In these days of hi-tech toys and video games, which are often solitary and introverted, so many golfing parents are keen to get their children to take up golf. What better way to spend a summer than outdoors, in a beautiful environment that is safe and playing a game that demands good conduct?
Some of my happiest memories are the summer days at Cradoc Golf Club in Brecon, playing junior golf and trying to get my handicap down. Club competitions were for adults only; it is to Cradoc’s great credit that, once my friend Andy Ingram and I got to single figures, they rescinded the rule and developed the junior section.
Many private golf clubs hold Summer Kids’ Camps; at Woburn we encourage children from outside the club to join these fun weeks. It is an investment in the future of the game; there is nothing more rewarding, for a vocational teaching pro than to introduce a child to golf and see them through to adulthood as established, competent golfers. If you want to take advantage of the summer holidays and introduce your children to golf, this is how I’d go about it.
Success is fun!
Sometimes, well-meaning parents want to sign their offspring up for “one-on-one” coaching at the earliest opportunity. The danger is that golf is seen as a “school” subject more than something exciting and fun. From the moment a youngster is able to swing their first junior club, it is essential they succeed, rather than fail and get discouraged. Putting in the garden, around an improvised number of large targets is a great way to start. One word of caution for mums and dads: Kids often pick up their first club “cack handed” (left hand below right). Don’t be fooled into assuming they are left-handed. If your young Rory or Charley throw right-handed, or use a racquet that way, please don’t start them off with left-handed clubs.
Tech shots more than technique
Having acquired some skills your youngster can start to learn little chip and pitch shots. Dan Grieve, my colleague and Charley Hull’s short game coach, has loads of little cones and plastic targets. We can lay out a little short game course in a very compact space – kids like nothing more than being competitive as they learn new shots. Another game we play is called “chip and run” – a mix of golf and PE! We split the kids into teams; each team has a large “muck bucket” about 20 yards from a starting line. The first player has to hole out, and as soon as they succeed, they must run around the bucket and back before their next team-mate can start chipping. Just make sure, for safety, there is plenty of room for all this frantic activity!
Improvisation is the greatest teacher
I believe youngsters need the lightest touch when it comes to being coached. It is vital they are encouraged to improvise shots as individuals – it is so easy for an over-enthusiastic teacher or parent to give out too much information and stifle a youngster’s natural flair and ability. Seve Ballesteros and Lee Trevino only had one club when they learnt to play; armed with just a single club they improvised and manufactured shots that would later stun the golfing world.
Cane and plant
When we nurture seedlings in a pot, we use a small cane or stick to support the young plant. It is a gentle guide – the last thing we want is a plant rigidly following the cane without the ability to expand. Good golf instruction should be the same; a gentle guide as opposed to a rigid, stifling insistence.
Principle, not method
If I teach a “method” to 100 kids, I’ll “clone” 100 kids and damage 95 of them. However, if I teach a “principle” to 100 kids, I release 100 individuals to use their flair and fulfil their potential. The first pair of proper shoes you bought for your child received huge care and attention. Similarly, there is no better way to start your kids at golf this summer than with your local PGA professional – he will relish the opportunity and consider it a privilege!