Ahhh, junior golf. At first glance you may be totally surprised at this choice of topic, however, I’m definitely the mom of a junior golfer (and football player and dancer) and this is a huge part of our lives right now. As our son’s passion for golf has developed, we’ve had lots of people ask about getting their own children started with the game of golf, and possibly even playing in tournaments.
I thought it would be helpful to put together a few tips we’ve learned along the way. Getting started in junior golf is a little different than other sports or activities, since it’s not necessarily a team sport. And there are also a ton of misconceptions about the costs and commitment it requires.
When COVID-19 wreaked havoc on everyone’s lives last year, it did create a huge demand for golf. Since it’s an outside sport and you can naturally social distance, it makes sense it would surge in popularity. With so many adults taking up the game, we’re seeing a ripple effect with kids getting interested, and it’s so fun to watch!
If your child has ever shown the slightest interest in golf, or you’re contemplating introducing the sport to them because you love it so much, then you’ll be glad to know there are a great number of resources available.
Background of our own junior golfer
Before I share a few tips and resources, I did want to share our family’s background and experience with golf. Our older son Hamilton was introduced to the sport at an early age. And like so many other families we know, he received his first set of plastic golf clubs around the time he started walking.
The early years
When Hamilton was barely able to walk, my husband would show him how to swing with those plastic golf clubs. It was always for fun and never serious. He made it into a little game and didn’t think much about it.
As Hamilton grew into a toddler and then a small kid, he kept swinging the golf club – but he outgrew the plastic variety and opted for inexpensive options from Golf Galaxy. He liked to hit plastic balls in our backyard or at a field near our house. He saw his dad leave the house to play golf on plenty of occasions, but at this point he still wasn’t quite ready to participate in a round of golf.
As he kept making more contact with the golf balls and showing more and more interest, we started wondering what the next step would be. It wasn’t until Hamilton was in elementary school we felt like he could go out on the course and play a few holes. But once he did, it was clear he loved it.
As his elementary school years progressed, Hamilton’s love for golf was turning into a passion. He liked to watch it on television, hit balls at the driving range, and started showing interest in competition.
Once it was clear this was becoming more important to him than other sports, it was time to explore the idea of playing in tournaments.
Introduction to tournaments
We were living in Charlotte at the time and had no knowledge of what tournament play would look like for his age. We had to research all of the options and ask around, and when we did, we found there was tons of information available – it was hard to keep it all straight.
Hamilton started playing in tournaments with the U.S. Kids organization once we felt he could handle keeping up with his score and following the rules of the game. We started out slow to make sure it was something he could handle, and then it grew into something he truly enjoyed and thrived within.
Fast forward to now and he is 13 years old and still competing every chance he gets. He competes all over the Southeast and we enjoy supporting him as he grows his skills within the game. I would estimate he’s played over a hundred tournaments by now, with kids from all over the world.
Are they ready for competition?
As I’ve watched him play over the years it’s become clear there are two types of junior golfers: the first are those who enjoy playing casually – like with their parents, siblings, and friends. These are the kids who enjoy the social aspect but don’t take it too seriously. They know the rules but don’t care to compete.
The second type are those who thrive in a competitive environment. Our three kids are perfect examples of the different types of players. Hamilton is always searching for the next big competition, while Jackson and Caroline love to go out on the golf course for social reasons (and to order food from the halfway house).
Whether your kid is ready for tournaments or not is something you really might not know until you get out there and try. When they’re young, it’s so important for them to focus on having fun, whether it’s a Sunday afternoon with the family or a big tournament with a trophy on the line.
Becoming a Junior Golfer
What we were most shocked to find out is how you do not have to be a member of a country club to find places for children to play. There are a variety of places for junior golfers to learn and be introduced to other golfers and possibly enter tournaments.
Find a Local Municipal Course
Almost every mid to large city has a municipal golf course. When we lived in Charlotte we would visit Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course. There’s one in our new city called the Augusta Municipal Golf Course. These are public golf courses owned by the city and sometimes these courses are hidden gems. If you ever have questions about getting started with lessons or tournaments, then they’re also a great source of information for junior golf.
Most municipal courses host junior tournaments throughout the year, so the pros will be able to tell you the popular local options. If the course doesn’t host the tournament itself, the pros will point you in the right direction.
This is also a good option if you’re looking for someone who offers junior golf lessons but you don’t want to join a country club or if you’re trying to figure out if your kid is really interested in learning.
The First Tee
The First Tee is an amazing organization dedicated not only to giving every child access to the game of golf, but focusing on character development at the same time. There are local chapters across the country so chances are you’ll find one in your community.
We enrolled our son Jackson in group lessons and a few First Tee tournaments to give him exposure to the fundamentals of golf. He learned quite a bit and seemed to enjoy it. Ultimately, he decided tournaments weren’t for him, but we were so glad he had lessons from someone other than Dad, plus in a relaxing environment.
AfterSchool Enrichment Programs
If you want your child to learn the fundamentals of golf while in their familiar, trusted school environment, then check to see if your school offers a golf enrichment program. Our personal favorite is one like Golf Squad, where they connect local golf pros to campuses across the country.
Usually your future junior golfer has access to multiple lessons about the fundamentals of golf, but it’s packed full of fun games and activities to hold their interest. During the summer you can find the same thing for local summer camps, and it’s a great way to test the waters with your kid.
PGA Jr. League
The PGA Jr. League is a fun, team-oriented way of introducing the game of golf to your child or to test the waters for tournament play. The kids are partnered up with other kids and they compete for points with each hole. It takes the pressure off only one child and really promotes the concept of a team.
PGA Jr. League is usually offered at different local golf clubs and local courses throughout the country. It’s also another inexpensive way to be introduced to tournaments, without paying expensive entry fees for each competition.
U.S. Kids Golf
As I mentioned, this is how our son started with tournaments. U.S. Kids is an incredible option for those who want to compete individually, and not on a team. Hamilton played from age 7 to 12, but U.S. Kids offers tournaments up to age 18 now.
Anyone can sign up for a tournament and it’s available for all skill levels. The best part is, if your child qualifies with certain scores, it’s possible they can attend the annual World Championship in Pinehurst, North Carolina. It is a complete treat to attend the World Championship, but even if you never get to experience it, the individual tournaments through U.S. Kids are world-class and a fantastic way to learn the rules of golf.
What about golf lessons for a junior golfer?
For us, we waited to invest in lessons until Hamilton was older and we knew he would follow through with the practice. If it’s too much extra work or they’re not interested in getting better, then it’s definitely not worth the extra money it costs for lessons.
If you’re on the fence about lessons, starting with a group option is a less expensive path. You can find these with organizations like First Tee, or with summer camp programs. They’re a fraction of the cost of private lessons and you can gauge if your child is ready to be coached.
Getting a child started on the path with junior golf
What I love about the golf game is how easy it is for kids to get started at any age. The best part is it can end up being a sport for a lifetime. Whether or not your child ends up competing does not make the sport any less thrilling or fulfilling for them. If your kids are showing the slightest bit of interest, I encourage you to try a few programs. You never know, it may be in their blood more than you ever realized.