If you’re a parent looking to get your kid into golf, the first place you should look is…in the mirror. Gone are the days when parents would drop their children off at their golf club in the morning with enough money for a hotdog and a Coke and pick them up at suppertime. Also gone, for the most part, is the opportunity for less-affluent kids to learn about the game by caddying.
Those were not the proverbial “good ol’ days,” at least when it came to developing junior golf. The first example was glorified babysitting for those parents fortunate enough to be members at a private club and the latter was by no means typified by the entertaining sequences in the movie Caddyshack.
In these “good new days,” there are ever-increasing opportunities for parents, golfers or not, to get their kids involved in golf and to watch them progress as far as their skill level and love of the game will take them.
Sorry, folks, but that’s the only time you’re allowed to sit back and watch. In order to introduce your kids to golf and keep them in it, it is your turn to get busy and do some homework.
1. DISCOVER JUNIOR GOLF OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE TO YOUR CHILD
“First and foremost, the onus is on the parents to find good programs to introduce and then to keep their kids in the game, if the child wants to do that,” says Doug Lawrie, an internationally respected junior golf instructor who is the owner and director of instruction at Focus Golf Group Academy in Burlington, Ont.
“The right program will guarantee an amazing, enriching, fun time for your child. And the instructor will be compassionate, caring, and will never forget that they are dealing with children. Ask questions, lots of questions. Ask your golfing friends, visit the golf facilities in your area. It’s an important decision.”
Finding the programming that suits your child’s specific situation is critical. “I’ve got seven-year-olds who are competing in world championships and 14-year-olds who are just taking up the game,” says Lawrie. “You can’t have a cookie-cutter approach for instruction based simply on age. You have to view each child as unique.” Lawrie’s advice is vital, and there are numerous online resources available on the Golf Canada website and through your provincial golf association.
2. LOOK FOR RECOGNIZED JUNIOR PROGRAMS IN YOUR AREA
You may be fortunate enough to live near a National Junior Golf Development Centre. A relatively new initiative, these centres (approximately 30) are located across Canada at golf facilities that are “doing all the right things,” says Dave Stockton, Golf Canada’s manager of sport development.
Conducted by specially trained PGA of Canada professionals, they offer programming for children five to 18 years old, covering everything from introduction to the game to competitive opportunities. “These centres offer a best-in-class experience, regardless of age or skill level,” says Stockton. “The instructors are committed to juniors and the centre is linked to at least one local school delivering the Golf in Schools program.”
The word “linked” comes up frequently when discussing the state of junior golf development with those leading the charge in Canada. Not only is it formalized in CN Future Links’ “Get Linked” program, wherein schools establish a relationship with a local golf facility, but it is mentioned often in reference to creating a golfing continuum for enthusiastic youngsters and their families.
“We need to build more bridges, not just between all our programs, but between golf and the community, and golf and kids and their families,” says Mike Kelly, executive director of the Golf Association of Ontario (GAO). For years, Kelly has been an innovative force in advancing the sport. For example, he was one of the instigators of what is now known as Golf in Schools, a program that involved nearly 2,800 schools across Canada last year.
“We’re missing a continuous, engaging pathway when it comes to growing the game,” says Kelly. “Why can’t a golf facility be like the local arena? You’ve got all ages and skill levels, the kids are all playing a sport they enjoy, parents are connecting with parents. We’ve got to stop living in our old golf world and start living in the real one.”
3. CONSIDER GETTING MORE INVOLVED BY BECOMING A COMMUNITY GOLF COACH
The GAO is launching a program called Building a Golf Community. The season-long pilot project, with the theme ‘Try, Learn, Play,’ is based in Barrie, Ont., and surrounding communities. The objective is to “get individuals of all ages and backgrounds playing golf and create a bridge between courses, community partners and golfers. The goal is to bring more people to the game and keep them playing for life.”
As one aspect of the initiative, several students in Georgian College’s Professional Golf Management Program will be trained in 2017 as Community Golf Coaches, under a program unveiled a year ago.
As a parent, if you want to share in your child’s golf development, you might make an ideal Community Golf Coach. This joint initiative of Golf Canada and the PGA of Canada is open to individuals who are not members of the PGA of Canada. They must complete a two-day workshop with both classroom and outdoor components to enable them to deliver the CN Future Links Learn to Play program.
As a result, they will play a vital role in supporting other volunteers and PGA of Canada members at club-level junior programs by assisting with the administration and/or delivery of the program.
“There are ideal candidates for this program right across the country,” says Glenn Cundari, the PGA of Canada’s technical director. “They are parents or other passionate people who are likely already helping out with junior programs at courses that may or may not have a PGA of Canada professional. The fact of the matter is that there just aren’t enough PGA of Canada pros to successfully engage all the kids who want to play golf, so that’s where the Community Golf Coach comes in. Let’s give them proper training and let them facilitate that first step into a lifetime of golf.”
“While some facilities view junior golf programs, camps and clinics as a hassle, theirs is a very short-sighted perspective,” says Jeff Thompson, Golf Canada’s chief sport officer. With the right programming, he says clubs can foster a family environment that can enhance customer acquisition and retention for years to come. “We’ve heard some great stories, clubs that went from practically zero junior members to 200 or 300.” Contingent to that success is quality instruction and appropriate pricing, of course. Engaging more golfers and new enthusiasts must take priority over a potential revenue stream.
4. SUPPORT YOUR CHILD AND THE INSTRUCTORS
Finally, parents, don’t succumb to the common pitfalls of raising children in athletics. Let the teachers teach and you specialize in being mom or dad. If you’re doing your homework and your local community’s golf facility isn’t involved in Golf in Schools or doesn’t know how to become a National Junior Golf Development Centre, ask them why not. If your local golf facility doesn’t have a junior program, find out why. Sign up to be a Community Golf Coach. Get some answers from Golf Canada, your provincial golf association or a PGA of Canada professional.
There will be a quiz later.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Aside from asking all the right questions, there are extensive online resources for parents who want to encourage their kids in golf. The most comprehensive is available at juniors.golfcanada.ca.
There you will be asked to enter your postal code in order to find local junior golf opportunities. There are descriptions of all Golf Canada/PGA of Canada junior programs under the categories Learn, Play and Compete.
“Learn” includes Camps and Clinics, Golf in Schools, Instruction, Girls Club, Community Golf Coach and Long-Term Player Development. “Play” covers Junior Leagues, Development Centres, CN Field Trip Program, Golf in Schools Pro Visit, Junior Memberships, Equipment and Junior Skills Challenge. “Compete” explains National Development Squad, National Junior Order of Merit, Provincial Order of Merit, Provincial Teams and Financial Assistance.
The information at learntocompete.golfcanada.ca is geared toward coaches and instructors but is of considerable value to parents who want to understand what the future may hold for their young golfer. Many communities have instructors who specialize in juniors. But before you sign your child up, do some research. Ask for references. More importantly, says Chad Rusnak, director of golf operations at the Golf Canada Calgary Centre, look for “passion, engagement and dedication. Not every instructor is suited to teach juniors. Make sure you get one who is.” His facility, one of several National Junior Golf Development Centres in Alberta, welcomes up to 500 juniors into its Learn to Play program every year.
Every province has junior tours that typically offer fun, competitive events for golfers of varying abilities and ages. A quick Google search will show you if there is one in your locale or reach out to your provincial golf association or Golf Canada for resources to enhance your junior’s golf experience.
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
As Doug Lawrie, recently recognized for the third straight year as one of U.S. Kids Golf top 50 junior instructors in the world, points out, “You can’t have a cookie-cutter approach for instruction based simply on age.”
But while that applies to individuals, Golf Canada and the PGA of Canada developed the Long-Term Player Development guide in conjunction with leading experts from all sectors of sports as a road map to golfing satisfaction and success. The second iteration of this leading-edge guide was released in 2015 and describes seven age-based “developmental stages of the competitive pathway” under the heading “Golf For Life: Active Start, Fundamentals, Learn to Golf, Introduction to Competition, Learn to Compete, Train to Compete and Compete to Win.” You can board and disembark this train at any point. It is not just for elite players. It is a guide for education and engagement for golfers of all ages (literally from the cradle to the grave) and all abilities. It also outlines the important role that parents, instructors, coaches and golf facilities play in the development of a golfer.
Although intended more for coaches and instructors, parents with a promising young golfer will find it educational from many perspectives, not the least of which is the comments from leading authorities on how to handle a young athlete…and how to behave as the parent of one.
Time for parents to pitch in
This article was originally published in the April 2016 edition of Golf Canada Magazine. To view the full magazine, click the image to the left.