I often hear players of parents of ranked junior golfers, while the players are still in elementary school and middle school saying - he probably won’t play high school golf, it really won’t help him much.
Yes, it probably won’t help much getting into a college golf program, but there is a reason top juniors play high school golf - certainly in states that have the highest density of top junior talent (see Junior Golfers: Does It Matter Where You Live?) - they love to play and more so they love to compete. But the most beneficial reason for top junior golfers to play high school golf is the sense of camaraderie and connection that comes from being on a team. Learning to support, strategize and compete in a team environment is an essential ability for a future college player because in college golf it’s all about the team. College coaches like to know they are recruiting team players and so, while tournaments are not ranked and probably won't get a junior on the radar, many coaches like to know a junior can get on with other players and wants to be a on a team.
So, for parents of elite young players weighing the question of playing high school or not - this is an opportunity to play in a relatively forgiving setting (a bad round or two won't ruin their scoreboard ranking) and learn and benefit from the aspects of being in a team environment including opportunities to mentor younger players, being comfortable in social relationships, and honing time management and scheduling skills.
Further, it is not completely out of the question that a player won’t come to the attention of a college coach. You go and shoot 65 at a High School Area or State tournament, or win your State tournament, that news has a way of spreading in the junior golf world.
So yes, there are distinct advantages for elite junior players to play high school golf.
What about the typical junior player? Knows he’s not cut out for collegiate golf, shoots inconsistently, but enjoys the game.
My advice is definitely try out for that team and if you get on it make the most of the opportunity to improve your game, learn from the best players on the team and enjoy the experience to the max.
In my experience the kids on our local high school teams look forward to golf season all year. They make friends with their team members. They go out and play with team mates every chance they get and hang out on the range bombing balls as far as they can, engage in explosive putting competitions and just enjoy the pleasure of a common love of the outdoors and the game. They make friends with their competitors from other schools too. A round of golf can go 5 hours - a good opportunity to get to know players from the other high schools in the area that you will see probably on quite a few occasions through the season and seasons following that.
One of the most enjoyable golfing moments I have experienced as a school golf coach and parent is watching my younger son play a high school round with two other boys from neighboring schools in the pairing. They (middle of the pack players) did not know each other when the teed off on hole 1 but it didn’t take them long before they were laughing, joking and chatting their way around the course. I walked with them quite a bit because their blended enthusiasm, elevated laughter and rowdy shows of support to each other shot after shot (good or bad) were compelling and something you don't usually see in a normal junior golf tournament.
As individual a sport as golf is, the High School Golf setting can take the edge off the seriousness of the pursuit for elite players and allow them to enjoy being part of a team in a leadership role.
The true impact of high school golf is felt in the pack of players who won’t play competitive golf post high school. High school golf teaches these kids how to play and perform under pressure. It teaches them grace in defeat and wraps them in the warmth of a team victory regardless of a personal score. It provides friendship, a common goal and accountability to oneself, a coach and a team. It teaches the value of hard work and a supportive word. It may be the basis of life long friendships.
It may be four years of experiences a kid will never forget.