How To Play Golf With Your Kids: A Survival Guide

Introduce your kids to the game without losing your mind (or your club membership)

If you’re like me, you probably found yourself playing less golf when you got married and even less golf when you had kids. But I’m here to offer hope. Playing golf with your kids is like our version of the Champions Tour -- a second chance right around the time you thought your best golf was behind you. No doubt, golf with your kids can be complicated (my last round involved a frustrated 7-year-old heaving his 8-iron into a dense patch of poison ivy) but I’ve also found it has led to some of my most rewarding times on the course. What follows is one father’s personal and highly subjective guide.


Pick the right hours

Pick the right hours
I probably don’t need to tell you this, but this is not a Sunday morning at 8 a.m. activity. Or at least not if you plan to go to a golf course that includes other humans. (If you happen to have your own private golf course at your disposal, I encourage you to do what you want. I also have reason to believe you and I can become best friends. I’ll follow up). Restricting family golf time to evening hours is not only advised out of consideration for your fellow golfers, but also for your own sanity. Trust me, there’s nothing fun about watching your kid hit eight consecutive shots in the bunker while some crankasaurus stands with his hands on his hips in the fairway. I’m a firm believer that kids need to have a general respect for pace of play even at a young age, but you’re setting yourself up for disaster if you don’t allow for the occasional delay.

Let them get excited about new stuff

Let them get excited about new stuff
Look, I spend as much time as any parent trying to push against my kids’ fixation with material possessions. It’s a problem, particularly on an editor’s salary. But face it, part of the fun of golf for kids is all the stuff that comes with it. I’m not advocating you buy them a brand new set of Callaways. But even the littlest things make a difference -- ball markers, tees, the occasional sleeve of balls. This should get you through the first month or so of their golf careers. Then they’ll see their first Nike commercial and you’re screwed.

Embrace the golf cart

Embrace the golf cart
This is another one of those philosophical compromises you need to make when it comes to golf with kids. As a golfer, you may be a devout walker because you feel like that’s the way the game should be played and because you welcome the exercise. But a golf cart to kids is like an amusement ride. It’s fun, it’s conducive for some meaningful exchanges every now and then, and it cuts into the fatigue factor that is inevitable when you’re hoofing it carrying your own bag. I’m not saying you should take a cart every time you play with your kids. But this is one area where your inner golf snob needs to keep his trap shut.
This should probably be first on the list because it plays such an integral role in your child’s enjoyment of the game. There is nothing noble about forcing your kid to play the same yardage as you. My boys are 10 and 7, and they love teeing off from the 150-yard marker with the outside chance they might drive the green. It makes the course manageable and allows them to experience at least some positive reinforcement before they discover how miserable this game can be. Speaking of which…

Consider a different scoring system

My boys are such insane, competitive little animals that they insist on keeping score the traditional way. But I’ve also introduced a new system that is relevant to their respective levels. While the objective may be to get the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible, I’ve told my boys to grade each shot on a three-point scale: If it’s a good shot or better for them, give it a plus-1. If it’s OK or pretty typical, it’s a 0. And if it’s a horrible shot, it’s a -1. Regardless of what you score the traditional way, any round with a positive score is a victory.

Emphasize etiquette, to an extent

This is another reason you're better served playing when the course is virtually empty. You want to be able to teach your kids some basic decorum on the course -- waiting for their turn to hit, not making snow angels in the bunkers -- without turning the game into some sort of charm school on grass. If your kids are young, you want to give them a basic sense of respect for the course and other players, but you don’t want them to think of golf as merely a collection of things they’re not allowed to do. In other words, pick your spots.

Forget about your own game

Even when playing with only adults, golf is a game of managing expectations. When I’m playing with my boys, I still want to hit good shots, but I also have to expect someone to be, at best, fidgeting during my backswing or, at worst, trying to bludgeon his brother with a driver (OK, it was just that one time). Paradoxically, it is because I expect so little out of my game during these outings that I tend to play some of my best golf. In other words, as long as no one ends up in the Emergency Room, you should consider the outing a success.