As a teacher I work with a lot of junior golfers, my wife and I have 6 kids ourselves and I have taught and continue to teach all of them this great game. I get asked a lot of questions about when to start them with an instructor, how much should they practice and when should they start playing competitively.
I will attempt to answer those questions and some others regarding junior golf and give you my opinion and philosophy when it comes to teaching kids.
I believe in starting them young, all of my kids have had plastic clubs from Walmart in their hands since they could walk. In my experience kids want to do what their parents do, so back in Indiana I was always outside working on my short game and right behind me was a small army of children attempting to imitate me.
At 3-5 you just make sure they have fun and attempt to teach them how to hold the club properly, most kids in my experience will hold the club cross handed when first starting. Showing them the left hand on top and right hand on bottom with both hands close together can go a long way toward their development.
Now teaching a young child is a challenge and you will lose your mind if you are trying to get a 3 year old to hold the club correctly every time. Gentle reminders to put their hands in the right order is enough, they will forget it every 5 minutes and that is fine, don't be overbearing this is a game and they need to see that. If they are outside following you around then you are winning.
Should you hire and instructor for your 3 year old?
I'm gonna say no, I talk with parents all the time and I'm always happy to share how they should be teaching their young toddler until they are old enough for lessons. To be honest I think a 5-10 minute conversation with a teaching pro should give you the confidence on how to lead your small child. I personally start kids at 5 years old in my summer camps, a very relaxed game oriented camp that teaches them the basics.
When should I hire an instructor for my junior golfer?
Generally around 6-7 years old depending on the maturity of the child and their ability to focus. Girls are generally ready earlier in my opinion than boys, a 5 year old boy is usually very difficult to teach but a 5 year old girl is a breeze, in my experience.
Are all golf camps the same?
Absolutely not! I would say most are just glorified golf day care and a waste of your time and money. Find a camp that is producing good players. For whatever reason most courses will have their assistants running the camps and have provided them with little to no training. Your kids instructor should be a good player and have a passion for teaching young kids how to play golf.
Identifying a good instructor
I have come across a lot of really bad kid golf instructors and it is disheartening. It takes work to teach a small child how to hold the club properly, I mean you may have to sit and practice that grip with them for 30 minutes or the entire hour of the lesson. I get so many students that were with another instructor or program for a couple years and they still don't know how to grip the club. Teaching a kid right begins with the small things, if they can't hold the club right then that effects every other part of the swing and their ability to hit the ball consistently. A good instructor will have a good mix of technical instruction and having a good time with the student.
When should my kid start playing golf tournaments?
Technically your kid can start playing US Kids tournaments when they are around 5-6 years old. Personally I recommend 7-8 years old if the kid is passionate about the game and has a desire to compete. I have always had goals that my kids had to reach in order to move up and do certain things. Tournaments are expensive and if the kid is just handed the opportunity they may get a bad attitude or simply quit when they are doing bad, I've seen it all too often. I gave my kids certain practice goals and also chores around the house that had to be done on a consistent basis if they wanted to play tournaments. That way when they started playing they had some skin in the game and treated the tournament with more focus and respect.
Should I get my kid custom clubs?
US Kids Golf has pretty much cornered the market on small kids golf clubs. They are fit based on the height of the child and in my experience are a great choice. Keeping them in US Kids clubs until they are 10-11 and a pretty decent golfer is what I recommend. One thing you want to avoid is really heavy junior clubs, I have people show up all the time with Top Flite junior golf clubs and the kid can't even swing the thing they are so heavy. I am pretty strict with every junior golfer I work with on getting equipment that they can swing easily so as not to create any bad habits.
How should I be as a parent?
Seen and not heard, I've seen parents completely derail a child's future in golf and all too often parents are overbearing and very hard on their kids. This game is extremely hard and if you truly want your child to succeed then offer them your undying support. When they hit a bad shot, smile! When they play a bad round, tell them you are proud of them. When they have a terrible attitude, deal with it and show them how to handle losing. When they play someone better, compliment that person, let your kid know that hard work can get them there one day. Don't call rules violations on other kids, that is probably the worst thing I've seen, other parents making a competitor cry because they want their kid to win so bad they are looking for every little excuse. Be relaxed and enjoy the game for what it is, a game.