What is the best age for kids to start golf lessons? Can my 3 year old start golf? We consulted with two experienced instructors in their fields who work with young athletes.
Justin Tackett (JT) is part of the Georgia Golf Performance team. He has been in the golfing business for over 20 years and has spent more than half that time teaching and club fitting. He is certified in Nike’s NG360 Functional Performance System which allows him to study how the body biomechanically works in the golf swing. Dr. Daniel Tari PT, DPT, OCS is Co-Founder of Club PT and is also Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) Certified. His clinical interests and specialities include sports and athletic injuries, manual therapy, dry needling, spinal mobilization/manipulation, postoperative treatment, movement analysis, kinesiology taping and injury prevention and wellness. He works with some of the top junior golfers in the region and in addition to his private practice also partners with Georgia Golf Performance, the Georgia State Golf Association and various top golf coaches and clubs in the Atlanta area. Dr. Tari was featured in our article: Interview With Dr. Daniel Tari: Junior Golf Physical Training.
Both men are collaborating through Georgia Golf Performance on a program designed to get kids as young as 3 years old interested in golf. Dr. Tari has specifically designed the exercises and activities with very young kids in mind.
We asked JT some questions.
What is your primary goal in putting together a program introducing golf to kids as young as 3 years old?
Our primary goal is to teach kids to be athletes first, then golfers.
What clubs do they use - e.g. do they start with just a putter and wedge? At what age do kids typically transition into expanded or "full sets"?
Putter and wedge. Putters are first because gripping a putter is easy and instinctive and the kids can get a good idea of club face control. Grip, posture and stance are all taught first with a putter. This then leads into chipping. Kids will grow into into a ‘set’ as their abilities grow.
How many kids per instructor do you feel is optimal in a group lesson setting? Do instructors need to have any special training or skill sets to facilitate instruction to very young kids?
We are using a 4:1 ratio right now following social distancing guidelines, however, 6:1 is the norm.
Patience. All instructors have to go through several weeks of observation and teaching with observation. Instructors also need to be encouraging. Kids under the age of 7 take what you say pretty literally and take them to heart. Kids over the age of 7, you can challenge them a bit more.
What is the primary objective of golf instruction for kids this young?
Engage kids and get them excited about being part of a group and focus on body movement. Our end goal is to have a junior asking their parent to come to the golf course.
How are typical sessions conducted?
We follow a very organized procedure, mainly for safety purposes. With our 3 to 5 year olds we have a 45 minute class. We split the kids into two groups of four. In one group we work on athletic development while the other works on chipping and putting and we rotate them.
We encourage athletic development and teach kids how to move athletically by using exercises for example:
- Hopping on one foot on a speed ladder.
- Hopping through octagons with two feet.
- Step and overhand throw of a foam/tennis ball to a target.
- Underhand throw of a tennis ball into a basket.
- Kicking a soccer ball.
- Weaving in and out through obstacles.
For chipping and putting purposes we use oversized clubs and tennis balls to teach club movement.
Most 3 to 4 year olds have very short attention spans. Hos do you keep them involved, focused and learning? How do you incorporate play and physical movement to keep kids interested?
It is important to have more activities set up than you have kids. Athletic development is a big focus for us. We keep the kids continuously moving and challenged. Instructors are trained to keep kids engaged, responding and encouraged throughout our time together.
Even 2 to 3 year olds can show tremendous natural aptitude for golf. Would you encourage more formal lessons for these outliers?
We believe in never forcing a kid into a sport, especially at 3 to 5 years of age. If the child wants it, then by all means encourage the child. Group lessons are very important for young children as it allows kids to learn from each other. Kids see how others succeed and fail and how they can deal with that too. If you want to sign a very young child up for private instruction they are going to need to have a pretty good attention span.
What are the benefits of kids starting lessons at a young age?
It’s similar to introducing a new language to a child before the age of 5 – they pick it up easier and have an early ground work on which to build. Teaching a young child how to move his or her body as a golfer allows for the swing to become more instinctual in the long run. Of course at this young age we start teaching a golf swing by ‘stealth’ learning for example, throwing a Frisbee with the lead hand (left hand for a rightie golfer), or throwing a tennis ball underhanded to a target. We incorporate a lot of exercises and activities that develop the golf swing by focusing on rotation and weight transfer. At this age we emphasize movements that are identical to the mechanics of the golf swing without actually thinking of the golf swing.
So yes, there are certainly options out there for 3 year olds to start golf and some good reasons to start exploring the game. But remember, it is just a game. And 3 year olds they just want to play.