the soccer ball into a practice net; play a game of Wiffle Ball; even erect a 10-foot high net to shoot hoops. But golf? Virtually unheard of.
When I was a teen, I would go outside with my pitching wedge and a few plastic practice balls. I would setup targets around my yard and pitch to them. Sure, I guess you could say I was working on my short game, but it was more than that – I was also playing a game – a mini round if you will. Friends would come over and play my backyard “course” too – we even printed out scorecards to make it official. But how many kids do this? We recently reviewed the backyard golf game, Bonzi Golf – this is one game that can get kids into the spirit.
Another idea is to simply give them access to your clubs. Whenever I have my clubs in the living room, my son is all over them. He wants to learn about what they are and how to use them. He’s only 3, but the interest he had in my clubs prompted me to buy a real putter for kids his age. He now asks to practice putting in the house so he can play along with me.
And here’s a novel idea: Take them to the course with you! Bring them along on a nine-hole round at the local muni. Let them sit in the cart or walk along with you. Even let them take a couple shots (maybe a putt or two). But the point is to introduce them to the game while letting them observe you (someone they look up to) enjoying themselves golfing. Of course, this means you can’t let your emotions get the best of you – if you hit a poor shot, don’t show your frustration. Just go out and have fun and they’ll get the idea.
And on the shots you let them take, perhaps swap a regulation ball out for one more forgiving, like the Polara ball for instance (stay with me here). When I spoke to the CEO of Polara, he mentioned letting kids begin by hitting the Polara since it’s much more forgiving. But be transparent – tell your child this is a “special” ball for beginners. The theory is they won’t get as frustrated and will keep at the game long enough to get hooked. Then, they can switch to a regulation ball. The CEO likened it to training wheels on a bike (makes sense to me)!
But perhaps the most important way to get kids to like golf and stick with it is to not make it so complicated! Keep it simple by just teaching them the basic rules and etiquette. There is absolutely no need to hand them a rulebook – instead just go out and play a round with them and then give them the basics as you walk through the course. If you’ve taken them out with you before they are actually playing (as I mention above), then they will already have a decent understanding of the game.
Unfortunately, exposing our kids to golf is not exactly top of mind. We keep our clubs hidden-away in our garages or in the trunks of our cars. And when we do play a round, we tend to leave our children behind. Meanwhile, golf on TV is (let’s face it) boring and there’s no golf little league for them to partake in. So it’s no wonder golf is something we tend to discover later in life (if at all).
If you’re a parent and a golfer, it’s on you to introduce your child to the sport. Buy them a backyard golf game; or show them your clubs. Let them tag along on your next round and when they’re ready to swing on their own – go easy on them with the tips and rules and all that other stuff we tend to overdo when we introduce someone to the game. Heck – even buy them a golf video game if you think it would get them interested.
The reality is, golf isn’t going to grow itself. And kids aren’t just going to gravitate to it. The solution begins with you.