ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s never too soon to expose children to golf, just don’t pressure them to play
I had no idea it was even there. It was lumped into a stack of DVDs – unopened – for a couple of years.
“ClubHeads,” an animated golf instruction video created by former Sandia Golf Club head pro Racquel Huslig.
It probably never would have escaped its cellophane wrapper, except that my 3-year-old son recently dug it out of the heap and wanted to watch it.
“Golf instruction, dude?”
Granted, I had gotten him that $5 set of plastic clubs from Walmart a couple of years back. And last summer, I even had a couple of left-handed kids’ clubs cut down for him.
But asking to see a how-to-play video? I wasn’t ready for that, until I realized it was a cartoon.
“No problem, Brock,” I said, thinking this might keep him entertained for about 30 seconds.
But 30 minutes later, he was still glued to the flat screen.
A few days later, he grabbed his plastic driver, went over to my non-golfing wife and explained to her the proper way to grip a club.
It got me thinking, when is the right age to start playing? What is the best way to get kids involved in the game? And how soon should they take lessons?
I always wished I had started younger – not after college as it turned out. But how young is too young? Or is there such a thing?
Burning courses – and burning out
Sam Saunders, one of the state’s top local amateurs who won his match at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship on Wednesday, was a local junior star through high school. He headed for the University of New Mexico, but quit the golf team last year as a sophomore.
“I just got burned out,” Saunders says. “I didn’t want to practice every day year-round. But I had signed up for a bunch of tournaments this summer and felt I should keep playing since I committed. Then I started playing great, and it reminded me of why I like to play so much.”
Saunders, whose father owns GolfMart, grew up around the game and says he’s played “ever since I could walk.”
He has some advice for parents.
“Encourage your kids to play every possible sport,” Saunders says. “They don’t need to choose one or two sports until high school – or even after. I was lucky that my parents were always good to me, and told me that I could play whatever sports I wanted.”
Dominique Galloway, who became the youngest winner of the Albuquerque Women’s Amateur Golf Championship last week at age 15, agrees.
“Parents should just have fun with their kids and not put any pressure on them,” says the Cleveland High sophomore-to-be. “I started when I was 7. Rob Lowry from the First Tee (junior golf program) came to my dad’s school (Enchanted Hills Elementary). He had us hitting plastic whiffle balls, and I loved it.”
Galloway says her goal is to go to college on a golf scholarship. Her father, John Galloway, says he did some research “and there are about 1,000 to 1,500 golf scholarships nationwide that go unused each year – especially for women’s golf.”
I have no idea if Brock will ever get a college golf scholarship. Or break 100. Who knows if he’ll ever watch that DVD again?
But I don’t put any pressure on him. I never will.
If he wants to take lessons some day, that’s fine. But I’m not the one to give them.
Right now, I’ll show him how to tee it up and help him with his grip if he asks. After that, I’ll just let him swing away. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason to worry about his feet, the target or anything else at this point.
All I know, is he’s having fun hitting golf balls – and hitting T-balls, kicking soccer balls, shooting hoops, coloring, drawing, reading, racing Hot Wheels and playing dinosaurs.
And what more is there at age 3?
Tips for Kids
Ages 6-9, beginners
1. Find the junior programs in your area. Some facilities provide camps or specific instruction. Each golfer is looking for something different as they get introduced to the game.
2. As the junior advances, join a tournament program. Playing multiple rounds of golf with friends will increase the social component and introduce them to like-minded people who enjoy the game like they do.
3. Parents should get involved in the game, as well. We see in the golf industry that those juniors who find the most enjoyment and progress in the game are those who come from a family that is into the game of golf.
— Dana Lehner,
Sun Country Golf House
Ages 10-12, intermediate to advanced
Parents: 1. Decide if the goal is to learn the game for just enjoyment or a golf future. If you want to produce a golf champion, he or she needs tournament play. If the player starts to dominate these areas, look at moving up in class to the AJGA or other Junior Tours.
2. Pick a teacher and coach for your junior and try to stick with that person.
3. A parent’s emotions are much more stressful to the player, so when watching your child play, try to be as poker-faced as possible. Play with your kids.
4. Good players are developed, not produced. So have patience and plenty of time.
1. Make the setup and ball position a rote memory process.
2. Learn to aim properly as soon as possible.
3. Make chipping and putting a daily exercise.
— Tom Velarde,
director of golf,
Black Mesa Golf Club (Española)
Ages 10-12, beginners
1. Make it their idea to play and set their own goals. I’ve seen many young golfers get burned out because parents overloaded them with tips while over-analyzing them. Make it fun first and make it a treat. “No golf until the room is clean and lawn mowed.”
2. Get proper length and lightweight clubs from you local PGA pro. Giving your youngster your heavy sledgehammer, handed-down clubs will cause a golf motion that will be very hard to correct.
3. Since peers are one of the biggest influences in a youngster’s life, get them playing with other kids to inspire them to play more.
— Todd Kersting,
head pro, Puerto del Sol
Ages 5-7, beginners
1. The most difficult part when teaching juniors is simply getting them to make contact. For a right-handed junior, make sure their left hand is on the top of the grip and the right is on the bottom. Oftentimes, getting them to do this repetitively can be a challenge.
2. Let them swing away and see what occurs. Keep it simple and let ’em have fun with it.
3. Use the old adage: “At the point you see a junior beginning to enjoy the game, tell them it’s time to leave. That way they will want to come back and do it again!”
— Steve Manning,
Twin Warriors Golf Club
COURSE OF THE WEEK
Los Altos short 9
par 29 (two short par 4s)
Fees: $6.25 weekdays, $6.75 weekends
Many big-time golfers who grew up in Albuquerque also grew up on this course. After getting a few lessons, learning some etiquette and hitting range balls for a while, this is a great course for beginning youngsters. It allows them to learn the game without being overwhelmed. It’s also a good place for adults to learn the game or simply brush up on their short game.
Most courses in the state offer group junior golf lessons, clinics or camps that continue through August. Junior golf programs provide kids a great way to escape the summer doldrums that usually appear at this time of year.
Prices vary, so shop around.
Los Altos has weekly group lessons each Tuesday-Thursday from 9-10:30 a.m. for $60 (505-298-1897).
Sandia Golf Club (505-798-3990) offers an introductory golf clinic — Sandia Cubs — for ages 6 to 10 each Sunday through September. The clinics are one-hourlong and begin at 8 a.m. Cost is $10.
Sandia also has its Junior Series, which is designed for kids 10 to 12. It is each Tuesday from 5:30-7 p.m.
“We not only work on their swing, but teach them how to play and compete,” says Matt Molloy, Sandia’s director of golf.
Cost is $85 for four weeks or $25 for one session.
Sandia and Paa-Ko Ridge both allow a junior to play for free when accompanied by a paid adult.
The Sun Country Golf Association has a series of junior tournaments from late-May through mid-August each year at courses throughout New Mexico and West Texas. There is a championship tournament at season’s end.
For more information about junior programs in New Mexico, call the Sun Country at 505-897-0864.
HOLES IN ONE
DENISE GUERRERO — Sandia GC, No. 12, 87 yards, 9-iron, her first.
SARAH GREENE — Santa Ana Golf Club, No. 5 (Cheena nine), 127 yards, 8-iron, in city tournament.
PAUL BELLGARDT — Twin Warriors, No. 4, 160 yards, 7-iron, his first.