Far too many parents’ focus is on getting a future college scholarship or tour card when they sign their kids up for private golf lessons in the tender pre-teen ages. According to the PGA National High School Golf Association there are over 220,000 high school golfers in the USA. Around 19,000 (9%) of those players will go on to play Collegiate golf on some level (NCAA D1 through NJCAA) and only around 3% of high school players will play NCAA D1 golf.
So whether a young player will or will not go on to play Collegiate golf, should not be a factor when they are young. Enjoying golf and having a good experience playing should be the primary motivation for parents introducing golf to a junior.
Whether they eventually go on to play at a highly competitively level depends on many factors and not just skill level. Mainly it will be a personal leaning in to the game, an internal grit and perseverance that cannot be bought or taught. It will be a joy in long hours of practice and play.
There will be many, many aspects a parent will be involved in through the process, but in the beginning the parent’s chief aim should be to keep the child invested in the game and finding ways to make golf fun for juniors. Unfortunately many junior golfers lose interest or suffer burn out, regardless of skill level, because at some point the game is just not fun anymore. When your kid is starting out in the junior golf world the most important thing is to make golf fun for juniors and so keep it positive.
8 Ways to Make Golf Fun for Juniors
- There is no point going out to play on a golf course with a young, new player and teeing off from adult tees. In their book, How To Create A Junior Golfer: The Operation 36 Model, authors Ryan Dailey and Matt Reagan recommend juniors start out playing 9 holes from 25 yards out. Once they can score 36 for the 9 holes from that distance they go to 50 yards and start the process again, then to 100 yards and so on. This also forces an emphasis on short game, wedge play and putting, which juniors often enjoy practicing and will serve them very well as they progress. Improvement can be quick and in turn inspire juniors to play more.
- Hitting ball after ball endlessly on a golf range can be tedious and detrimental, especially if bad technique is being ingrained. Juniors should have a coach that they meet with either privately, in a group scenario or online once a week to ensure they are utilizing correct techniques. Having the correct understanding of the basics (grip, stance, alignment, swing plane etc.) will help nip problems in the bud and prevent frustration down the line. Online golf coaching is becoming more prevalent these days, and even with a personal coach it is often helpful for the junior to take a personal launch monitor on to the range to record their swings so they can watch, share and be a part of their own improvement. See our article on Affordable Launch Monitors for further information. Juniors also love to see and compare their stats like swing speed, ball speed, accuracy to a target line etc.
- Whether they are hitting balls on the range or going around the course by themselves or with friends, music can be motivating or comforting. Plugging those AirPods in can increase enjoyment in the process and aid focus. Most juniors these days are blasting their favorite music while warming up on the range or practicing putting or chipping around the green. When out on the golf course with friends, clipping a JBL Bluetooth Speaker to a bag makes the carry up some hills more enjoyable and the atmosphere lighter. We have reviewed some great portable speakers in our article: Best Golf Speakers for Kids if you want to read further.
- Don’t feel you need to keep score all the time. Practice rounds or rounds played just for fun need to be just that. It’s practice - play balls from different angles and approaches. Learn what distances work best for the different clubs and look at the golf course from a course management point of view. There is much more to a round of golf than the score - focus on those other elements and emphasize score less.
- Go out and play with your junior, or have your junior play with their friends (from appropriate distances) and play a scramble format. It takes a lot of pressure off, is a lot of fun and speeds up a round. See how low you can go playing Best Ball. For fun play a few holes “Worst Ball” too (in other words, instead of all playing from the ball that is lying “best”, all play from the ball that is lying “worst”! See our articles How to Play a Golf Scramble Format and Best Ball, Alternate Shot, Scramble and Match Play for Non-Golfer Parents to learn more about these different formats.
- Make sure your junior is playing with the correct golf clubs. And remember, sizing matters. Older juniors can benefit from getting fitted for their clubs.
- Golf is primarily an individual sport and kids often crave a team environment. There is no reason for young junior golfers to specialize only in golf and it is widely recognized as preferable to play multi sports as it works different muscles, and provides social interaction. See our article Say No to Single Sport Specialization. The college golf coach who recruited our son was also very impressed that he was a multi-sport athlete. So keep your junior golfer involved in other sports and don’t make golf the sole and solitary focus. Also encourage juniors to play on teams such as PGA Junior League (a great experience for younger juniors) or on their high school golf team (for older juniors).
- Finally, focus on yourself as a parent and your own expectations. Your child’s golf game should in no way affect your mood or sense of well being. There are plenty of overbearing golf parents who are instrumental in making golf miserable for their young players. Be different. The book, The Drive Home: The Youth Athlete/Parent Dynamic by Mark and Britt McKinney is a must read for the junior golf parent and really helps keep things in perspective, particularly when things are feeling decidedly not fun!
So in conclusion - golf is a great game. It’s a lifetime game. It's a game for families to connect. Give kids the chance to realize that by keeping it light and fun until they pick up the mantle and make it whatever they want to make it for themselves.