A precocious tyke named Eldrick Woods appeared on The Mike Douglas Show back in the 1970s when he was only two-years-old. The pint-sized golfer had amazingly already carded a 48 over nine holes on a regulation golf course. At age 2! Eldrick was a once-in-a-generation prodigy who transformed into the more recognized Tiger Woods. Tiger’s dad Earl gave Tiger a significantly modified putter when he was only six months old. It would be a challenge to start your child in golf much earlier than that.
Jex Wilson, a PGA Master Professional, is the Director of Junior Golf Development at WillowBrook Golf Course in Manchester, Tenn. He offers his experience on when and how to introduce your child to the game of a lifetime.
- How young? – I am frequently asked when I should start my child playing golf. My answer comes from one of the legends of golf instruction, the late Harvey Penick. Penick, who groomed Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, wrote in his “Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime of Golf” that the best age to start a child in golf is at the time he or she becomes interested in the game. That is simple enough!
- Keep it simple – When a 4- or 5-year-old inquires about going to the golf course don’t be too exacting about all the protocol and etiquette; do make them aware that they should conduct themselves as ladies and gentlemen.
- Best course of action – When you arrive at the golf course avoid the driving range. Yes, avoid. Take them directly to the course and let them play – sort of. The adult plays the opening hole in normal fashion. Wait until you approach the fringe of the green before handing your child a putter and ONE ball. The putter is one of only three clubs that make up their first set. Let them put their hands on the putter and position the thumbs on the handle and their hands in the correct position based on their playing right- or left-handed. Start them putting from three feet off the green and let them continue to putt until they hole out (pace of play permitting).
- Get it in the hole – Starting from around the green gives the child a fundamental understanding of the game’s objective of getting it in the hole with the fewest strokes. On the next hole, give them the goal of improving on the number of strokes they took to get it in the cup on the previous hole. You might introduce a small reward for their efforts. But, by all means, make it nothing but fun on these first occasions. No need to get technical.
- Fun and ownership – Part of that fun factor is the playability and ownership (emphasize their personal ownership) of their first three clubs. Those three clubs are the putter along with a wedge and driver, which are arguably the three most important clubs in the bag.
- Clubs that fit – If at all possible, avoid starting your child with adult clubs that have been cut down to size. They are always too heavy! Learning to play with clubs that are too heavy and too long are detrimental to the learning process. Consult a PGA professional familiar with fitting children with clubs, or visit the U.S. Kids Golf site. The site provides recommendations based on height so that you can be assured of the best fit for your wee linkster.