By David Droschak
Starting your child out in a golf program may not be a simple as it sounds if you’re new to the game. Proper direction from the start could mean all the difference in the world as to whether a 10-year-old falls in love with golf or finds the whole process tedious, complex or not as fun as other sports.
But one thing is for sure – Triad residents are blessed to have some of the state’s best junior programs and teachers.
“Junior golf is so strong in the Triad because it reflects the fabric of our community,” said veteran golf professional Chris Haarlow of Precision Golf School in Greensboro. “Ever since the old Greater Greensboro Open (now the Wyndham Championship) it has been part of who we are in this area; we’ve consistently enjoyed golf and loved golf.”
“Having a PGA Tour event for so long definitely does not hurt, but it is more than that; there are some groups in the Triad who are actually providing junior golf programs and making them available to everyone,” added Jason Cox of the Carolinas Golf Association. “The days of the traditional junior programs at country clubs are just non-existent nowadays. They may do a camp for a week or so, but to have a whole stable of juniors on a regular basis at a lot of clubs just doesn’t happen, and it’s unfortunate.”
That’s why organizations like The First Tee of the Triad, the CGA, Carolinas PGA and Precision Golf School are growing the game among juniors with some impressive numbers – and maybe more importantly – sound advice to potential golfers and their parents.
“The best model out there is U.S. Kids as far as being yardage appropriate, age appropriate and the kind of set-ups they use because it allows kids to experience their first pars and birdies at an earlier, younger age,” Haarlow said. “It also breaks down the barriers of having to learn how to break 100. Those hurdles are still there, but allowing for that good success after a couple of good shots, that’s really so important for the kids’ confidence, their development.”
Younger kids are encouraged to play par-3s at 50 yards, par-4s and 100 yards and par-5s at 150 yards under the U.S. Kids model.
The Carolinas PGA has pushed area golf professionals and courses to participate in the PGA Junior Golf League Golf. This new endeavor puts kids on teams like other sports to introduce them to competitive golf.
Last year, Precision Golf School and its Triad Youth Golf Foundation founded the Triad Chapter of the TGYA, which is an entry-level type of tournament environment for beginners aged 8-17. In 2016, the tournament logged 550 rounds. This year, Haarlow expects that number to jump to close to 900.
“This allows for a nice bridge from the First Tee, which is trying to teach the 9 core values and the 9 healthy habits, which is fantastic. The First Tee brings in golf secondary, which is fine, but again getting kids experience on the course is really valuable,” Haarlow said.
The First Tee of the Triad is a remarkable success story for beginners, reaching 1,300 kids last year and operating at 17 facilities throughout the Piedmont Triad, central North Carolina and southern Virginia.
Haarlow recommends beginners working on their game on a consistent basis either once or twice a week, depending on the child’s level of interest.
“The other sports are basically out-programming us,” he said. “When I sign my daughter up for skating they tell you what she has to do to advance to the different levels. The same thing with soccer. In golf, there hasn’t necessarily been that structure. But with our junior programs we’re really designing them to where the parents can set up the schedule that will allow the kids to advance, and get some good building blocks and some good fundamentals on a consistent basis.
“When we grew up we could go out and hit golf balls and figure things out,” Haarlow added. “But now it’s a little bit of a generational thing with the technology and the phone where the kids are expecting everything to come easy. So, parents are having to work longer and harder with the kids.”
Cox has a simple message to parents and potential junior golfers wanting to take up the game.
“You don’t have to be good to enjoy it,” Cox said. “It doesn’t matter what skill level you are you can play the game. With a lot of other sports if you are not very good you are going to get beat up all the time and it’s not a whole lot of fun. Sure golf can be a tough game, but it also can be fun for everybody because if you hit that one good shot it’s going to bring you back the next time. No matter who you are or what level you are at you can play with somebody else and enjoy it.”