Camp Counselor

June 11, 2008

Make the game fun for you and your youngster.

Golf is a game you and your child can enjoy playing for a lifetime. But often parents lose perspective and put too much emphasis on their kid's golf score. Ask yourself: Is golf helping my child and me have a closer relationship, or is it ruining it? If it's the latter, you need to rethink things. If your child has fun playing golf, your job is to say: "What can I do for you?" Below I answer eight questions parents have about getting their youngsters started playing golf.

At what age should my kid take up golf? Any age is fine if your child wants to play. Take kids to the course or range to hit balls to see if they like it. One trick: Let your kid ride along in the golf cart while you play. Parents tell me this little joy ride gets kids excited about golf more than anything. Just don't force youngsters to play if they don't want to.

My daughter, who has played about every sport you can imagine, went undefeated in tennis as a high school freshman. But at the end of that year, she came home and said, "Dad, I'm going to quit tennis and take up golf." I said, "Fine." Today she is a junior at Notre Dame and is a member of the golf team.

__What's the best time to take kids to the course?__Try late in the evening or at a time when it's not crowded. That way if your kid wants to hit and chase the ball or sink putts from two inches over and over or rake every bunker, you don't have to worry about holding up the group behind you. Some courses reserve times and areas for children.

__Should I try to teach my child how to play?__Parents should embrace the attitude: I'm going to let my kid teach me golf. Don't worry about teaching your kids the proper grip right away. If they want to play three holes and go to the clubhouse to get a soda, so be it. The best thing you can do is show your kids what a great time you're having. If they see you having a wonderful time, then chances are they'll have a good time, too.

Should I enroll my kid in an instruction program? If your child shows interest, find a golf pro in your area with a good reputation for teaching kids. Ask other parents if they know of a good teacher. The pro's ability to teach isn't as important as an ability to show kids how to have fun playing the game. Enroll your child in a group instruction program at first. Having your child interact with other kids can add to the enjoyment.

How often should they practice or play? In the first few years, let them play as often or as little as they want. Then when your child is 12 or 13, it's fine, especially if you're paying for lessons, to say, "If you want me to pay for lessons, then you've got to show me that you care enough to spend time playing."

What should I spend on equipment? You don't have to invest in a complete set of clubs in the beginning. If your child shows some interest, invest in a partial set, maybe a 5-, 7- and 9-iron, a 3- or 4-wood and a putter. When your kid starts attending clinics or playing a lot, then buy a full junior set.

Once they start playing in tournaments, what should I say if they have a bad day? Either say nothing or be supportive. Be more like a cheerleader and less like a coach. On the ride home from a tournament, the best thing you can do is remind your child about the good shots, or don't talk about golf at all.

__How can I find information on junior programs?__Ask other parents with juniors who play golf in your area. Most communities have courses that offer junior clinics. Ask the local public course or country club about junior programs.

Golf Digest Professional Advisor Dr. Bob Rotella works with numerous tour players. He co-wrote, with Linda Bunker, Parenting Your Superstar: How to Help Your Child Balance Achievement and Happiness.