Most children are exposed to team sports at an early age. But golf? Not so much. It may not be the first game that comes to mind when you think about kids and sports, but maybe it’s time to give golf a glance.
Children can get many benefits from golf: it’s a challenging game, played on lovely manicured courses, requiring patience, focus, and discipline. Parents playing with kids can get exercise and enjoy quality time together, and they can be influential in encouraging perseverance and good sportsmanship. While some of the game’s greatest players, like Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer, learned as toddlers, many professionals say 6 or 7 is the age at which children have the mental and physical ability to hold and swing a golf club. It makes sense that when introduced to the game early, children can develop good habits, good form, and a lasting appreciation for this popular sport.
On the Ball
If you’re not a golfer yourself, but your children want to learn the game, opportunities abound for instruction. Depending on where you live and the facilities in the community, junior players may be able to sign up for afterschool lessons. Some golf courses or golf centers offer lessons or clinics on the weekends, where kids can learn the finer points of putting and driving. Golf camps in the summer can be anything from half days at a local course to full-day resident camps for total immersion.
Junior golfers who want to play competitively can sign up online for local tournament play in New Jersey. The tours are open to everyone on a first-come, first-served basis. The website also offers three levels of instructional booklets to help young players learn the skills and rules of the game.
Play Golf America, an organization founded to help grow the game of golf, is another source of information to learn about rules, etiquette, equipment, and much more. The Play Golf America website has a search function to help you find instructors near your Zip code, and lists public and private golf courses in New Jersey where PGA pros are offering free 10-minute lessons and family clinics during the month of May (Free Lesson Month). Also check the website’s link for Family Golf Month, where you can search for New Jersey golf courses that will offer family clinics, family play days, kids-play-free days, and more, from July 1 to 31.
Miniature golf can be a young child’s very first introduction to how the game of golf is played. It can be a great way to help kids develop hand-eye coordination and give them practice with putting—a skill they’ll eventually need on a regulation course.
When children get to the next level, they can practice their swing with a bucket of balls at area driving ranges. This is a low-cost way to improve form and learn the flight path of different clubs—without a huge time commitment. It’s also a chance for kids to slow down and practice golf’s little nuances of body language (keep your head down, keep your knees bent) without the pressure of a foursome bearing down on them.
Golf is a challenging family game that can be played by different generations with different abilities. Once your child learns the basic skills, he or she can continue to play and improve and may be able to join the team in high school or college. After that, it’s a game many people enjoy over the course of a lifetime.
New Jersey families can learn about the history of golf at the USGA Golf Museum in Far Hills (908/234-2300). The sport is believed to have originated in Scotland during the 15th century, when wooden clubs were used to hit pebbles around sand dunes. At the museum, you’ll learn through multi-media exhibits how the game evolved in the United States from the late 19th century to the present, and you’ll see the largest collection of golf artifacts, books, photos, videos, and documents in the nation—including the “Moon Club” that astronaut Alan Shepard used to hit two balls on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971.
Arline Zatz, from Metuchen, NJ, is the award-winning author of several New Jersey guidebooks, including Best Hikes With Children in New Jersey (The Mountaineers).